Thursday, March 15, 2007

Bihar heading for fast-track development

A few years back, during an election campaign in North Bihar, a handful of villagers stopped RJD supremo Lalu Prasad’s cavalcade and complained to him, “Despite your raj (rule) for more than a decade, our village road has not been constructed yet.”

An unfazed Lalu, in his inimitable style, offered an impromptu reply: “I could have done so. But the day your road is constructed, even the police jeep can reach your doorstep.” Alarmed over the threat from men-in-uniform, and convinced by Lalu’s logic, the villagers preferred not to question him again on the development front.

That was Lalu in the late 90s and early years of this century. But after power slipped out of his hands after a painful but decisive rejection by an electorate which had him eating out of their hands, it was a wake-up call for the man who used to boast that he had a 20-year-agreement with his voters to rule Bihar.

Uprooted from his bastion in 15 years, the regional chieftain lost no time in realising that he can’t fool all the people all the time. Somewhere down the line, the development work had to be undertaken. And what better opportunity than lording over the India’s largest public sector undertaking, the Indian Railways, and doling out one sop after another to his home State.

An electric locomotive manufacturing unit in Madhepura (his ex-constituency) at an estimated cost of Rs 1,294 crore; a diesel locomotive manufacturing factory at Marhaura near Chapra (his constituency) at a cost of Rs 2,025 crore; and a high-axle load wagon bogie manufacturing unit at Dalmianagar in Rohtas, Lalu got a plethora of railway projects sanctioned. Besides, a vast railway network is likely to spread across the Mithilanchal and Kosi belt in North Bihar which had been bereft of the largesse since ages.

Even Patna’s connectivity with far-flung places like Pune, Ahmedabad, Udaipur and Bangalore increased, not to talk of Garib Raths and increased frequency of several super-fast trains, including Rajdhani.

With the coming up of so many trains in one budget after another, it was quite obvious that to cope with the fresh demands, the Railways needed to manufacture diesel and electric engines for hauling new passengers and goods trains.

At present, the Railways have two locomotive factories located at Varanasi in UP (diesel engine) and Chitranjan in West Bengal (electric engine). According to one estimate, an electric engine costs Rs 10 crore, while the manufacturing of a diesel engine costs about Rs 4 crore.

But with the coming up of two separate East and West Freight Corridor at an estimated cost of Rs 28,181 crore, the three factories at Madhepura, Marhaura and Dehri-On-Sone need to become operational as early as possible. The coming up of these units would not only generate employment for the people here but also improve the socio-economic condition of the State.

Lalu, who till recently was accused of failing Bihar throughout his rule, has, of late, through a slew of measures, been giving the impression of competing with the State Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and thereby trying to cultivate an image of Vikas Purush, an acronym used for the JD (U) strongman.

Not to be overshadowed, Nitish, too, is going into overdrive so far as development of the State is concerned. Establishment of rule of the law was the first priority. That being done, he ensured the empowerment of women through 50 per cent reservation of seats for them in the panchayat elections.

In the pipeline are the appointment of 2.5 lakhs primary teachers, constables/sub-inspectors, doctors, retired CBI personnel (for Vigilance Department) and further recruitment of ex-armymen in auxiliary police.

Besides, Nitish too has unveiled projects worth several crores across the State, including establishment of the Chanakya Law University and announcing the opening of engineering and medical colleges in Nalanda, Madhepura and Bettiah.

In a valiant attempt to upstage each other, it’s Bihar which, at the end of the day, is the biggest beneficiary of the Lalu-Nitish rivalry. For, politics notwithstanding, development seems to have become the core issue in the State which, earlier, hit the headlines more for the wrong reasons.