Sunday, April 19, 2009

Cornered Lalu losing control over tongue: BJP

PATNA/NEW DELHI: BJP leaders reacted sharply to what they called RJD chief Lalu Prasad's abusive slang against senior party leader L K Advani on
Saturday. "BJP condemns this abuse against a leader of such eminence as Advani," the party said.

"Lalu Prasad is losing ground and so he is losing his temper and his tongue. He is saying all kinds of things to provoke the state government to arrest him so that he becomes a martyr, but we will not oblige him," said party spokesperson S S Ahluwalia, who claimed that the RJD chief had used the worst kind of abusive slang against Advani.

BJP leader from Bihar and the party's spokesperson Ravi Shankar Prasad said, "First his (Lalu's) wife abuses Nitish Kumar, then Lalu Prasad says he will run a road roller over Varun Gandhi and now he is not only using abusive language against a senior leader like Advaniji but has also holding Congress responsible for the Babri demolition, while being the railway minister in the Manmohan Singh government."

This shows his utter desperation as he is losing from Chhapra, Prasad told TOI from Bihar, adding, "He (Lalu) is the railway minister and he has abused Manmohan Singh's party as a conspirator in the Babri demolition. If Manmohan Singh is not a weak Prime Minister, it is his last chance to prove his mettle." Prasad, demanded that the PM should sack Lalu Prasad.

Interestingly, BJP's rival Congress whom Lalu accused of complicity in Babri demolition, also said that the RJD leader was saying irresponsible things because he feared defeat.

UPA govt unfair to Bihar, says MP

PATNA: JD(U)'s Rajya Sabha member and former state planning board chairman N K Singh on Saturday said the UPA is playing "politics of money" as
part of its campaigning for the parliamentary poll but, in the process, distorting facts about Central aids to Bihar.

"Facts speak otherwise," Singh said and cited several examples of how the Centre indulged in stepmotherly treatment to the state. He said as per the Finance Commission recommendation, Bihar should get 30.5% of all divisible taxes. "But the Bihar government's share never exceeded 26%," he added.

He said the selection of three average years for expenditure outlay fixed as per the formula of 12th Finance Commission is also unfair to Bihar in that there were hardly any expenditure due to political uncertainty and President's rule in Bihar during one of the chosen three years. The UPA government turned down the state request that a different set of years be used and debt relief be not denied to it. The UPA government at the Centre also turned down the state government request to treat it as a special category state, he said.

Singh said that loans for Bihar were brought to zero and the grants remained lower than even Assam. Thus, the state suffered both on the loan and the grant components of Central assistance throughout the period from 2002-03 to 2006-07.

He charged the UPA government with favouring only its partners and ignoring others. Bengal Chemical and Fertilizers, a public sector undertaking, was bailed out through a Rs 207-crore revival package to West Bengal. The Hindustan Photo Films and Neyvelli Lignite Corporation of Tamil Nadu was also given similar treatment. But the UPA government did nothing to revive the small and medium enterprises of Bihar simply because it has an NDA government, he said.

This apart, Singh said, the Centre has also not responded to the state's request for a special package each for the floods in 2007 and 2008.

BSEB demands long-term coal linkage to Bihar

Languishing for want of power, backward state of Bihar has approached the Central Electricity Authority for ensuring coal on long-term basis for its three upcoming mega power projects that could help add about 4,000 MW capacity for the state during the 12th plan period.

"We would request allocation of long-term coal linkage for the power plants being set up in Bihar on the basis of tariff-based competitive bidding and inclusion in the XIIth Plan Period (2012-17)," Bihar State Electricity Board (BSEB) said in a letter to the Power Ministry.

BSEB has demanded long-term coal linkage for the 1,320 MW each Lakhisarai Thermal Power Project, Buxar Thermal Power Project and Pirpainti Thermal Power Project in the state.

It added that substantial progress has already been achieved in the project development activities and we are proceeding an a fast track manner towards implementation of the said projects.

The identification and demarcation of sites has been done, the technical studies, including topographical survey, geological investigations, detailed project reports (DPRs) are complete.

The Ministry of Environment and Forest has approved the project site and terms of reference for environment studies and adequate water linkage has also been provided to the projects.

Almost all the pre-operational activities have been completed for all the three project sites except the allocation of coal linkage, which is a pre-requisite for initiating the publication of Request for Qualification (RFQ) document as per the competitive bidding guidelines of the Power Ministry, it said.

The inter-state sale of power has also been tied-up with the states of Haryana and Assam, it said.

BSEB proposed for coal linkages for these three projects and two more projects namely Barauni and Muzaffarpur thermal power stations in a meeting with the Planning Commission, Coal Ministry and CEA last year.

The move of allocating coal linkages to these projects will move forward towards the success of the projects and contribute in the enhancement of availability and self-reliance of power in the state.

The total installed power capacity of the state of Bihar is 1,629 MW, out of which 1,532 MW comes from coal and 66MW from hydro power.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Bihar's ringtone: Nitish government works

As our Indica zooms through the highway from Madhubani to Darbhanga at night, driver Sachin says, “During Lalu Prasad’s regime, I would not have brought my car on this road. It was so bad!”
The local guide, Prakash Jha, adds: “I would also not have advised you to travel on this road at this time during Lalu’s rule. You would have definitely fallen prey to dacoits.”

