Monday, April 09, 2007

Car, Motorcycle Rally to Promote Safe Driving

Dozens of male and female participants took part in a car and motorcycle rally in Patna on Sunday jointly organized by the Bihar Motor Association and the State Bank of India to promote safe driving in Bihar where vehicular deaths are as common and frequent as a political rally at Dak Bungalow crossing.

Men and women eager to participate in the 80 kilometer rally left the State Bank of India, Patna main branch near Gandhi Maidan, after Ranjit Kumar Das, the event official flagged off the race.

"Many lives are lost each day on Bihar roads and with this rally we hope to raise the awareness among both men and women that safety should be the first and foremost consideration while being behind the wheels," Das said.

What’s good for Bihar is good for India

A Stanford-India Mirror Conference took place in Patna this week. It was part of the state government’s programme of confronting the state’s challenges with an open mind to best practices from around the world. The conference brought together a team from the Stanford Center for International Development, members of the state government, researchers from area universities and think tanks, members of the global and local Indus Entrepreneurs (TiE) and other members of civil society, to discuss policy challenges for Bihar.

The focus was not so different than the kinds of general questions that policymakers in India have on their minds: what policies would accelerate inclusive growth? Nick Hope (Stanford) made a presentation on lessons from China, Anjini Kochar (Stanford) on education policies, Ward Hanson (Stanford) on IT and growth, TN Srinivasan (Stanford) on employment generation as well as centre-state relations and AN Sharma and Pinaki Joddar on povert. We spoke on public private partnerships and investment climate.

The Chief Minister of Bihar summarised the reform and legislative initiatives over the last 15 months, and laid out his vision for the coming years. The deputy CM, ministers of HRD, RCD, energy, rural development, science and technology, apart from the chief secretary and commissioners of HRD and finance, among others, provided insights into Bihar’s current strategies. Ramesh Yadava, a charter member of Silicon Valley TiE, also brought out the importance of accelerating the pace of implementation of the multiple commitments made in its recently launched Approach Paper to the XIth Plan. The theme running through all sessions: given the pressing needs, administrative challenges, and constrained financial and human resources in comparison with the task at hand, what steps deserve priority?

Some consensus did emerge:

Learn from others’ experience.

There’s no need to re-invent the wheel in all cases. The world is full of relevant experiences, both successes and failures, to learn from. On SEZs, for example, much of the debate has focused on comparing India and China’s fiscal policies. Nick Hope brought out the importance of an exit policy to wind up any special preferences once their purpose is over.

Given the many pressing needs, administrative challenges, and constrained financial and human resources in comparison with the task at hand, what steps deserve priority?

But tailor this experience to local conditions.

Nick Hope’s presentation on China’s development strategy raised a number of suggestions that would need to be tempered to suit India’s democratic setting. China’s differential treatment of coastal and interior provinces, for example, would not be feasible here as a way to focus resources. Our session on mobilising investment discussed an adaptation of the strategy focus on enabling ‘infrastructure clusters’ like office parks, small-store retail malls, or time-share equipment shops that any citizen with an entrepreneurial bent could access, no matter how small the enterprise. These could balance the benefits of focus with the need to avoid shutting any group out of development at first.

And take advantage of India’s conditions.

Democracy might look like a ‘constraint’ when policies fail to reach consensus, vested interests block reforms, or people occupy land intended for a power plant. But it is actually an advantage in other ways. The freedom to protest provides information about preferences and needs. Confidence in challenging government policies also lets citizens act as monitors of service quality better than if they were subdued by authority. Active community groups, a byproduct of an open society, could complement governments in providing infrastructure and services.

Take unintended consequences into account.

Anjini Kochar’s presentation on education pointed out that education policies’ focus on creating access to education by localising the school system seems to also have affected the level and variance in quality. Schools designed to serve small localities effectively become segregated when there is residential clustering. Localisation also means that school size is determined by population density more than efficiency. In the end, Professor Kochar recommended an adjustment of the policy to take these multiple dimensions into account: place pre-schools in localities to draw people into the system, but then aggregate students to the efficient scale for higher grades.

Leverage technologies to create change.

India’s development efforts, especially its rural policies, are taking place in an era where ICT can (in theory) mean the ‘death of distance’. The challenge: to develop the content to be diffused through this network and ensure greater access. We discussed in our session the need to create an open-access rural Internet backbone to support government programmes (like agricultural extension) as well as any other applications and services that private entrepreneurs can dream up.

Rework institutions to enable change.

