Sunday, September 30, 2007

Sniffing success in Begusarai

Menthol mint, an aromatic commercial crop, has turned farmers’ fortunes in this small district of Bihar

It’s an aroma that’s fast spreading across the unlikely terrain of Begusarai in Bihar. Defying the farming of traditional crops in the rest of the state, farmers in Begusarai have taken to large-scale cultivation of menthol mint, an aromatic commercial crop and a source of menthol oil, which used in cosmetic and medicinal products. Little wonder then that the district is set to be known as the menthol capital of the state.

India is among the top producers of menthol in the world, with Barabanki district in neighbouring Uttar Pradesh leading the country in menthol farming. Given that till a couple of years ago Bihar was nowhere on India’s menthol map, Begusarai, which is adjacent to Barabanki, has achieved the feat despite several odds. Barabanki’s menthol cultivation is spread over 20,000 acres compared to only 8,000 acres in Begusarai.

“Hopefully, within a year, Begusarai will catch up with Barabanki,” says S.K. Gagroo, Deputy General Manager, State Bank of India, which is extending credit to farmers, has formed cooperatives and is even working to provide buyers.

Surendra Kesri of Bakhri explains why he has turned to menthol. The lawyer and teacher took to farming after he planted menthol in four acres of land three years ago. Profits made him increase the area to 14 acres, then 35 acres and now the farm spans 50 acres. “Next year, I plan to double it,” says Kesri, who also sold menthol seeds worth Rs 1.5 lakh last year.

Similarly, Krishnadev Rai, a professional land measurer, started with just five acres five years ago and is presently farming menthol in 40 acres. There are 200 farmers who have take to menthol in Bakhri sub-division alone.

This is no mean achievement given the odds. Bihar has neither a market nor a buyer for menthol oil. After extracting the oil in distillation plants set up by them, the farmers carry it 600 km away to Barabanki by booking the containers in trains from Barauni,and sell it for Rs 500-600 per litre. Barabanki houses an industry that makes menthol crystals and also has a mandi for the oil.

Bihar also lacks an institure to educate the farmers on the cultivation of aromatic plants. “I learnt about menthol farming in Barabanki and Lucknow. I went through books, talked to scientists before starting,” says Kesri.

It is the profit that is driving the farmers to convert. As per an estimate, farmers earn Rs 30,000-40,000 a year. The impact of commercial farming on the agrarian economy of the state is already visible in the region. Besides uplifting the economic status of farmers, it has affected the migration of labour in the region, decreasing by at least 20 cent.

“Menthol is a labour-intensive crop. Every day I need 20-25 labourers and during harvesting there are at least 100 of them,” says Kesri. The best part is that it is grown during the lean agricultural season that propels the flight of labour. “I have not gone to Assam in the past two years. Menthol farming helps me earn Rs 60-70 per day and there is no dearth of work,” says Ramayan Ram of Bakhri.

This agricultural revolution came to the government’s notice at a recent bankers’ meet, after which Deputy Chief Minister Sushil Kumar Modi urged the banks to extend more credit to farmers. “It’s a matter of pride that the farmers have achieved so much,” says Modi.

It’s something the farmers of Begusarai know already.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Replicate Bihar model RTI act: Arvind Kajriwal suggests Delhi Govt.

Magassay award winner Arvind Kajriwal on Sunday urged the Delhi government to replicate the Bihar RTI model where applicants use helpline services, saying it would simplify the procedure of filing the applications.

"We will have to simplify the process of filing the RTI applications. The applicant does not know how to draft an RTI application," he said at a seminar on Right To Information Act organised by YMCA here.

In each department under Delhi government, there are several Assistant Public Information Officers (APIOs) whose job is to forward the application to the Public Information Officer (PIO). Every APIO's would deal with specific problem separately.

"But the applicant does not know in whose name the application would be addressed," he said.

He hailed the Bihar model which allows the applicants to use helpline number for seeking information.

