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Better days for Bihar?

MNS chief Raj Thackeray's comments about Biharis have put the spotlight on the state. But is Nitish Kumar's Bihar a place that people want to leave in large numbers? A look at how the state scores on over-all development. Ashok Mishra and Vijay Swaroop write.

india Updated: Sep 23, 2012 09:30 IST

Sonelal, a native of Sheohar district in Bihar on the Indo-Nepal border earns Rs 7,000 per month working at a plastics factory at Baddi in Himachal Pradesh. He is able to save Rs 3,500 for his family after spending Rs 3,500 on food and other necessities. He shifted to Himachal Pradesh from Punjab, where he was employed for only six months a year, the rest of which he used to spend at his native village.

Kaushal Paswan, in his late 20s, returned to his native Sudaspur near Muzaffarpur after spending some months in Delhi. Now, his new job at a construction company as a semi-skilled labourer enables him to earn Rs 170 per day. He works for a minimum of 25 days and earns Rs 4,250 per month.

Both Sonelal and Paswan are happy. One is earning and saving, the other is living in the midst of his own people. The two are examples of two types of migration: one involves migrants who search for work outside the state as they see it as a symbol of upward social mobility and frees them from Bihar's repressive caste hierarchy; the other is 'forced or distressed migration' that sees people moving because of the lack of job opportunity.

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With MNS chief Raj Thackeray raking up the issue of Bihari migrants and dubbing them 'infiltrators' in Mumbai, the focus, after nearly seven years of Nitish Kumar's rule, has once again shifted to the issue of the migration of Biharis in search of a livelihood. It also throws up the pertinent question of whether Nitish Kumar's Bihar is still the place it used to be or whether there have been positive changes in different fields. During one of his interactions with the media, Nitish Kumar had said, "We are not against migration for better avenues, but we would certainly be happy to reduce distress migration."

A recently released study by the Indian Institute of Public Administration (IIPA), the first piece of dedicated research on the migration of the rural poor from Bihar which was carried out in 360 gram panchayats of 17 districts in 2009-10, estimates the number of migrants at 5 million. This is much higher than the 3.45 million estimated by the National Sample Survey Organisation in 2001. "Out of this, 29% were illiterate, 5% semi-literate, 5.2% were under graduate and 2% were graduate," said Prof Girish Kumar of IIPA, who conducted the study. "The inclined trend in migration even in the last couple of years has been mainly because of low industrialisation, the high pressure of population on arable land and low investments in agricultural development, which has driven individuals out of their homes desperately in search of livelihood opportunities," he said.

In a state where agriculture continues to be the backbone of the economy, the slow progress of industrialisation is failing the rural population. There are seasonal agricultural jobs available but even with the regime change, not enough industrial units have come up to generate employment.

At the State Investment Promotion Board, 836 proposals worth Rs 2.98 crore are lined up but in reality only one per cent has turned up. Whatever the state has been able to do to arresting migration has been because of the massive infrastructure work in the past seven years, particularly in road and bridge construction.

For many, it's the lure of better wages that takes them to other states. That might be changing. In Bihar, an eight-hour job now brings Rs 153 per day for an unskilled labourer; Rs 170 for semi-skilled ones and Rs 195 for a skilled one. Those working under MNREGA can earn between Rs 150-200. This has had some impact. "Getting labourers from Bihar now is getting difficult and the same is being felt by farmers of Punjab," admitted Jitendra Kumar, the plant in-charge of the plastic factory in Baddi where Sonelal works.

The issue becomes pertinent given Nitish Kumar's prime ministerial ambitions that came to the fore during the war of words between the two NDA allies over Narendra Modi. Wider public opinion also considers Nitish Kumar an ideal candidate for the post by virtue of his 'good governance' in a state that has been ridiculed for its poor security system and almost everything it provides. Kumar has claimed on several occasions that the migration of labourers from Bihar to other states has come down almost by 26% because of increased agriculture activities, assured employment under MNREGA and large-scale development work being undertaken by the state government in the infrastructure sector.

DM Diwakar, director of the AN Sinha Institute, Patna's leading social research institute, believes the view that there has been a drop in migration might not be based on sound logic. "If at all migration has come down, it must reflect in terms of statistics," he said.

Citing the data of National Sample Survey (NSS) for 2009-10, Diwakar said, as regards MNREGA, barely 17% job cards have been distributed. "Of them, 5.5% of the card holders could get barely 20 days of work, while another 2.7% got employment for 20-50 days," he added. Diwakar said as per the NSS data, just 1.2% of the card holders could get 100 days of assured employment, while 34% did not get any work. "In agriculture also, in the last five-six years, the growth rate has been just around 3.67%, which is much less compared to the boom in the construction and the service sectors," he said adding that the drop in migration from Bihar would have to be scientifically corroborated. "Yes, there may be some drop attributed to violence and dangerous developments in Maharashtra, Assam and other parts. Out of fear, migration may fall, but for a sustained fall, it needs to be scientifically proved through detailed study. There could also be some drop in migration due to stepped up construction activities, but it would have to be proved that way," he said.