Sessions looked at not only the state’s institutions, but also the state’s institutional context. TN Srinivasan emphasised the importance of rationalising intergovernmental transfers, reconsidering the role of the Planning Commission and restructuring the mechanism for Centre-state relations.

In the end, implement.

Policy pronouncements are just words and aims. Changing outcomes takes concerted actions, coordinated by pragmatic strategies. In all of these areas, Bihar is not alone or unique in India. What is good for Bihar could also be good for India.

Kalam meets scientist friend in Bihar

President APJ Abdul Kalam on Friday met retired scientist MB Verma, a former colleague, during his visit to Bihar's Darbhanga district.

It was a nostalgic moment for both as they held each other's hands and talked.

Verma, who worked with Kalam at the Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA) in Bangalore, was overjoyed at meeting the president.

Official sources said Kalam, after addressing Lalit Narayan Mithila University (LMNU) convocation, met Verma and introduced him to Chief Minister Nitish Kumar.

Kalam advised Nitish Kumar to take Verma's help for Bihar's development.

He said Verma could be a role model for the country as even after retirement he was doing exemplary work for improving literacy and healthcare facilities in the state.

Verma, who lives in Rasiyari Baur village in Darbhanga, did not hide his happiness by saying that Kalam's gesture showed the greatness of the man.

He was the project director of the Light Combat Aircraft (LCA), 'Tejas', manufacturing programme from 1993 to 1996. Kalam, who designed the LCA, was the ADA's director general during the period.

Verma recalled that Kalam was very friendly with his colleagues. "We enjoyed working under his leadership," he said.

After retirement, Verma returned to his village and opened an adult education centre by investing his own money.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Bihar's Kamasutra temple in neglect

Hajipur (Bihar), April 6: A 17th century Shiva temple in Hajipur District of Bihar, which propagated Kamasutra, the ancient Sanskrit treatise on the art of love, is today lying in utter neglect, with the place giving a safe heaven to stray dogs and hooligans.

Built in 1669 by one Suba Kaji Hira Lal in Nepalese art form, the Shiva Temple is said to be the first of its kind constructed with a specific motive to propagate the cycle of creations. The temple, known as Nepali Kothi, has over eighty carvings depicting different poses as stated in Vatsayana's Kamasutra.

Though devotees worship the Shivalinga or, the phallic symbol or Shiva but the temple is also known for its unique artistry. "It was to bring the attention of people of all religions to the cycle of creation, these 84 carvings (depicting the Kamasutra) in wood were made," said Suba Hemant Jha, a local priest.

Hordes of people used to visit the temple, and the old ritual is still followed though on a lesser scale. But with the passage of time, the temple's paintings and the carvings have worn out, requiring urgent conservation.

"Today, this temple is under the jurisdiction of the Bihar government. It has not even appointed a priest or any security, let alone any other arrangements (for worship), " lamented the priest. The temple comes under Bihar government's Tourism Department.

It's minister says, they have plans to refurbish the temple to its past glory and bring it in the State's tourism circuit. "The Bihar government is very concerned about its future.

The State government has allotted 22 lakh rupees for its maintenance. It is our intention to promote this place as a tourist destination. We are already looking into its upkeep, strategies to ring in tourists will follow suit," averred Nand Kishore Yadav, Bihar's Tourism and Railway Minister.

Patna Girl Wins at US National Scholastics Chess

Ankita Roy an eighth grader from Horner Junior high School, Fremont, California won 15th place in the United States Junior High (K-9 under 1250) National chess championship held in Sacramento. The championship held at Sacramento convention center from March 30-April 1 drew 994 scholastic players from all over United States.

Ankita won five out of seven games defeating players from Michigan, New York, Wisconsin and California. In last round of her match she went down fighting to Kevin Izquierdo of New York, who won 2nd place in the tournament.

Top 25 players were awarded trophies by United States Chess federation.Ankita already has several titles under her belt including winning the California State Championship (K-3 division) two years in a row which is a record in itself since no girl has ever won this and no player has won this twice.

Ankita's father Sujay Roy, who is also the secretary of the American Organization for the Development of Bihar (AODB) based in the San Francisco Bay Area in California, was a junior chess champion during his own time in India.

Nitish government has decided to repair the bridge with its own resources

Fed up with the delay in the Centre sanctioning funds for the maintenance of the Mahatma Gandhi Setu, the State Government has decided to carry out repair of the bridge linking North Bihar with the State Capital with its own resources.
Chief Minister Nitish Kumar took the decision during a late night stroll along the Ganga over which the bridge stands. Alarmed when briefed about the state of the distressed Setu and the unending traffic snarls, he issued necessary instructions to Road Construction Minister Nand Kishore Yadav on the spot.

