Friday, December 22, 2006

Year of hope, despair for Bihar

A governor bowing out of office after being pronounced guilty of constitutional impropriety by the apex court, the high and mighty of the political class getting hauled up for being caught on the wrong side of the law and a State struggling to shed the image mired in crime and corruption, 2006 was a year of hope and despair for Bihar.

It was a year in which the State's NDA Government, starting out on a huge reserve of goodwill and enormous burden of people's aspirations after 15 years of Lalu-Rabri regime, raised new hopes of economic and social sector revival while keeping under check age-old caste conflicts and naxalite violence.

Two months and two days after the birth of the Nitish Kumar Government, time finally ran out Buta Singh as Governor.

On January 26, Singh, who was on January 24 indicted by the Supreme Court for his "drastic and extreme" recommendation for dissolution of the still-born 13th Assembly and imposition of central rule on May 23, 2005, after the elections threw up a hung house, exited from office.

Holding as "unconstitutional" the dissolution, a five- judge bench of the apex court by a 3:2 verdict said the drastic and extreme action under Article 356 cannot be justified on the mere whims and fancies of the Governor.

Clearly, the Governor misled the Council of Ministers which led to the advice being given to the President leading to the issue of Presidential proclamation.

The irony could not be missed as Buta had to relinquish office on the day when the nation celebrated the 57th anniversary of the birth of the Republic.

In a State where the dividing line between politics and crime has got blurred, the year gone by was full of bad tidings for muscle-flexing politicians as law finally appeared to be catching up with them.

Mohd Shahabuddin and Sadhu Yadav, the mighty mascots of the State's erstwhile ruling RJD, found themselves behind bars.

On January 2, Shahabuddin, the Siwan MP, was chargesheeted in four cases, including that of sedition in connection with the recovery of firearms of foreign make and ammunition with Pakistan ordnance factory markings from his house at Pratappur during a raid in April last year.

Sadhu Yadav, brother-in-law of Railway Minister Lalu Prasad, often in the news for wrong reasons, was chargesheeted in the Rs 18 crore- flood relief scam on April 10. The MP from Gopalganj had to surrender to a vigilance court in a case of alleged forgery and cheating, an off-shoot of the scam, on December four and was sent to judicial custody.

A warrant of arrest was also pending against Sadhu for assaulting a candidate for the post of Phulwaria block development committee chief Dinesh Sahu for refusing to obey his diktat to withdraw in favour of Kunti Devi, wife of Lalu's elder brother Gulab Rai.

Samajwadi Party's State President and Phulparas MLA Deonath Yadav was handed down life sentence by a Madhubani court in a 14-year-old murder case, while suspended JD(U) MLA from Piro Suni Pandey was sent to judicial remand for an extortion demand from a construction company in Aurangabad.

Even while the courts dealt with cases against dons- turned- politicians, the nascent NDA Government, whose Chief Minister had promised to make the State crime-free within three months of coming to power, realised it was easier said than done.

On the very first day of the year, Bihar woke up to the shocking news of a woman and her five kids being roasted alive in their hut at Rampur-Shyamchand village in Vaishali district over a dispute of cattle theft.

Around the same time when the Chief Minister was preparing to deliver his address to the superintendents of police to ensure speedy trial and conviction of the kidnappers on July 17, the son of a suspended official of Animal Husbandry department and a fodder scam accused O P Diwakar, was abducted on way to school.

Though Bihar remained largely free from any caste, communal or naxalite violence, Papya Ghosh, a professor at Patna university and historian of repute, was stabbed to death at her Patna residence on December three triggering widespread protests. Arun Tiwari, a VSNL engineer, too was stabbed to death in front of the Patna Women's college where Ghosh once taught.

Though the NDA Government raised a 5000-strong special auxiliary police comprising ex-servicemen to tackle naxalites and criminals, how daunting the task of controlling crime is can be imagined by the fact that an official list was furnished to the High Court containing names of over 150 policemen, including three IPS officers, facing criminal charge including extortion and murder.

Even as it fought locally-bred crime, the State received with disbelief the news of arrest of Kamal Ahmed Ansari, a Pak-trained militant and Khalid Shaikh from Madhubani district in connection with the July 11 coordinated blasts in Mumbai's commuter trains.

The State had its own share of page-3 gossip and controversy when Ranjana Jha, a woman from Supaul district, accosted acclaimed Bollywood singer Udit Narayan at a posh city hotel claiming herself to be his first wife. The "Papa Kahte Hain" singer initially denied association but, under pressure from women's groups, ultimately accepted Ranjana as his first wife.

Nitish Kumar, who was judged the best Chief Minister on the basis of opinion polls conducted by various media organisations, took the historic step of reserving 50 per cent of seats at all levels of Panchayati Raj institutions for women.

The Government began the exercise of recruiting 2.36 lakh teachers for primary, middle and secondary schools to pull education out of the morass it had got stuck into.

A common school commission was constituted to suggest way and means for removal of dual system of schooling by establishing commons schools for both rich and the poor.

Seven medical colleges were proposed to be set up in the private sector and Nitish Kumar made a pitch for the NRIs to invest in Bihar at the Pravasi Bhartiya Divas in Hyderabad promising a slew of tax concessions and waivers.

The Planning Commission raised Bihar's annual plan size for 2006-07 to Rs 8250 crore, Rs 2850 crore more than the previous year.

An administrative reforms commission was set up to recommend measures for improvement in the functioning of the administrative machinery by making it modern, people-oriented, sensitive and effective.

To instill confidence among the minorities and bring justice to the Bhagalpur communal riots victims of 1989, a judicial commission was constituted to probe afresh cases which were closed by the police citing "lack of evidence." The riots had claimed over 1000 lives, mostly Muslims.

The State was jolted when a 140-year-old overbridge being dismantled near Bhagalpur Railway station came crashing down on Howrah-Jamalpur Express train killing 35 passengers on December two.

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