Recent numbers put out by the Central Statistical Organisation show a spurt among India’s most-backward states while the country as a whole took a knock from the global financial crisis, shaving 2 percentage points off trend line GDP growth. Bihar did surprisingly well, clocking 11.03 per cent between 2004-05 and 2008-09, a hair’s breadth behind Gujarat’s scorching 11.05 per cent. Reason enough to raise a toast to inclusive growth? Not quite. Bihar’s state domestic product in 2007-08 was Rs 88,290 crore, less than a fourth of the Rs 416,248 crore in Maharashtra, India’s richest state. Bihar would have to grow at 11 per cent for 15 years to catch up with today’s Maharashtra. But in that time, Maharashtra’s state domestic product, if it grows at its 9 per cent trend, will be three-and-a-half times its present size. The good news is that the gap is closing, but it is agonisingly slow.
Throw in the spectre of population growth and even this limited gain evaporates. Bihar’s per capita income in 2007-08 at Rs 8,703 was again a fourth of Maharashtra’s Rs 33,302. But Bihar’s per capita income is rising by 6 per cent a year, while that in Maharashtra is climbing by 7.2 per cent. Here the gap is flatly opening up. Bihar would reach Maharashtra’s present standard of living in 2032, Delhi’s in 2043 and Chandigarh’s in 2047. The last would be around the time India became the world’s third-largest economy, after the US and China.
Thirty-seven years is a long transition from a predominantly farm economy to a services-driven one.
The story of the migrant Bihari is far from over, chances are the hump is ahead of us. Inclusive growth needs to move from the slogan stage into policy that arrests India’s geographically lopsided growth. The Centre is as responsible as the states themselves for backwardness. Resource reallocation needs to be thought through beyond the principle of winner takes all. India’s advance to a frontline economy seems irreversible, the challenge is to pull up the laggards within the column. Given the right governance, adequate infrastructure and a helping hand from the Centre, there is no reason for Bihar not to walk in step.