"Replicate the model of Bihar, in which instead of writing an application for seeking information, all one has to do is to dial a helpline number. A Rs 10 RTI application fee will be added to the telephone call charge," he said.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Strength in numbers after Bihar floods

ere is a saying that it takes a great tragedy to bring a people together, and it couldn't be truer for northern Bihar.

Six weeks after some of the most severe flooding to hit this part of the subcontinent, thousands of people, extended families and communities, are huddled together on embankments and roads, often with their livestock - all sharing the same space, and trying to stay clear of the rising water.

Many of them keep an eye on each other's livestock, homes, and belongings, and share what little they have amongst themselves. Women tend to their neighbours' children when the men have to tend to other matters, which right now means going to the distribution points for relief materials.

More than 2 million continue to be affected across 20 districts of Bihar in northeastern India and about 300,000 people are living outdoors or in more than 1,000 temporary camps. To date, Bihar has recorded 539 deaths.

Surrounded by the Burhi Gandak and Bagmati Rivers on either side, these areas in Muzaffarpur begin flooding with the onset of the monsoon - and remain water-logged until the very end.

En route from Samastipur, after monitoring UNICEF's maternity health camps and community kitchens, we drive for two hours along low-lying roads, until we arrive at Kwahi Chowk. We're told the road ahead is completely submerged for the next 12 kilometres.

We count more than 60 trucks on this peninsula in the middle of nowhere. The majority of them are transporting grain and other relief items from the government, destined for the neighbouring district of Sitamarhi. We notice a smaller truck with a UNICEF sticker - the driver tells us that he's carrying educational materials. He's been stuck here since yesterday afternoon when the roads went under.

Everyone from the nearby settlements has either moved or is in the process of moving onto this stretch of the road. Men smoke or share khaini, an Indian variety of chewing tobacco, and some women have set up small stalls right under the trucks, selling everything from eggs to candy to vegetables. Across from them, the bigger traders sell potatoes, lentils and rice. It's amazing to note how life goes on despite the hardships and uncertainties all around them.

"This is the fourth time that we have moved out of our homes this year," says Akhilesh Sahni a father of four, without a hint of emotion or anger for someone who has spent the better part of the last two months living outdoors.

Boarding a boat, we take up Akhilesh's offer to see how the people in his village are coping. We glide slowly over the brown waters, navigating past bamboo groves and the tops of sugarcane fields, and peer into peoples' homes - almost intrusively.

We row past a group of women in knee-deep water, preparing dinner around a wood-burning stove that has been carefully constructed above the water. Children wave and shout at us, some from raised machans or platforms of bamboo, and a lucky few from the tops of their concrete homes. They smile at us, safe in the ignorance and security that only childhood can provide - and the exceptional ability to find moments of bliss even during the grimmest of times.

Around the stove, Parmila and her neighbours take turns to prepare dinner. "I have to feed six family members and she has to make food for seven," says Parmila, pointing to a woman in a red sari bent over the stove.

Further ahead, we come across a septuagenarian and his grandchildren on a bullock-cart, minus the bullocks. He says he'd returned two days earlier and fears he might be leaving again soon.

We're told that most of the women return during the day, only to check on their belongings and to prepare dinner. By nightfall, everyone's back on the embankment where it's dry and safe, especially from the snakes that come out at night. Only the fortunate few that live in concrete houses are willing to take the risk and stay back.

On the return journey the boat stops for two women - a grandmother named Sonamati and her neighbour Nirmala. Shy at first because talking to male strangers is not really encouraged in rural Bihar, they tell us they're tired of moving each time the waters rise.

"And to think that we just planted rice yesterday morning," says Sonamati, shaking her head with displeasure. This year, she says, they have been forced to move out six times. "Last year was better - as we only moved thrice!"

This induces laughter from the men on the boat who had been silent for the last hour or so, while we had been preoccupied with our photography and questions to their neighbours.

After alighting from the boat, we catch up with Sonamati who is already pushing past the crowds at Kwahi Chowk. "I'm here to buy food for my family and then I will return tonight," says the timid-looking grandmother.

As if sensing our disbelief, she adds matter-of-factly, "It is Teej (an important Hindu festival for women) in a few days. We have to prepare for that!" And she disappears into the crowd.

