To Bihar's Credit

I.R. Sharma


Many a times, I get confused. What would have been the right course or the benchmarks for Bihar? What model it must follow? Should Bihar go for one followed by Naidu's Andhra Pradesh?

And then I find the highest incidence of farm indebtedness is in that Andhra Pradesh, the fifth biggest producer of food grains in the country. And I get delighted that the incidence of farm indebtedness is much less found in poverty-stricken Bihar. Bihar's farmers live and work within their means. I am sure the number of suicides and deaths due to starvation too must be least in Bihar.

And I am told of the huge number of engineering colleges that AP built. I get morose and start envying AP again but the next moment I read a report of a great beginning on education front at the grass-root levels in Bihar. I feel elated.

"In an overdrive, Bihar has recruited 2,00,000 teachers, 50 per cent of them women, and built 65,000 classrooms in less than two years. The state is also setting up more model schools to impart vocational training in the secondary schools. In fact, there are around 35 model schools/basic schools in West Champaran district alone that seek to impart skills like tailoring and computer-aided learning along with the school curriculum. What is really significant is that Bihar has taken the lead in providing vocational skills in the secondary school level. Pratham has started teaching applied arithmetic and computer application to former child labourers now going to local schools."

"From 21.5 lakh students out of school in Bihar, the number has declined to less than 9.5 lakh. One big reason for Bihar's success is the government seeking the help of organizations like the Idar-e-Shariat, Muslim Pasmanda Mahaj and Din-i-Talim to provide bridge courses to Muslim girls, who accounted for 60 per cent of the 14-16 year age group that is not in school." The state is taking all assistance from Pratham and UNICEF, and is not depending on the inspector raj of its education department.

I do also feel great when I hear about the Bihar's revolutionary step in bringing in the maximum number of women in democratic system. For record at least, India has more elected women representatives than all other countries put together and Bihar is in the forefront. According to the Ministry of Panchayati , "No less than 10 lakh women are in our panchayati raj (local self-government) institutions, comprising 37 per cent of all those elected and rising to as high as 54 per cent in Bihar, which has 50 per cent reservation for women." Women's empowerment is getting a new resonance in an underdeveloped Bihar district. Kishanganj, which didn't have a district hospital till a few years back, is witnessing a revolution with an NGO teaching reproductive and sexual healthcare to teenage girls in a madarsa.

I knew the miserable conditions of the teachers and students of the unaided schools and colleges in Bihar. How much of potential human resources were getting wasted? But then Nitish comes with some unique ideas and gives a new hope to those schools and their teachers. I wish the teachers appreciate and cooperate rather than taking political advantages.

However, no one can have any excuse about the miserable conditions of some sub-castes of deprived Dalits. According to a rough estimate, there are some 20-lakh Dalit children in Bihar who are not enrolled in schools despite the SSA scheme. I really get totally drained off. But I find again something that makes me hopeful after finding a statement right from Krishna Kumar, officer on special duty at the Raj Bhavan, Patna: "About 1,000 children in the age group of five to seven and belonging to the Musahar community will be adopted and enrolled in government schools soon."

But with all the stories of some glimpses of hope, I hardly find any big projects coming up in Bihar. All the proposals for setting up the factories and enterprises in Bihar seem to be non-starters.

Despite high hopes of an improved investment in Bihar under Nitish Kumar, the state did not see much improvement in 2007 compared to 2002. Per capita investment rose to Rs 3,145 from Rs 3,080. Surprisingly, Bihar had performed better in the previous five years. Per capita investment had risen from Rs 959 in 1997 to Rs 3,145 in 2002.

The government must have right people who can focus on the task of attracting investment in the state. Nitish Kumar must find some effective assistants or if necessary hire some from private sector, who can concentrate on the task of building Bihar's sugar industry, food and fruit processing industry, or handicrafts. He can pick up some real genius from among his bureaucrats who can take the tourism in Bihar to the level of Rajasthan.

Nitish must be a little more aggressively ambitious about the development of Bihar. Nitish can certainly create modern Nalanda and Vikramshila. As Buddha is building IT strength of Calcutta, and Naidu built Hyderabad, Nitish can also build Patna, and Gaya as IT hub. The educated young men of Bihar will expect at least this much from him. Nitish can rejuvenate the glory of ancient Bihar in metal sector. Nitish must offer to the honest investors something more than what other states are offering. No one will come unless they find the state a better destination. And Nitish must make his men realize this. I wonder if Nitish has that will or wish to become a path breaker from Bihar's political tradition of very low orders.

Unfortunately, Nitish might have established himself politically, but have not been able to bring about the changes in infrastructures and administration that can allure the investors in big way. And sometimes I wonder if he would have been satisfied himself with his achievements. For me, and may be for many, it is an opportunity lost and hopes belied.

Bihar perhaps will have to wait further for a ruthless aggressive leader who makes Bihar turnaround to get into the league of developed states.