Nitish said that even while funding repair of the bridge, State Government keep up the pressure on the Centre to release fund.

Following Chief Minister's instructions, Yadav convened a high-level meeting and issued necessary directives on reconstruction of the Setu. He said the State Government would seek help from international experts for reconstruction of the Setu and, if required, would completely change the upper structure as a long-term measure. “At the same time the ongoing repair being funded by the Centre will also continue”, he added.

Six months ago the State government had submitted a plan for repair of the entire bridge to the Union Surface Transport Ministry, Yadav said with the suggestion to consult international experts for a long-term solution to the problem. However, Yadav regretted that the Centre was yet to respond to the State Government’s proposal despite the fact that the condition of the Setu was deteriorating by the day.

“Snapping of the vital link between North and South Bihar will adversely affect the State’s economy,” he asserted. A survey conducted on the Setu in January had revealed that nine spans had ‘external pre-stressing’ and 33 required immediate change of hinge bearing. This is in addition to the repair work being carried.

The State Government had invited bids for additional immediate repairs after the Centre failed to respond to a memorandum submitted by the State Government in January.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Hindu trust in Bihar offers job to Bahadur Shah's kin

Kunal is credited with single-handedly turning
around the Mahavir Mandir Trust into a profit making body. The trust runs three hospitals, including the state's first private cancer hospital here, from the monetary offering of devotees and profits from the sale of special sweets prepared by it.

A Hindu temple trust in Bihar has offered a job and free education to the impoverished family members of India's last Mughal emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar's great granddaughter-in-law Sultana Begum.This humane gesture of communal harmony comes in a year that India celebrates the 150th year of the first war of independence in 1857 - a war fought under the leadership of Zafar.

The Patna-based Mahavir Mandir Trust has offered a job to a member of Kolkata-based Sultana Begum's family and free education to her grandson to mark their respect for Zafar, whose contribution to sectarian harmony and national integration is legendary.

'The temple trust has offered a job to any member of her family in any secular institution and free education to her grandson to pay our respects to Bahadur Shah Zafar ' said trust secretary Kishore Kunal here.Sultana Begum, who is in her early 50s, is in Bihar along with a minor grandson on a mission to spread the message of peace and create awareness about Zafar's contributions to society.

'I was honoured when the trust offered a job for a family member and free education to my grandson. It is a great thing to happen, I will not forget this in my lifetime,' said an emotionally charged Sultana Begum, who is the wife of the late Mirza Mohammad Bedar Bakht, the great grandson of Bahadur Shah Zafar.Bakht was born in Rangoon where the British government had imprisoned his great grandfather.

After India's independence, Bakht return to India and married Sultana Begum in 1965.Sultana Begum, who lives off a small scrap shop in a Kolkata slum along with half a dozen family members, also visited a Sikh shrine - the Patna Saheb Gurdwara - and a tomb of a Muslim saint at Phulwarisharif near here.

'We have been struggling for survival. There was virtually no help from the West Bengal government or the central government,' she added.With a meagre pension of Rs.400 since 1980, she has seen near penury after her husband died. ´

'There was no change in my pension but prices of rice and wheat increased manifold. The pension provided by the government hardly allows us to get foods for four days. But who cares for us despite our historical background?' she lamented.

Sultana Begum has set up the Bahadur Shah Zafar Memorial Trust in West Bengal, with the aim of making people aware of the contributions made by the last Mughal emperor.

I want to spread the message of communal harmony of the last Mughal emperor among the youth,' she said. The trust will hold a poetry meet in Kolkata on April 22. She also plans to revive Zafar's famous 'Phul Walon ki Sair' -.Earlier here, Kunal presented her with a shawl, a memento and some traditional sweets prepared by the temple trust. '

We honoured her when she visited a Mahavir Jain temple and offered prayers for communal harmony,' said Kunal, a former IPS officer who was appointed administrator of the Bihar Religious Trusts Board by the Nitish Kumar government.

Kunal is credited with single-handedly turning around the Mahavir Mandir Trust into a profit making body.

The trust runs three hospitals, including the state's first private cancer hospital here, from the monetary offering of devotees and profits from the sale of special sweets prepared by it.The trust, which has also appointed a Dalit priest at the temple, is associated with the Ramanand sect.