On the drive back to Patna, we reflect on the day's events and wonder whether the waters will rise again. Each of us hopes it won't. But even if it does, we know that the fortitude of these people will definitely help them live through this, as it has in the past.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

ONGC to explore hydrocarbons in Bihar

Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) today signed an accord with Bihar government to explore hydrocarbons in four districts of the state.

After signing a memorandum of understanding with the company, Deputy Chief Minister Sushil Kumar Modi said ONGC would undertake hydrocarbon exploration afresh in a block PA-ONN-2004/1 (an area of 2537 square km) spread over the districts of Purnea, Araria, Kishanganj and Katihar at a cost of Rs 150 crore for eight years.

The company had carried out exploration work for oil and gas in this part of the state from early 1960s till late nineties and drilled three exploratory wells but no commercial discovery was made. It, however, helped in collecting valuable geological information for further exploration.

ONGC has been granted petroleum exploration licence under the new exploration policy of Government of India, Modi said, adding it would be given full support in carrying out the exploration work.

ONGC general manager A Biswas said the company has already applied for environmental clearance for seismic surveys to Ministry of Environment and Forest.

Biswas said initially 1,375 line km of two-dimensional seismic data would be used in this block that would help in better imaging for identifying suitable location for drilling wells.

He said based on the interpretation of the data collected, two wells would be drilled to a depth of 4000 and 4200 metres respectively. Major oil and gas deposits are expected in sediments of Gondwana age, Biswas added.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Barbers turn AIDS educators

It takes just a knick or cut from your friendly neighbourhood barber’s unsterilised razor for you to contract the deadly HIV virus. But in Bihar, even if that happens chances are that you might not have anything to worry. Sounds unbelievable right? The state welfare department which mooted the idea of training beggars in launching anti-AIDS campaigns in Bihar, has now decided to rope in barbers who will not only trim hair of the customers but will also cut the deadly AIDS down to size simultaneously!

Under part of its campaign to fight the deadly HIV+/AIDs, a prominent Swiss -based NGO is aggressively training barbers employed in some 700 hair cutting saloons running across the state capital about how to use their sharp razors to cut down HIV cases which have gone up alarmingly in the recent past.

In the first phase of the campaign, about 50 barbers were provided certain tips about how to contain the spread of this deadly disease. They were advised to disinfect blades/razors by getting them soaked in sodium hypochlorite solution for about half-and-hour.

“Infected razors and blades had been one of the main reasons behind the transmission of HIV/AIDS and hence barbers can prove invaluable in launching a concerted battle against this deadly disease,” said Mr Pankaj Kumar Sinha, Bihar coordinator of Francoise-Xavier Bagnoud, a Swiss NGO working in education and health.
Barber shops, he added, are being specially targeted since they are like “communication hubs” where a vast cross-section of people visit everyday. “The barbers can thus very easily distribute condoms among the visitors, apart from counseling them to get tested for HIV/AIDS”, he opined.

Earlier, last October, the state welfare department had mooted a comprehensive plan to involve some 2 lakh beggars of Bihar for spreading the message of “safe sex” with the objective of fighting the AIDS scourge.
“Beggars are terrific performers. The challenge before us was how to make maximum utilisation of their creative skills”, the state welfare department secretary Mr Vijay Prakash had said then.

Waterman chants new mantra to tackle Bihar floods

Patna, India: Bihar could get rid of annual floods in three years by adopting decentralised water management, 'waterman' and Magsaysay Award winner Rajendra Singh said Monday.

'Decentralised water management is the need of the hour to get rid of floods in Bihar. It will be a cost-effective measure which can replace the need for construction of dams and embankments,' Singh told IANS.

Floods in Bihar have claimed over 650 lives and affected 21 million people this monsoon. The natural disaster has damaged roads, including national highways and embankments, in the state. The floods have destroyed standing crops worth Rs.8.28 billion and damaged 521,441 houses, according to officials.

'It is for the Bihar government to decide whether they will go for a cost-effective model for a permanent solution to floods or opt for a high-cost model for a temporary measure,' Singh said.

