Times are a-changing for Bihar. The stereotype of being the heart of India’s backwardness is now giving way to a cautious hope that this state is turning around. This message comes through strongly in a Hindustan Times-CFore survey and is attributable, in large measure, to the dynamism of its Chief Minister, Nitish Kumar — who is determined to improve governance in the state whose population is equivalent to that of Germany but with the living standards of Burundi.
Three-quarters of the surveyed respondents felt that this government was more efficient than the previous one. Around half felt that Mr Kumar, who is now halfway through his five-year term, is a good CM.
Regime change has opened up possibilities that many thought didn’t exist before in Bihar. Lawlessness and corruption of successive regi-mes in the past ensured a dismal track record on economic development. Signs of welcome cha-nge are now being felt, above all, in law and order with four-tenths of the respondents feeling safer than before. Sixty-five per cent think that the education system has improved: around 24 lakh children were out of school when Mr Kumar took office in 2005. Now, that has been reduced to 10 lakh. Primary health centres are stocked with free medicines.
There is also light at the end of the growth tunnel as Bihar has grown faster than Punjab between 1999-2000 and 2006-07 although it is four times poorer on a per head basis. Despite the best agro-climatic conditions, this region is the bastion of semi-feudal agriculture and there is a preponderance of marginal holdings with low productivity. The relations of production act as a barrier to technological change.
Mr Kumar has a vast unfinished agenda. But he has made a beginning by appointing more teachers, doctors, engineers, policemen and officials to plug gaps in development works in his state. With better governance,
Mr Kumar has also demonstrated that there is indeed hope for a better tomorrow in Bihar.