If his party returns to power, keeping in with the rising aspirations of the people of Bihar would be the biggest challenge facing chief minister Nitish Kumar, said Rajya Sabha member NK Singh.
Singh, who served successive governments as a bureaucrat and a senior policy-maker, also rejected Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s claim that the JD (U) government had failed to adequately use central funds meant for the state’s development.
Nitish Kumar’s government has come under attack from both the Prime Minister and Congress president Sonia Gandhi for not doing enough to spread the benefits of the high economic growth and the surge in the central funds flow.
Singh told HT in an exclusive interview that Bihar had seen an average economic growth rate of nearly 12% in the past five years, making it one of the fastest-growing states in India and altering the state’s decades-long image of being a laggard.
Sectors such as roads and transportation have seen significant improvements, while a radical change in the law and order situation has removed a key deterrent to investors who have been ignoring Bihar till now. But high growth has also changed people’s expectations and brought new challenges to the fore.
“Catching up with aspirations will be the biggest challenge … We cannot go into the next elections – if we win again – with the same achievements,” Singh said. “Bridging gender gaps, bringing down infant and maternal mortality rates, executing a sea change in the education sector and reducing the fertility rate are just some of the things.”
He pointed to how the development of roads helped build linkages to grain markets, which, in turn, helped farmers get better deals for their produce; how the distribution of cycles among girls helped them return to schools, and how
services and the availability of medicines at primary healthcare centres improved.
He said, “I find that the government structure fostered
in the last five years (in Bihar) has received overwhelming support because of the experience of improved life quality.”
Singh, who is a key architect of the JD(U)’s election manifesto, also acknowledged allegations of increased corruption during the tenure of Nitish Kumar. But “these aberrations serve to highlight the higher level of project implementation,” he said.
“More funds and more distribution means there will be loopholes. The fund spend in Bihar has increased five times, from R4,000 crore in 2005 to R21,000 crore in 2010.”
Despite the increase in the central fund flow, Singh said Bihar has not received from New Delhi the kind of help
it deserves, especially after the state was split to create Jharkhand and most of the revenue-generating industries and mines went to the new state.
“Bihar has been ignored to a great extent. The problem is that the Bihar government was not congruent and homogeneous to the Centre,” he
said. “Fiscal federalism and devolutions (of money and power) cannot be driven by predilections.”