Bihar: Views on land bill, ties with RJD denting Nitish's popularity

  • DK Singh, Hindustan Times, Patna
  • Updated: Aug 12, 2015 19:17 IST

Rahul Kumar is quick to name Prime Minister Narendra Modi as his favourite leader. The Mathematics (Hons) student at Patna Science College believes a Modi-driven administration in Bihar would offer the youth more promising prospects. Prajapati, 20, though doesn’t want to share his views on foes-turned-friends chief minister Nitish Kumar and RJD chief Lalu Prasad.

At Desari Road, about 50 kilometres east of the state capital, 30-year-old Mukesh Kumar Swarnakar who belongs to an extremely backward class (EBC) is more vocal. “I always voted for the Janata Dal or the JD(U). What have they done? Somebody else should get a chance.”

Weeks ahead of Bihar’s assembly election, Nitish Kumar seems to be losing the trust of the state’s zealous young generation that once saw in him a “vikas purush”, or “man of development”. While growing aspirations of the youth and his alliance with Lalu are said to have dented his appeal, the Chief Minister also seems to have slipped on delivery.

Investment proposals worth thousands of crores are stuck due to unavailability of land, while Kumar's Janata Dal (United) stridently opposes what it calls the “pro-corporate” land ordinance of the BJP-led government at the Centre. There are few employment opportunities in the private sector and government jobs continue to wither.

The money tap too seems to be running dry. The State Investment Promotion Board (SIPB) approved 1,340 projects worth Rs 28,070 crore from 2012-13 to May this year. Of this, as per official figures, investments worth only about Rs 2,932 crore, or a little over 10%, have materialised.

“Investments on the ground in the past five years or so are less than Rs 8,000 crore. 90% of it is in the food processing sector and 80-90% of it is from within the state. Land availability is a big problem, though the government is trying,” says SP Sinha, chairman of the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII)’s Patna chapter. “Unlike other states, Bihar has no land bank. The Industrial Area Development Authority ran out of land in 2011-12."

Nitish Kumar kicked off a high-tech campaign last month aimed at catalysing development and showcasing his government’s achievements with an eye on this year’s polls, but sources say many ventures launched with much fanfare are failing to take off.

"Of all the SIPB proposals in the past few years, a substantial chunk has been for solar power projects. As none of them got off the ground, we had a meeting with the investors in January. 90% of them were not interested any more. They were under the impression that the government would acquire land for them,” says a senior bureaucrat.

Last November, the Bihar government cancelled 33 coal-based power projects worth Rs 2.25 lakh crore as they were reportedly grounded by problems ranging from land availability to non-allocation of coal linkages.

To brandish its commitment to development, the Nitish Kumar administration came up with a policy recently allowing the private sector to acquire land from farmers on a 99-year lease.

But the initiative has evoked scepticism from industry as land holdings in Bihar are very small and it would be difficult for the private sector to obtain land with the government deciding to keep its hands off.

According to SP Sinha, the circle rates in Bihar have gone up four to five times in the past three years and that has also made land prices unaffordable for many potential investors.

While he is busy doing caste calculations, Nitish Kumar’s approach towards the land bill suggests private investments and job creation have fallen off the one-time vikas purush’s priority list.

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