Singh said keeping in view water flow from catchment areas to flood-prone north Bihar districts, bordering Nepal, the government would have to construct small check dams, bunds and water bodies. 'They will break water flow and control floods,' he said.

He said the construction of small check dams, bunds and water bodies could be met from funds allotted for irrigation and water management schemes.

'Decentralised water management will also solve irrigation problems,' Singh said.

He said construction of big dams and embankments will not solve flood problem in Bihar.

The state government, however, has other measures in mind.

Last week, the state government had decided to use a technology first developed by the US to plug breaches in river embankments.

Impressed by a video footage of the technology used to repair breaches in embankments, Chief Minister Nitish Kumar directed state water resources department secretary A.K. Sinha to contact the US Department of Homeland Security.

A high-level expert committee headed by former National Flood Commission chief engineer Nilendu Sanyal has also suggested using that technology.

The committee, constituted on Aug 31 by the state government to suggest short term and long term strategies to control and tackle floods, submitted its first interim report to Nitish Kumar two days ago.

The technology involves use of prefabricated dams made of metal tripods and self-filling water bladders of high-strength polymers. Such constructs can be airdropped to repair breaches in embankments and roads.

Bihar plays host to top prominent Buddhists from South East Asia

Its diplomacy through common cultural route
that is being displayed in Bodhgaya, the holiest Buddhist pilgrimage
site, where over a hundred prominent Buddhists from South-East Asian
countries are presently camping.

Bihar is playing host to the group of Buddhist followers, who belong
to influential sections in the respective countries, and has come to
India as part of Mekong-Ganga project involving, India, Thailand,
Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar, which is aimed at enhancing
cooperation in the fields of tourism, culture and education.

Bodhgaya, where Lord Buddha, the founder of Buddhism attained
enlightenment in the 6th century BC is bustling with activities, and
the group also visited some Hindu shrines in the area.

"Actually in Thailand we also have Hindu temple ...a lot of Thai
people is worshipping Hindu God's also. So I think it is the same,"
said Nabhaspor Bhutto Richal, Counsellor, Thailand's Ministry of
Foreign Affairs.

The initiative, taken by India, under the Mekong-Ganga project, aims
to promote India's Buddhist circuits among the south east Asian

The project, which envisages enhancing business contacts between the
people residing on the banks of Mekong and Ganga rivers, will help
India to extend its footprints into the ASEAN region by exploiting the
natural connectivity.

The delegates were also treated to a cultural program, showcasing
various facets of India's rich past.

The group is also expected to visit Sarnath in Uttar Pradesh, where
Buddha gave his first sermon.

There are several important Buddhist religious places in India like
Kushinagar, where Lord Buddha breathed his last, Sanchi in central
Madhya Pradesh state, an ancient seat of Buddhist learning, and
several monasteries in the Himalayan states of Himachal Pradesh,
Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh.

India, in recent past, has been promoting the country as a hub for
Buddhist tourism, and particularly targeting South East Asian
countries as well as China and Japan, which have a sizeable Buddhist

Review of `Politics of Change - A ringside view' by N K Singh

This book review appeared in Business Standard a short while ago.

Politics of Change - A Ringside View by N K Singh Published by Penguin Viking and the Express Group Pages 254 Price 395

The book is a collection of sunday columns in Indian Express. They have been organised by subject. Even though I had read many of these pieces before, I found the book useful and interesting; the whole is better than the sum of the parts. Most of the chapters are valuable summaries of the state of the play in one area. As an example, chapter 8 - `Taking the French connection beyond wine and cheese' - is a compact policy note on what comes next in Indo-French relations. Given the slow pace of economic reform in India, the articles are not out of date when compared with the present state of play.

An entire section of five articles deals with the oft-neglected subject of migration. The author is a pioneer in placing a high importance on the issues connected with migration, along with a few other original thinkers such as Lant Pritchett who recently wrote a prominent book on the subject. The emphasis on migration reflects the enormous importance of this `invisible' pillar of globalisation: while most discussions about globalisation have focused on the free movement of ideas, goods, services and capital, one of the most far-reaching aspects of globalisation is the movements of people.