From rickshaw-puller Sitaram Bhagat at Patna’s Fraser Road to Harindar Rai of Banbira village in Samastipur district, from agriculturist landlords to workers at the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) office, poll-bound Bihar’s common ringtone is: Nitish Kumar’s government is working.

People across the state talk about two major changes since Kumar took charge as the chief minister on November 24, 2005, ending the 15-year rule of the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) — better roads and improved law and order situation.

NK Rai, an agriculturist in Patna, echoes the same sentiment. “It is 9 pm and my wife has gone to the market. In Lalu’s regime, I wouldn’t have allowed her to step out after sunset. We don’t expect the state to change overnight. But there should be some visible efforts to change it.”

Till November 2008, 10,311 policemen were recruited in Bihar during the NDA government’s rule. Murder cases have come down from 3,519 in 2001 to 2,286 in 2008 (till September). Incidents of robbery has also come down from 1,293 to 491 during the same period. Besides, kidnapping, which earned the ill-reputation of “cottage industry” during Prasad’s regime, is down from 385 to just 42 cases in this period, according to the government’s “Report Card 2008”.

Shaibal Gupta, member -secretary of the Asian Development Research Institute (ADRI) explains the reason behind improved governance. “The number of convictions in criminal cases has increased. Nitish initially emphasised the Arms Act cases. The law says employees can be witnesses, and so there is less chance of witnesses turning hostile in courts.”

Rajkumar, another rickshaw-puller in Patna, feels the difference in his daily life. “Earlier we used to go back home by 8-9 pm. Now we can ply rickshaws till 11 in the night.”

While these initiatives have earned him goodwill, Nitish Kumar is yet to deliver on some key areas. “ The Land Reforms Commission was constituted in 2006. The report has been submitted but no action has been taken yet. Updating of land records, too, has not taken place,” says Gupta.

Riding high on this feel-good factor, the chief minister spends more time focussing on the state’s overall development, rather than attacking his political opponents. He even mooted the idea of “having the state and the Lok Sabha elections only once in five years because elections every year hamper development work.”

His detractors like Left candidates complain that only select districts are benefiting from the development, but they are unable to deny improvement. RJD supremo Lalu Prasad might attack him for helping the BJP and other issues, but he, too, says nothing about the law and order situation. The power situation, however, remains a matter of discontent. While Kumar’s ‘Report Card’ has a separate section on power and mentions the new power projects that have been cleared, most hotels in Patna switch off air-conditioners from 3 am to 6 am to “refill the generators”.

Kumar has often told his political friends how he is keeping the BJP as marginal as possible in the state, while he offers sops for minorities one after another. He has introduced free vocational training schemes for girls from minority communities. Another scheme “Talimi Markaj” has been introduced to provide primary education to poorer and low caste minorities.

Among Kumar’s other achievements are the upgrade of 2,955 km of state highways, currently in progress. This apart, upgrade of 620 km of big district roads have been completed, and construction of 701 km of national highway already done. For national highways too, the chief minister claims credit. “Why were these not done before I came? I took initiative to bring these projects,” he says.

The chief minister’s 48-page report card boasts of many more schemes of development. But several of these, according to political opponents, are yet to take off effectively.

But even in the Bheriwahi village of Madhubani district, sitting by a dilapidated stretch of road, Irfan Ahmed talks about new government job opportunities. In the campaigns, Kumar’s Janata Dal (United) harps on the recruitment of over 80,000 primary teachers as a key achievement of the government.

Labourers at NK Rai’s farm say, “beti aur vote dusri jaat mein nehin diya jaata.”(there are two things you cannot share with another caste: your daughter and your vote) But there is also Harindar Rai, a Yadav, who says, “a Yadav will not always vote for a Yadav. If a Yadav is dacoit, should I vote for him?” His companion Laddu Das adds, “We will vote for the person who has the best chance of winning. If a candidate doesn’t win, how will he be able to work for us?”

The lady with the toughest job in Bihar

One of the most fascinating aspects of Elections 2009 is that it is being supervised in the districts by dashing young members of the IAS.
Young civil servants, not more than half a dozen years in the bureaucracy dare to take on the mightiest politicians in the land and ensure that the general election is conducted without fear or favour.

Archana Masih meets the lady district magistrate of Siwan, who probably has the toughest job in Bihar. Photograph: Seema Pant

Bandana Preyashi carries four cell phones these days. Taking a connection from every cellphone network available in Siwan, she has distributed all the four numbers on photocopied sheets to her staff so that they can be in constant touch during the crucial days before Siwan goes to the polls on April 16.

"Siwan has had a history of poll violence and our greatest challenge is to conduct a fair and peaceful election," says the 2003 batch IAS officer, an alumnus of St Stephen's College, Delhi [Images].

In the 2004 election, 171 electronic voting machines had been broken in the constituency. This year, of the 1,763 polling booths, 551 are marked as super sensitive. 15 companies of paramilitary forces and 5,000 personnel from the Bihar Home Guards have been deputed for poll security.

