BIHAR, A GROWTH STORY - From Basketcase To Booming Economy, Bihar Is On The Mend.
Roads as smooth as Hema Malinis cheeks was a promise that Lalu Yadav had once given to the people of Bihar. Ironically, it is his rival Nitish Kumar who seems to be delivering on that front. Despite three years of floods followed by a year of drought, backward and benighted Bihar reports a miraculous fig: 11% GDP growth, second only to Gujarat. The states economy has never grown so fast so consistently as it has since 2004-2005 . A few pointers on whats going right in Bihar. Getting anywhere in Bihar has always been an exercise in endurance. But thats changing . More than 6,800 km of roads have been relaid and 1,600 bridges and culverts constructed in the last four years. Journey time in Indias 12th largest state, sprawling over 94,163 sq km, has been cut by half today in many places. Now, most of the states 38 districts from northernmost West Champaran to Kaimur on the western end are a drive of six hours or less from Patna.
Automobile sales in the state grew 45% in 2009, at a time when sales had dipped 20-25 % in several other states during the economic slowdown. Is this buying spree an indication that a section of Biharis have more money to splurge than they did earlier A few people had money earlier too, but they didnt flaunt it for fear of attracting extortionists and kidnappers , says Ranjit Singh, director of a highend Patna hotel. That fear may have evaporated now. Only 317 kidnappings for ransom were reported during the last four years as against 1,393 during the previous four. The kidnapping industry has clearly fallen on hard times. One indication of this is that doctors no longer refuse to go to patients homes on emergency calls. Today you can see boards at clinics saying we go on calls, says Dr Amulya Kumar Singh, who runs a nursing home in Patna.
Most of Bihars infamous dons are behind bars. That includes Mohd Shahabuddin, the former RJD MP who had once gone live on TV, daring the state police chief to arrest him. Things are a little different now. A ruling JD(U) MLA, Sunil Pandey, attempted an encore of sorts in early 2006 when he brandished a revolver and talked murder on TV. But Pandey found himself behind bars within no time. Speedy trials have ensured a total of 38,824 convictions between 2006 and September 2009.The convicts included dons and their henchmen. Gun-toting strongmen are no longer a common sight on the streets of Bihar. Policemen patrol them now. And places like Siwan, where Shahabuddin once held sway, do not get deserted after dusk.
This improvement has shown results. Malls, shops and private educational institutions are coming up. So are mobile service providers and banking firms. Its boom time for real estate with apartment buildings coming up all around. Thats because even non-Biharis for a change want to have a foot in Bihar which has become a better place to live in, says economist Shaibal Gupta of the Asian Development Research Institute. Adds Faizal Alam of Kalyanpur Cements, Cement inflow to the state went up 18% to 51 lakh tonnes in 2008-09 . Thats an indicator of the construction boom. Ironically, this economic growth has happened without any worthwhile contribution from the manufacturing sector. The states economy is growing because of a boom in agriculture and services sectors. Its governmentinduced growth, admits Bihar Industries Association (BIA) president S P Sinha. According to former BIA president K P S Keshri, private investments in the manufacturing sector have been as little as Rs 1,500 crore during the last four years.
Many attribute the growth to the fact that the flow of Central funds to states has increased manifold in recent years. In the case of Bihar, it went up from Rs 37,341 crore during the fiveyear period 2000-2005 to Rs 55,459 crore during the next three years. But equally importantly, the funds are now getting better utilized than during the Lalu-Rabri regime when large chunks remained unspent. Also, adds Gupta, the state made concerted efforts to mobilise internal resources with its own revenue collection going up from Rs 2,919 crore in 2003-04 to Rs 5,256 crore in 2008-09 .
The flip side is that much of this growth does not get reflected in social indicators which remain abysmal. But, as Gupta says, it would be unrealistic for anyone to expect the moon at this stage. Right now the fundamentals are getting corrected and therefore you can find mostly infrastructural indicators of growth; one will have to wait for social indicators to become visible, he says. While contractors and realtors stand to gain, more than half the states 8.2 crore people 1.25 crore families still live below the poverty line. For these families to prosper, Bihar desperately needs huge investments and more growth. The State Investment Promotion Board, formed by the Nitish government, has received proposals worth Rs 96,000 crore. But most of them, especially the major ones, remain on paper as Central rules prove a stumbling block. For instance, thermal power plants cannot come up in Bihar because the Centre has so far refused to provide coal linkages to ensure regular supplies to any such new plant.