Thinking about migration in the Indian context has gone through three phases. Initially, this field was focused on the `brain drain', with India as a source of migrants who make up the vibrant NRI community worldwide. This negative perspective on the `brain drain' changed considerably in the second phase, as NRIs have become an increasingly important facet of India's engagement with the world after the economic reforms began. We now see that the child who leaves at age 21 becomes a pillar of strength,and a key mechanism for India to plug into globalisation, at age 41. Finally, a new twist lies in India's increasing import of high skill migrants from all over the world who are coming to some of the top jobs in Indian firms. India now needs a new focus on attracting the smartest people from the whole world, on making it easy for them to relocate and work in India, and go on to citizenship.

Turning to institutional structures, there are three chapters on the planning commission, which clearly draw upon the experiences of the author as member of the planning commission. They relate nicely to the recent M. Govinda Rao vs. Kirit Parikh debate on the relevance of the planning commission in the market economy, which has been taking place on the pages of Business Standard. There is a good piece on reforms of the Ministry of Finance, one which unfortunately does not seem to have utilised the Kelkar report on reorganisation of MoF (a report which has not been released into the public domain).

A series of excellent chapters at the end come to grips with the problems of Bihar. It is hard to see a robust future for the Republic of India without addressing the fundamental State failure in poverty traps such as Bihar. The chapters reflect the extensive experience, and continued engagement, of the author with the problems of Bihar. They serve a valuable role by virtue of both helping to put Bihar on the agenda of the intelligensia, and of shedding light on the unique problems of Bihar. There are also useful pieces on other states - in particular a devastatingly accurate essay titled "The economically illiterate populism of manifestos" about Maharashtra.

The language is readable, and occasionally rises above the ordinary. As an example, the article `When sacred cows block the intersection' has this text about PSUs in the field of infrastructure: These public companies are the sacred cows in the middle of a busy intersection. They cannot be hurried or bothered but at the same time, they are risky customers, unreliable carriers and threatening competitors that clog the flow

N K Singh is a past master at the art of navigating complex political and bureacratic avenues through which fundamental economic reform gets done. The reader anticipates a flavour of that gritty detail of how things actually get done in reading the book. Unfortunately, the author has kept too many of his cards close to his chest. Too often, the book is at the level of lofty ideas and does not descend into the real world aspects of rival constituencies, fractious coalition politics and internecine bureacratic warfare. This book is worth reading, but we will all await the memoirs with great interest!

Next on Bihar govt's agenda: An all-women battalion

The Bihar government is planning an all-female battalion to fight crime in the state.

"Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has approved the proposal put forward by the Police Department. The appointments will begin next month or by November this year," Bihar's Director General of Police A R Sinha told in Patna on Monday.

Sinha added that the battalion will comprise over 800 women constables, commandents, deputy commandents and other officers.

The Nitish Kumar government has also decided to launch a scheme for the benefit of girls belonging to families living below the poverty line. The state government is going to desposit Rs 2,000 in the name of each girl child born in a BPL family.

"The government has approved this scheme and it is likely to be launched by the year end," said a source in the chief minister office.

Approximately 5,00,000 girls are born every year in BPL families and the annual expenditure on this scheme will be around Rs 100 crore .

The state government has also taken steps to prevent the misuse of this financial assistance. "The money deposited in the name of the girl cannot be withdrawn by her parents till she turns 18," said the official.

Earlier, the state government had provided school uniforms, books and cycles to school-going girls as incentives to continue their education. The literacy rate among women in Bihar� an abysmal 33.1 per cent -- is the lowest in the country.

Thanks to the reservation policy implemented last year, women occupy 50 percent seats in village panchayats, block development committees, district boards and urban civic bodies in Bihar. This was followed by 50 per cent reservation in the recruitment of teachers in government-run primary and secondary schools.

