The continued neglect of Bihar in the Union Budgets is gradually forcing the state to a situation where, if immediate corrective measures are not taken, economic disparities will only increase and boost extremism.
The odds are stacked heavily against Bihar — the poor form 41.5 per cent of its population; it has a poverty and hunger average of 2.7 per cent against a national average of 1.9 per cent; 58.4 per cent of its children under the age of three are underweight and only one-fourth of its population has access to public health and toilets.
Experts say Bihar requires 40 per cent subsidy to improve the standard of life.
But despite its limited resources — its per capita income in 2007-08 was Rs 10,570 against a per capita debt of Rs 4,100 — Bihar still has a chance to stand up as a developed state by 2015, provided the Centre helps. And things have started changing.
“The main reason for this turnaround is that quality of governance has improved due to consolidation of panchayats. Resource devolution has gone up to Rs 10,000 crore and is expected to touch Rs 16,000 this year,” said Saibal Gupta, director, Asian Development Research Institute.
He asserted that despite “leakages”, wealth is being created. “No dramatic improvement has taken place. It is just marginal. Yet, migration of labour has declined considerably. Investment has gradually started flowing into Bihar.”
The state has also witnessed activity in real estate, Gupta said. “Infrastructure development, welfare and poverty alleviation schemes are having a cumulative impact on the economy.”
The per capita debt could be further scaled down by reducing non-plan expenditures, he suggested. “For example, at present, only 40,000 traders in Bihar pay sales tax. The government can expand the tax net to generate more revenue,” Gupta said.
Ramdas Kaile, circle head of the Punjab National Bank, said: “Bihar has the lowest CD (credit-deposit) ratio. Unless people take more loans, per capita income will not increase.”
“Apart from resurgence of the farm sector and impact of welfare schemes, Bihar has seen industrial investment after years. In the last three years, entrepreneurs invested Rs 2,000 crore in Bihar,” said K.P. Jhunjhunwala, president of the Bihar Industries Association.
He urged the Centre to concede to the state's plea for increasing the number of BPL (below the poverty line) families.
Dr Gorelal Yadav, an economist, seconded this. “Bihar has 1.25 crore BPL families out of an estimated population of 10 crore, but the Centre simply refuses to hear the pleas of the state.”
Nitish to give surplus land to poor women
In a pathbreaking and electorally promising move, the Nitish Kumar government is all set to provide 50 per cent reservation to women in the settlement of all land that is above the ceiling laid down by law in the state.
This surplus land will be acquired by the state government and distributed to Mahadalits, who comprise 21 of the weakest classes in Bihar and to other weaker sections of society.
“A new Bill to facilitate this provision will be brought during the ongoing budget session of the state legislature,” Revenue and Land Reforms Minister Narendra Narayan Yadav said on Thursday. Yadav said the proposed law would be a path-breaking legislation to empower women.
The law will in particular benefit women belonging to the Mahadalit communities, who number 48 lakh according to K.P. Ramaiah, secretary of the Mahadalit Commission. They, thus, form less than 6 per cent of the state’s population of 8.3 crore.
Mahadalits constitute a special welfare thrust category created by the Nitish Kumar regime. They are among the weakest communities figuring on the list of the Scheduled Castes.
The government has set up a separate commission to oversee the cause of Mahadalits and earmarked separate funds for their welfare. It apparently also expects to draw electoral profit from its initiatives.
“The issuance of land ownership papers in the names of women will, among other things, strengthen their position in their families. This way, the move will lend greater stability to the social structure,” the minister said.
He said the proposed Bill seeks to amend the existing Bihar Land Reforms (Fixation of Ceiling Area and Acquisition of Surplus Land) Act.
“We are making a provision for settling in the names of women belonging to the eligible Mahadalit and other weaker sections 50 per cent of all ceiling surplus land acquired under Section 27 of the Act,” Yadav said.
The latest Land Reforms Department figures show 2,127.36 acres of ceiling surplus land was settled in favour of the weaker sections during the period from 2005-09. This figure is now expected to expand.
The new law will provide strength and dignity to the much-abused and disadvantaged women in the male-dominated Bihari society. “It will serve as a great disincentive for men to abandon their wives, which happens very often at present,” the minister said.