Also, Bihar has a lot of catching up to do with the rest of India. There cannot be any comparison between Gujarat and Bihar, both of which reportedly grew by over 11%; since our base is low, even a small investment results in impressive growth in percentage, Gupta points out. State officials admit that crucial sectors like health are still sick with meagre resources in comparison to other states. From its bleak past, Bihar may be finally moving towards a brighter future, but the common Bihari is not patting himself just yet. Maybe he is still waiting for this high growth to translate into better food on his table and more money in his pocket.
BUT MILES TO GO
54.4% of the population is below the poverty line; national average 37.2%
32.8% children fully immunized; all-India 43.5% 55.9% children underweight; national average 42.5% 45.1% women underweight, highest in the country; national average 35.6%
81% of the population employed in agriculture, directly or indirectly 2.7% Annual growth in agricultural GDP (1993-2003 ); all-India growth 2.2%
70% of the inhabited areas in Bihar are not connected by motorable roads, which is the highest in the country
3.2% Share of industry in economy; all-India 20.1%
82.9m Bihars population, growing at more than 2% per annum (2001 census) 90% of the population lives in rural areas
0.75 hectare Average size of holdings; national average 1.41 hectares 82.9% Share of marginal holdings less than 1 hectare
68.80 lakh hectares Total flood- prone area in Bihar, which is 73.06% of its total area and 7.2% of the total flood-prone area in the country
Source: Report of Special Task Force on Bihar, 2008
Pride and Prejudice = Vinay Pandey
Who carries you on a rickshaw or an autorickshaw in Delhi Biharis. Who drives the cars of Delhiites Biharis. Who built the Delhi Metro Biharis. (You may not agree with the last one). Who is building the new houses and the expanding suburbs of Delhi Biharis. Who made Punjab the most prosperous state in the country The answer again is Biharis. (Here too you may not agree). The credit for building the Delhi Metro or making Punjab prosperous will never go to Biharis. Does anyone ever say that blacks built America. In colonial days, Bihar supplied the girmitiya , or indentured, labourers who built countries like Mauritius, Suriname and Fiji. A bulk of the labour employed in the Raj capital of Calcutta came from Bihar. After Independence Bihari workers flocked to places like Delhi, Punjab and Mumbai.
At the same time, Biharis excelled in other fields. Many became great political leaders, ICS and IAS officers, scientists, doctors, engineers, writers and artists. Delhi and other Indian cities attracted huge whitecollar Bihari populations and Biharis formed a large part of the Indian diaspora of professionals.
But in the eyes of the rest of India, Bihari had come to mean a labourer, a person doing menial jobs. It had become a term of scorn and contempt. In their anglicized lingo, places like Delhi University turned the word into Harry , but the pejorative tone remained unmistakable.
Heaping scorn on the working classes is a universal phenomenon. That is how words like Negro, Paki (used for Pakistanis and Indians in Britain) and some of the words denoting dalit castes in India earned contemptuous connotations. In fact, while Biharis were getting their hands dirty on Punjabs farms, Punjabis were migrating in hordes to the US, Canada , the UK and Australia. Never mind that they would take up blue-collar jobs as taxi drivers, petrol pump attendants and waiters in those faraway lands. As the years passed, many of the Biharis who had come to Punjab or Mumbai as manual labourers started moving up the economic ladder as did the blue-collar Indian emigrants abroad. A usually unnoticed aspect of the so-called racial attacks against Indians abroad is the threat the rise of working classes poses to the entrenched social order. This accentuates the contempt they face. From this angle, the attacks on Biharis in Punjab, and Mumbai, and the attacks on Indians abroad are manifestations of the same phenomenon.
What stopped Biharis from bringing about a green revolution or building a Metro in Bihar The answer is geography and history. Geography, because ravaged by floods, the land of Bihar was unable to feed its growing population. And history, because what was the centre of the biggest Indian empire in ancient times was reduced to an obscure provincial existence. The skewed landownership system introduced by the British rulers worsened the situation. Things could have improved after Independence had the political leadership of Bihar been able to exert influence on the rulers in New Delhi to get enough funds for development projects and set off a process of industry in the state.
On the contrary, Bihar continued to live the same, conveniently ignored, provincial existence. A system built on casteism, nepotism , corruption and crime came to dominate the state. It spawned a neo-rich class of netas, babus, contractors and government engineers who would build palatial houses for themselves with the money meant for dams, power projects, ration for the poor or even fodder for cattle.
The money meant for roads and public amenities would go into their bank accounts. No wonder, the roads in front of those houses would be full of ditches and become the playground of pigs every monsoon. With limited options of higher education and hardly any employment opportunities in the state, the youth of Bihar started looking out. They flooded places like Delhi University and Jawaharlal Nehru University . They started dominating the countrys toughest competitions like the IIT-JEE and the civil services exam. With this success , Biharis started believing they had the best brains. The world began to grudgingly acknowledge their capabilities.