Patna is Patliputra, not Azimabad

Patliputra reached the pinnacle of prosperity when it was the capital of the great Mauryan kings, Chandragupta and Ashoka, the great men the present-day Biharis yearn to be identified with. There is an on-going campaign of the people of Bihar to rename Patna with its original name, Patliputra.

The UPA coalition competing hard with each other to lure the minority Muslims is trying all possible gimmicks to make them believe that it is their most trust-worthy saviour.

Of the many ludicrous tricks played by various politicians, probably the most outrageous is Lalu Prasad Yadav’s demand for change in the name of the capital of Bihar from Patna to Azimabad.

The reason cited by Lalu for the proposed change is that the last wish of former Assembly Speaker and RJD minister the late Ghulam Sarwar was to see Patna being known as Azimabad and Lalu wanted to see his wish being fulfilled. It is interesting to note that during his long tenure as the Chief Minister in Bihar, when he ruled the state directly or by proxy, Lalu made no efforts for the name change.

In fact, when in the late 1990s the then Speaker of the Bihar Assembly the late Dev Narayan Yadav had submitted a memorandum to Lalu for renaming Patna as Patliputra, Lalu had turned it down saying that the change of name of a city was an irrelevant issue.

The big question here is that how did the then irrelevant issue suddenly become relevant now? And what makes the wish of Ghulam Sarwar more valuable than that of Dev Narayan Yadav? Raising an issue when in the opposition is much easier than addressing it when in power.

But discrimination between two former Speakers, who are both no longer in this world, on the grounds of their religion is unpardonable. It is obvious that Ghulam Sarwar’s wish carries more weight because he was a Muslim, a minority that is especially privileged to have the first right to the country’s resources according to the Prime Minister.

Dev Narayan Yadav, on the other hand, was a Hindu, the majority which has been relegated to secondary position in its own land by the UPA government. The demand for Azimabad is absurd considering Patna’s history. From times immemorial and for the maximum period of its existence, Patna was known as Patliputra, a name that was associated with the city during the days of its prime glory.

Patliputra reached the pinnacle of prosperity when it was the capital of the great Mauryan kings, Chandragupta and Ashoka, the great men the present-day Biharis yearn to be identified with. There is an on-going campaign of the people of Bihar to rename Patna with its original name, Patliputra. On the other hand, Azimabad was the name given by Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb at the request of his favourite grandson Prince Muhammad Azimush Shah in 1704 while the latter was the governor of Patna.

The common people however continued to call it Patna and the name Azimabad did not hold for long. Aurangzeb and Azimush Shah made no significant contributions to the history or culture of Patna, which the people of Bihar would like to cherish and be reminded of.

On the contrary, Aurangzeb continues to be one of the most despised rulers in the collective memory of the Indians, abhorred for his iconoclastic zeal. None other than the fraudulent communist historians can find any merit in his tyrannical rule.

Patna’s historical identity is primarily associated with the ancient times when it was the magnificent capital of India for centuries. The people of Bihar feel honoured that their land was the home to some of the greatest souls that ever lived, namely Mahavira, Gautam Buddha, Chandragupta Maurya, Chanakya, and Ashoka.

Patna, as Patliputra, occupies a position of pride in the Bihari psyche. Azimabad, on the other hand, does not hold any relevance for an average Bihari. The proposal to change Patna’s name to Azimabad instead of Patliputra is a dirty joke played on the Bihari sentiment. There is a strong public sentiment in favour of renaming Allahabad as Prayag, Ahmedabad as Karnavati and Muzaffarnagar as Laxminagar.

The names Allahabad, Ahmedabad, Muzaffarnagar as well as Azimabad are the grim reminders of the dark oppressive periods of Indian history when the most inhuman atrocities were committed on Hindus.

Indians are under no obligation to carry the burden of the remnants of the periods of slavery. They would welcome reverting to the original nomenclature that is representative of the days of freedom. The reinstating of the ancient names of these cities indicates liberation from servitude.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Stanford Univ to hold conference on Gen Y policy reforms

Acknowledging the change in the governance atmosphere of Bihar, Stanford University has decided to hold a 'Mirror Conference' in Patna for the first time.The two-day conference, beginning on Thursday, would not only reflect the format and intellectual debate at Stanford itself but also engage the Government in generating a meaningful dialogue on new-generation policy reforms.

It would also suggest further action for taking the development thrust to the next level.Addressing newsmen, NK Singh, vice chairman, State Planning Board, said that Stanford, which has been fostering a policy dialogue with Union Government over the years, realised the role of state governments in the pursuance and implementation of new-generation policy reforms and had started the practice of ‘Mirror Conferences’ at state levels four years ago.