The economic strangulation of Bihar

Simple economic logic tells us that a region falling way behind needs greater investment in its development. But Bihar is being systematically denied even its rightful due from the Centre, let alone the additional assistance its economic and social condition deserves. If the present state of affairs continues, it will only imperil India, for the country cannot really progress without Bihar's advancement, say Mohan Guruswamy and Abhishek Kaul.

THAT Bihar is India's poorest and most backward State is undeniable. The facts speak for themselves. But what makes its situation unique is that Bihar is the only State where poverty levels are uniformly at the highest level (46-70 per cent) in all the sub-regions. The annual real per capita income of Bihar — Rs 3,650 — is about a third of the national average of Rs 11, 625. Bihar is also the only State where the majority of the population — 52.47 per cent — is illiterate.

But Bihar has its bright spots. Its infant mortality rate is 62 per 1,000, which is below the national average of 66 per 1,000. But what is interesting is that this is better than not just UP (83) and Orissa (91), but better even than States such as AP and Haryana (both 66).

Even in terms of life expectancy, the average Bihari male lives a year longer (63.6 yrs.) than the average Indian male (62.4 yrs) and the State's performance in increasing life spans has been better than most in the past three years.

Bihar has 7.04 million hectares under agriculture and its yield of 1,679 kg per hectare, while less than the national average of 1,739 kg per hectare, is better than that of six other States, including some big agricultural States like Karnataka and Maharashtra. Despite this, in socio-economic terms at least, Bihar is clearly in terrible shape.

Bihar is not only the worst off of all Indian States, but the gap between it and the rest is also widening. But there is another reality as well. It is that India cannot progress without Bihar's advancement. It is much too big to be left behind.

Even after Jharkhand was taken out of it, Bihar still has a population of about 85 million. But more relevant than that, for policy purposes, is that Bihar has India's largest concentration in the below 25 years age cohort, with 58 per cent in this category. It will retain this position till well into this century, which means that as India ages, Bihar will remain young! And what the young need most is health, education and jobs. Or else.

Thus, the development of Bihar is integral to India's development. India cannot go forward leaving Bihar behind. This is not the time to apportion blame for Bihar's plight. But that it is in this condition is a severe indictment of our national leadership that has so blatantly and wilfully ignored the Bihar economic problem.

The successive State Governments too are equally culpable. Who is more responsible for this is a chicken-or-egg question? It does not matter now. But one thing is clear. Bihar has few willing to speak up for it. The numbers are proof of its systematic and deliberate neglect.

As opposed to an All-India per capita developmental expenditure (from 2000 to 2002) of Rs 6748.50, Bihar's is less than half at Rs 3,206.00.

While development expenditure depends on a bunch of factors, including a State's contribution to the national exchequer, no logic can explain away the per capita Tenth Plan size which, at Rs 2533.80, is less than a third of that of States such as Gujarat (Rs 9,289.10), Karnataka (Rs 8,260.00) and Punjab (Rs 7,681.20).

Simple and sound economic logic tells us that when a region is falling way behind, it calls for a greater degree of investment in its progress and development. It is analogous to giving a weak or sick child in the family better nutrition and greater attention. Only in the animal kingdom do we see the survival of the fittest, with the weak and infirm neglected, deprived and even killed.

But Bihar is being systematically denied, let alone the additional assistance its economic and social condition deserves, but also what is its rightful due. From the pitiful per capita investment in Bihar, it is obvious that the Central Government has been systematically starving Bihar of funds.

One can understand that the share in Central taxation is determined by the formula of the Finance Commission that takes into account the contribution of an individual State to the exchequer. But one is hard put to understand why this inequality, and such a glaring inequality, should extend to grants, special assistance and even to Plan allocations.

That politics has a lot to do with neglect is seen from the fact that while AP received Rs 3,507.60 crore (1998 to 2000) as "additional Central assistance for externally-aided projects in State Plans," Bihar received just Rs 306.90 crore.

Even in terms of grants from the Central Government (2000 to 2002), Bihar fares poorly. It received Rs 4,047.30 crore while AP topped the list with Rs 9,790.00 crore. Bihar has also been neglected as far as net loans from the Centre are concerned. It received just Rs 2,849.60 as against Rs 6,902.20 received by AP from 2000-02.

