Saturday, November 30, 2013

The New Bihar

Parliamentary election is due next year, many regional leaders have their eyes on the resulting political scenario after election. It is speculated that no major national party will have clear majority and in such scenario role of regional parties are very important. Talk of third front is on but no one has doubt on the fact that there can not be any government at center without the  support of either BJP or Congress.

The one major regional player in the race to 7 Race Course Road is Nitish Kumar of Janta Dal United. Keeping in mind the equations that may arise after 2014 elections, he aptly distanced himself from BJP, so that tomorrow if need arises, he can embrace Congress with open heart.
Nitish Kumar has publicized development of Bihar as his credential to rise for the top post. But what is the truth behind the so called development of Bihar. The term "development of Bihar"  has been used so much in recent days that it has now become cliche. 

Indeed Bihar has illustrious past which can make anyone from Bihar proud of its origin but what happened in recent past has made Bihari a word synonym for shame. Apart from Aryabhatt, Kautilya, Nalanda University who symbolize the rich heritage in field of education and innovation, Bihar symbolizes birth of India. It was Patliputra, capital of Mauryan Empire who first unified India under one rule and gave India the identity which we perceive now. Shershah Suri built Grand Trunk Road which is still a symbol of pioneer effort in infrastructure which was way ahead of its time. Indigo Movement and JP Movement are first of their kind as they stand for citizen rights and demand of better future.

But what went wrong despite such good heritage?

N. K . Singh in THE NEW BIHAR counts several reasons to this. The Permanent Settlement of 1793 under Lord Cornwallis which introduced Zamindari system was one such reason. Under the system, tax revenues were fixed for each Zamindar which was not related anyway to the agricultural output. Unlike in southern and western India where Ryotwari system was followed where tax revenues were linked with agricultural outputs. Further he blames Freight Equalization Act of 1948, whereby basic raw materials like Iron ore, Coal etc were available at the same price throughout the country This negated the competitive advantage of mineral rich unified Bihar. And the industries that Bihar had, are now in newly created Jharkhand. 

I will back the Nitish Government's claims that they had improved Bihar in many respects. But how much? Is this mere number game? All the development indexies of Bihar were at such low level that any change will mean a significant change in terms of percentage, so rather than being awwed at the numbers and graphs, we should have a reality check. There is significant improvement in law and orders. Unlike in previous regime where every other day some businessman were kidnapped for ransom, now situation has improved. Cases of Murders, robbery has also decreased. In education, giving free cycles to girl has improved the proportion of out-of-school girls from 17.6% to 4.3%. Number of children out-of-school has also dcreased significantly. Health sector has improved. In my hometown Ara, Hospital has become good for sure. There are doctors in the hospital round the clock and ambulance facilities are available now. Road to my village has been built first time in my life. Teacher recruitment is at all time high. So there are positive changes for sure.

Surely there are teachers in the school and enrollment of student in school has also improved. But quality of education is a big question mark. According to Annual Status of Education Reports, 50 percent of the children enrolled in standard five are not able to read at the second standard level. Children in Bihar in specific grades are much older compared to their peers in other states. One harsh reality about high enrollment percentage in school is that parents get their child enrolled because of the freebies sponsored by the government. Thus, you will find student in the school at the time of mid day meal and school dress distribution. And then you will find these children roaming in field in the school dress day after day till they get a  new school dress. Emphasis is on enrolling rather than retaining and educating. Level of urbanization is low. Cities offer very little in terms of job opportunities. There is still no factories that can employ people. Major percentage of urban occupation is construction. Most people  in cities have either shop or government services. Industrialization is still awaited. Bihar buys 98% of its current power requirement which is a heavy burden on state finances. Only 16 % of household have access to electricity and another striking fact is that 40% of total electricity is consumed only in Patna. Red Tapes are still hard to pass by. 

All the facts withstanding, Bihar has huge opportunities in agricultural sector. There are opportunities for agro based industries. Bihar has huge potential for tourism, and for that we need to place proper infrastructure in terms of roads and air connectivity, hotels and law and order. Now things are so far in right direction, lets hope for better future.


Data Source: The New Bihar: Rekindling Governance and Developemnt Edited by N K Singh and Nicholas Stern

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