These state-level dialogues have since been held with West Bengal, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Punjab, Kerala and Rajasthan.Now, at the invitation of the State Government, Stanford Centre for International Development would be holding the ‘Mirror Conference’ in Bihar, which would also serve as a prelude to the Eighth Annual Conference of Indian Economic Reforms at Stanford slated in June, informed Singh.

“The conference, to be inaugurated by Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, would re-establish Patna on the intellectual map of the world, as leading academics such as Prof TN Srinivasan, Dr Nicholas Hope, Ms Anjini Kochar, Dr Ward Hanson, Prof Jessica Wallack would be presenting specialised papers on Bihar’s economic strategy,” Singh said.

To a question on whether the dialogue would be able to address Bihar-specific problems, Singh said that Stanford University was aware of the aspirations of the State as reflected in the Approach Paper to the Eleventh Five Year Plan and would deal with issues like employment, poverty and public – private partnership, lessons from Chinese economic growth and also the challenges to the federal model of growth.

The Chief Minister, said Singh, would hold personal interaction with the participants while senior ministers and department officials concerned would also be present.Chief Secretary A K Chaudhary said, "The conference should be looked upon as an effort towards further accelerating growth."

S Vijayaraghvan, IDC, said that since June 2006, when the State showcased various opportunities available and highlighted the changed investment climate sustained by enabling legislations, as many as 85 proposals worth Rs 36,000 crore have been cleared by the State Investment Promotion Board. "The state hopes to generate 75,000 direct and nearly 3 lakh indirect employment through these investments," he added.

Bindeshwar Pathak to receive Energy Globe Award

The pioneer of the sanitation movement in India, Bindeshwar Pathak, will receive the Energy Globe Award in the hemicycle (debating chamber) of the European Parliament at Brussels on April 11.

This world body has selected him for his notable contribution in making `environment that is worthy to live'.

The Energy Globe Award is presented to projects that make careful use of resources and employ alternative energy sources. Every year, about 700 projects from all over the world compete for it.

The award is given to pioneers who come out with ideas and projects that can reduce environmental pollution and seek to check global environmental degradation.
Wolfgang Neumann, disturbed over rapid deterioration of environment taking place the world over, instituted this award seven years back. The winning projects are classified under five categories: earth, fire, water, air and youth.

Pathak, a Padma Bhushan, has been chosen for the biogas plants - linked to Sulabh toilets - he had designed over three decades ago and have now become synonymous with sanitation in developing countries.

A distinctive feature of Pathak's project lies in producing odour-free biogas and release of clean water rich in phosphorous and other ingredients, which are important constituents of organic manure.

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in its latest Human Development Report has already appreciated the Sulabh technology in the field of low cost toilet systems. The report says that Sulabh has emerged as one of the world's largest non-governmental providers of sanitation facilities.

President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam in his latest book "Mission India" has also mentioned the contribution of Pathak and his Sulabh International in the field of sanitation and liberating manual scavengers from carrying night soil.

Meet Bihar’s new furry invigilators

It’s getting very strange in Mr Nitish Kumar’s Bihar these days. While western countries are fast taking recourse to robots, Bihar is turning to their canine friends. In a bizarre move, dogs have been given the job of invigilators in the ongoing Degree Part III examinations being conducted by Patna University.

According to reports, some sniffer dogs have been pressed into service to detect objectionable materials that examinees appearing at different examination centres may possess.

The examinations began here yesterday. Reports said the new furry, tail -wagging invigilators walked up and down the rows of examinees and tried to sniff out chits believed to have been carried by them.

The movement of the dogs inside the examination hall caused much inconvenience to the examinees. Prohibited materials though were searched by the sniffer dogs, reports said.

According to Patna University officials, they had to take recourse to this rather unusual way of keeping tabs on unscrupulous examinees since the state police administration did not respond to their demands of deploying adequate police force at the examination centres. Subsequently, they enlisted the services of a private security agency that deployed sniffer dogs to root out cheating at the examination centres.

Over 7,000 examinees were appearing at the ongoing examinations being conducted at various examination centres, officials said. Only a week ago, the state police administration issued a new directive asking all the district superintendents of police and deputy inspector generals to deploy street dogs at all police stations and outposts to prevent extremist attacks.

The logic behind the ploy is that dogs have a terrific sense of smell that has proved invaluable in detection of suspicious movement. Street dogs had helped the cops posted at two different police
stations in Bihar’s Gaya district to protect themselves from Naxal attacks twice in the past.