While migration will continue to take place, a fair estimate of the government's performance would suggest that the foundations have been laid across sectors, schemes and programmes that would sustain progress over a period of time. As one IAS officer puts it - "With so many roads and bridges coming up, the real development of the state would start looking up from 2013 and Bihar will take off from there with the opening of new vistas." But has the Nitish Kumar government delivered?

The state recorded an overall growth rate of 16.71% during 2011-2012, the highest in the past five years. The increase in the growth rate has been possible because of the record production of food grains. Other sectors that have driven growth are construction, hotels and restaurants and telecommunications.

With power being the main concern, the state is keen to generate power from its own resources. Providing jobs to the unemployed, industrialisation, and value addition in the agricultural sector, etc., are the other areas on which the state is concentrating.

Earlier, there was no public service delivery system. Now a well-oiled public delivery system exists. The government introduced the Right to Service Act last year aimed at providing various services to the people within a time-frame. In sum, though Bihar has turned a corner, it is still far behind many developed states and is several decades behind the national average in terms of many indicators. While per capita income and investment is lowest in the country, the share of manufacturing in state output stood at an abysmal level of 3.9% in 2010-11. "Bihar is developing fast. Last year our growth rate was more than 16% but it is high time the central government helps the state by giving it a special category status," said the chief minister.


How Bihar fares in key areas

Fight against corruption

2011's Bihar Special Courts Act empowers authorities to confiscate a public servant's property even during trial. The government has seized the palatial houses of IAS and IPS officers and converted them into schools for the underprivileged. The government has also set up six special courts forspeedy trials in corruption cases. The state's anti-graft legislation aims to instill fear in the minds of corrupt public servants. Labelled 'Chanakya' for his political acumen, Nitish Kumar, a trained electrical engineer, has scrapped the discretionary fund of Rs 1 crore entitled to each MLA and MLC.


State spending versus private sector investments

Despite changes, the private sector investment has been relatively low and it is state spending that has resurrected the lost state. The state government's plan size has gone up substantially from Rs 4000 crore in 2005 to Rs 28,000 crore in 2012-13. Private sector investment has not been encouraging.


Education sector


The government intends to set up nearly 1000 higher secondary schools every year over the next five years. However, the learning outcome of children, as reflected in Pratham reports, poor attendance in government schools and inadequate infrastructurecontinue to be major concerns. Though enrollment has improved, especially of girls, the discovery of inflated admission figures has come as a dampener. The 3000 secondary schools are inadequate considering the growing enrollment at the primary level. At the higher secondary level, Bihar is yet to conform to the national policy of 10+2+3, as degree colleges still continue to have intermediate.


Women's empowerment



In 2011, 1.32 lakh women were elected to the panchayats. 50% of school teacher's posts are reserved for women. As a result of the Girl Cycle Scheme, 97% of all girls now attend schools. The total fertility rate for Bihar is 3.9%. In 2010-11, 5.16 lakh sterilisation operations were carried out.


Health


The improvement in health services is discernible. Earlier, people hesitated to go to government hospitals as there were no doctors, nurses and other staff and general hygiene was pathetic. Now, doctors are available and free medicines are provided to the poor. Primary health centres too have become functional. "We still need to improve the situation. It needs constant monitoring and investment in buildings and health infrastructure in rural areas," said health minister Ashwini Choubey. However, the poverty rate still remains high in Bihar with substantial number of BPL families and a high child mortality rate.


Infrastructure development


Construction giants from across the country are now willing to invest in Bihar in public-private partnerships. The Bihar state bridge construction corporation has successfully executed 336 bridge projects in three years. The state's road density has gone up to 126.13 km from the 111-km mark of 2008. Total road length has increased by 20% in the last year to 1.13 lakh km.


Law and order


In the 1990s, Bihar was a happy hunting ground for gang lords and was known for its 'kidnapping industry'. Now, the guns have been silenced. More than 65,000 people were convicted in the state between January 2006 and December 2011. Of those convicted, more than 150 were sentenced to death while 1,224 got life terms and 3,124 were sentenced to more than 10 years in jail. "The high rate of convictions was made possible by the speedy trial of cases," Bihar DGP Abhayanand said.


Power sector


Bihar is far behind the national average in per capita power consumption of 700 MW. It requires 2,500 MW of power but sanctioned allocation stands at 1,700 MW. It seldom gets more than 700-800 MW. In the next five years, it is unlikely to get more than 700 MW additional power from the NTPC Barh unit and the Nabinagar power plant. The chief minister has to get investments in the power sector to attract big industry players.