Academic success, however, did not do much to rid the word Bihari of the scorn it had gathered. People in Delhi continued to laugh at those who spoke with a Bihari accent. Those without an accent would get this compliment: Oh, you are from Bihar But you dont sound like a Bihari. Biharis, meanwhile, were retreating into a shell, with little but the historic glory of Buddha, Mahavira, Chandragupta, Chanakya, Ashoka, Aryabhatta, Guru Gobind Singh and Sher Shah to bask in. Now comes 11% growth. The state can recover from the damage it has suffered over hundreds of years only if such a high rate of growth can be sustained for many, many years. Then Biharis would not have to till others' land or build cities and countries elsewhere. (The writer is proud to be a Bihari)
BRIDGING THE DIVIDE The newly constructed Chiraiyatand flyover in Patna
Nitish's A-team : Bihari babus show their mettle
Many in Bihar say Pratyay Amrits name should be entered into Guinness World Records for helming a sick corporation which built the highest number of road bridges in a year. As Bihar Rajya Pul Nirman Nigam's CMD, this 1991-batch IAS officer oversaw completion of 259 major bridge projects in three years since 2006. In view of its success, the nigam has now been given responsibilities like road and hospital construction , among other things. Now we are out of debt, making handsome profits and are also spending crores on philanthropy as part of our CSR (corporate social responsibility), a nigam official says.
Pratyay delivered. So have others in chief minister Nitish Kumars A-team , who were chosen for their competence. Earlier as principal secretary (finance) and now as development commissioner, Navin Kumar has been the chief strategist in financial matters. Known for his sobriety , the 1975-batch IAS officer is the man behind the states budget drafts and also the all-important memorandum to the finance commission . He also heads the State Investment Planning Board, formed by the Nitish government to attract investment . The board mobilized proposals worth Rs 96,000 crore in just three years.
R K Singh was the builder during the initial years of the Nitish regime. Currently secretary (defence production ) at the Centre, the 1975-batch officer was the architect of the development of the states road network as principal secretary, road construction .
Madan Mohan Jha was specially brought in from central deputation. As HRD boss, he initiated the move to recruit over two lakh teachers on contract. He also conceptualized several other projects. After his untimely death in 2007, Anjani Kumar Singh has been brought in as HRD principal secretary to complete his unfinished work.
While Deepak Kumar managed the key health department for the first three years, Afzal Amanullah's three-year tenure as home secretary is still remembered for the bold initiative to rein in criminals, including politicians of Nitishs JD(U). The 1979-batch officer now looks after urban development.
Anup Mukherjee, as rural development department head, supervised implementation of poverty alleviation schemes, including NREGA, and won accolades for the state even from the Centre. The 1974-batch officer, who believes in working quietly, is the states chief secretary today.
Bureaucrat-turned-MP N K Singh is also an important player in Nitish's team. Not only does he give ideas to the CM, but he is also credited with successfully showcasing Bihar in the country and abroad.
During the Lalu-Rabri regime, a single bureaucrat called the shots at the CMs office. The change of guard brought a techsavvy team to manage the affairs. Ram Chandra Prasad Singh, 52, the CMs principal secretary, has been associated with Nitish Kumar since 1998 when the latter was railway minister . Both Nitish and RCP, a 1984-batch IAS officer of UP cadre, are from Nalanda and belong to the same caste. Insiders say Nitish treats RCP like a family member.
Nitish also banks heavily on S Siddharth (1991 batch) and Chanchal Kumar (1992 batch). As secretaries to the CM, they coordinate with principal secretaries of various departments and oversee implementation of welfare and development programmes . Siddharth, from Tamil Nadu, is a BTech and has attended advanced courses at IIM-Ahmedabad . Chanchal, an MTech, has also studied micro-finance in the US.
Theres a clear division of work. While Siddharth looks after infrastructure departments like road, building, urban development and energy , Chanchal has been assigned social sector departments like education , health, social welfare and disaster management.
ALL THE CMS MEN
Pratyay Amrit - Built a record 259 bridges in three years
Anup Mukherjee - Won accolades for Bihar on NREGA front
Afzal Amanullah - Cracked down on criminals with political links
R C P Singh - Manages affairs at CMs secretariat
N K Singh - Bihars brand ambassador at large
R K Singh - Kickstarted the road rebuilding project
S Siddharth - Oversees infrastructure
Chanchal Kumar - Oversees health, education
(source : TOI)