It is only in terms of per capita share of central taxes do we see Bihar getting its due. This gross neglect by the Central government is reflected in the low per capita Central assistance (additional assistance, grants and net loans from the Centre) received by Bihar in 2001. While AP received Rs 625.60 per capita, Bihar got a paltry Rs 276.70.

The results of the economic strangulation of Bihar can be seen in the abysmally low investments possible in the State government's four major development thrusts. Bihar's per capita spending on roads is Rs 44.60, just 38 per cent of the national average of Rs 117.80.

Similarly, for irrigation and flood control, Bihar spends just Rs 104.40 on a per capita basis as opposed to the national average of Rs 199.20. Despite this, Bihar manages a few sunshine pictures. Its per capita spending on education, at Rs 484.10, is as good as the best. AP spends Rs 493.90 and the national average is Rs 586.8.

But in terms of per capita expenditure on medical and public health, Bihar falls well behind with Rs 86.20, against the national average of Rs 157.20.

Despite this its infant mortality rate (62 per 1,000) is better than the national average (66 per 1,000). Not only is this better than the other Bimaru States but it is also better than Andhra Pradesh, which stands at 66 per 1,000.

The World Bank's country study of India's poverty actually shows (See "India: Reducing Poverty, Accelerating Development," Table 8.5 on page 115) that the change in Bihar's social infrastructure has been the highest in India, while economic deterioration has been among the lowest.

Now, the question of how much did Bihar "forego"? If Bihar got just the All-India per capita average, it would have got Rs 48,216.66 crore for the Tenth Five Year Plan instead of the Rs 21,000.00 crore it has been allocated. It would have got Rs 44,830 crore as credit from banks instead of the Rs 5,635.76 crore it actually got, if it were to get the benefit of the prevalent national credit/deposit ratio.

Similarly, Bihar received a pittance from the financial institutions, a mere Rs 551.60 per capita, as opposed to the national average of Rs 4,828.80 per capita. This could presumably be explained away by the fact that Bihar now witnesses hardly any industrial activity. But no excuses can be made for the low investment by NABARD.

On a cumulative per capita basis (2000 to 2002) Bihar received just Rs 119.00 from NABARD as against Rs 164.80 by AP and Rs 306.30 by Punjab. It can be nobody's argument that there is no farming in Bihar.

If the financial institutions were to invest in Bihar at the national per capita average, the State would have got Rs 40, 020.51 crore as investment instead of just Rs 4,571.59 crore that it actually received.

Even if with the wave of some magic wand the inequities of the past are wiped away, it is doubtful that Bihar can absorb such huge sums in the near future. For a start it just doesn't have the administrative wherewithal to use the money productively. But the present state of affairs cannot continue. If they do, it only imperils India, for already we can see a gathering storm of red terror over a wide arc from Nepal to Chattisgarh, with Bihar in the middle of it.

Quite clearly Bihar is not only being denied its due share, but there is a flight of capital from Bihar, India's poorest and most backward State. This is a cruel paradox indeed. The cycle then becomes vicious. This capital finances economic activity in other regions, leading to a higher cycle of taxation and consequent injection of greater Central government assistance there. If one used harsher language one can even say that Bihar is being systematically looted, just as the British looted India. Criticism of Bihar's political elite and its polity that has become a standard feature of our national discourse has only served as a smokescreen to deny the State its rightful due.

(The authors are with the Centre for Policy Alternatives, New Delhi, an independent think-tank. For a full report on this subject email:

Bihar to use American technology in flood-hit areas

Bihar, still reeling from the damage caused by floods this monsoon, has decided to use an innovative American technology to tackle the flood menace. The state government will seek technological help from the United States to plug the breaches in embankments and roads caused by floods.

Chief minister Nitish Kumar has directed the State Water Resources Department Secretary A K Sinha to contact the US Department of Homeland Security, which has adopted the technology successfully and has already operationalised a project based on it, sources in the chief minister's office said on Friday. Kumar took the decision after watching a video depicting the technology in action.

"Nitish Kumar is keen to use the US technology to minimise the effect of the floods in the state," official sources said.

According to official sources, the idea to adopt this technology was suggested by the high-level specialist committee headed by national flood commission's former chief engineer Nilendu Sanyal. The committee -- constituted on August 31 by the state government to suggest immediate short and long term strategies to control flood -- submitted its first interim report to the chief minister on Monday.

The technology was first developed by the US Department of Defence. It involves use of prefabricated dams made of metal tripods and self -filling water bladders of high strength polymers. These will be airdropped to urgently repair breaches in embankments and roads.

Cairn India to start drilling in Bihar next year

Cairn India Limited is will begin drilling in Bihar's Gangetic basin for oil and natural gas by early next year as it has already completed seismic surveys and is currently studying the data collected.

'Cairn India plans to start drilling work in Bihar by early next year as we have completed the seismic survey last month,' Sunil Bharti, a Cairn India official, said here Wednesday.

Bharti said that the company had completed comprehensive seismic surveys in Samastipur, Darbhanga and Madhubani districts, and the next phase would be the drilling work.

'We hope that drilling work will start by early next year. If there is any delay then we have to start drilling after the monsoon,' he said.

The drilling work would not be possible during the monsoon thanks to floods, an annual feature in north Bihar, which is the centre of Gangetic basin for oil and natural gas exploration activities.

Bharti said that the data collected in the survey were being processed to understand the geological structures below the surface.

'It is a long process. It will take at least five to six months before we can go for the drilling work,' he said.

The exploration work by Cairn India was formally started in January this year with the launch of the aero magnetic survey. The exploration in the Gangetic basin was spread over 15,500 sq km in 13 districts.

According to independent estimates, reserves in the Ganges basin, known locally as the Purina basin, could be as high as 465 million tonnes of crude and natural gas.

Experts said the reserves could be tapped after drilling up to 4,400 metres. The government will get 10 percent royalty for every tonne extracted.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Patna High Court does Bihar proud

This might come as a pleasant surprise. Bihar, which has one of the highest crime rates in India, can boast of a high court with relatively one of the fewest number of pending cases - 97,354. This is in sharp contrast to many other states where the backlog in the high courts runs into hundreds of thousands.

According to latest official statistics from various high courts at the end of March this year, the figure of 97,354 for the Patna High Court compares very favourably with those at the high courts of Madhya Pradesh, Orissa and Uttar Pradesh.

While the Allahabad High Court tops the list of courts with a high backlog - at 815,602 cases, the Orissa High Court has 224,382 cases.

Three other high courts - in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh - have 209,095, 188,796 and 148,512 cases respectively pending with them.

What's worse, other economically well off states too have a surfeit of cases at their high courts.

For example, the Madras High Court and the Bombay High Court respectively occupy the second and third positions in the list of high courts with a huge build-up of cases awaiting adjudication. The Madras High Court has 418,110 cases pending with it, while the backlog of cases at Bombay High Court stands at 366,495.

The high courts of West Bengal, Punjab and Haryana, and Gujarat had 272,643, 244,875, and 112,045 cases pending with them respectively at the end of March this year.

What's surprising is that the Patna High Court has been able to keep the backlog of cases low despite having a massive vacancy - 32.5 percent - of judges. Against a sanctioned strength of 43 judges, it has just 29 judges.

In contrast, the Allahabad High Court has merely 19 percent judicial vacancy, having 77 judges against a sanctioned strength of 95 judges. Only the Orissa as well as Punjab and Haryana high courts have judicial vacancies higher than that of the Patna High Court.

The Orissa High Court, which tops the list of courts with 36 percent of judicial vacancy, has only 14 judges against a sanctioned strength of 22. The vacancy at the Punjab and Haryana High Court is to the tune of 34 percent (35 judges working against a sanctioned strength of 53).

The vacancy of judges in other high courts is in the range of 20 percent with Andhra Pradesh and Rajasthan having 20 percent vacancy each, Gujarat 26 percent, Bombay 17 percent and Madras 10 percent.