Apart from this, 10,400 government staff have been inducted into poll duties in the constituency where imprisoned Rashtriya Janata Dal MP Mohammad Shahabuddin has won four successive elections.

"We have to strike fear in the hearts of those who think they can resort to violence or break the law on polling day," Preyashi tells in her office in Siwan.

"We have done extensive vulnerability mapping and have scanned the area. We have identified people who have been prevented from voting in the past and those who were responsible for it. The effort has helped build confidence in the voter."

One of only two lady district magistrates in Bihar, Preyashi conducted the panchayat and the 2005 assembly polls in her last jurisdiction as sub divisional officer in Barh, near Patna. Known for being a no-nonsense and bold officer, under her supervision, Barh, otherwise infamous for its gun-power, saw an incident-free panchayat election.

"In Siwan, the 2005 assembly election was a landmark. It was largely peaceful and I think it will be peaceful this time. The rule of law is visible," she says.

In an effort to encourage voters to come out to cast their vote, the administration has been playing a film in local cinema halls, at community centres and on the local cable television network, telling voters how to vote.

The district election control room has been entrusted with the task of gathering feedback from local residents in order to assess the situation near polling booths.

Preyashi has been spending hours out in the field, meeting voters, inspecting campaign vehicles herself, assessing the security at the polling booths and spreading the word that the strictest action will be taken against anyone who breaks the law on polling day.

"You have to delegate and trust. The grassroot work force has to be motivated and you have to lead by example," says the district magistrate who has built up a credible reputation in her relatively short career.

She is known to have taken on controversial Janata Dal-United legislator Anant Singh in Mokama in an earlier stint when she sealed all his food grain godowns after the state government ordered that all godowns in the state be shifted to market committees.

As the Returning Officer in Siwan, she is responsible for the conduct of the election.

Following a rigorous schedule for several weeks now -- her day ends in the wee hours of the morning and the phones begin to ring from 6 am onwards -- she is making an enormous effort to see that Siwan witnesses a fair election.

"This chair (the DM's) is asexual. It does not matter if you are a man or a woman. Everyone here calls me 'Sir'," she says with a smile when we asked her about being a woman at the helm of affairs.

The district magistrate is the most powerful government official in any district and Bandana Preyashi, who has already finished a year in Siwan, is determined to leave her mark behind.

In Bihar, a battle to become the pillar of power

For all their big-bull reputation on the national political stage, the closest Biharis have ever come to claiming prime ministership has been through a Punjabi: I.K. Gujral once contested the Patna Lok Sabha seat under Lalu Prasad’s tutelage and got a famously indigenous introduction to his rustic constituents.

“Padha-likha gujjar,” Lalu Prasad would call him, keen to ease local discomfort over the intellectual-outsider. “Padhe-likhe gujjar ko Gujral kehte hain.” (An educated gujjar is called Gujral.)

Gujral’s tryst with Bihar and Bihar’s with high office were both short-lived and both rather farcical. So farcical that Lalu Prasad himself joked upon it sardonically during the trust vote last July — “Who doesn’t want to become Prime Minister? I do too, but will someone let me?”

The only thing that looks like putting a Bihari into the top job at the moment is a quirk of fate, or of arithmetic, no less. But that serves as no deterrent to the enthusiasm for power among the contenders — it’s not about being crowned king in Delhi, you see, it’s about becoming chief kingmaker of the durbar.

In a state where politics comes far easily to people than their daily meal, the reasons for the elaborate campaign fuss and filibuster are lost on few.

Dolai, a shoeshine boy not yet 18, has no illusions about what the stampeding clamour around the “netaji” arrived from Delhi on platform one of Patna railway station means. “Dekh tamasha, dekh, PM Bihar ka nahin banega, lekin Bihar ke bina bhi nahin banega, jai ho, jai hoooooooo!” (Nobody from Bihar will become Prime Minister but nobody will become Prime Minister without Bihar’s support.)

It’s tough getting wiser than Dolai on the whys and wherefores of the frenetic scurry that Bihar is — choppers churning the skies north and south of the Ganges, SUV caravans barnstorming the countryside, the air thick with dust and dirty demagoguery.

Lalu Prasad and Rabri Devi have had their tongues lashed by the Election Commission for lurid lapses; Ram Vilas Paswan is littering the trail with below-the-belt barbs on how poorly chief minister Nitish Kumar has treated his family; Nitish himself is hotfooting around in angry retort.

Too intense for a battle that is unlikely to deliver any of these men the top prize at the end of it? “Not at all,” says a Nitish aide who refuses to attach his name to a quote on future prospects. “This is about who will become the pillar of power, you win Bihar and you dictate terms, you lose and you get dictated. For Nitish, winning means many open roads; for Lalu Prasad and Paswan, it is about survival in the state itself.”

He wouldn’t be drawn into speculation on Nitish jumping allies post-poll and joining either the Congress-led UPA or the Left-led third front, but he did more than hint that no options were closed. “Nitishji himself has said he is with the NDA, but who can tell the future? Need I say more?”

On paper, the Bihar chief minister is spoilt for choices at the moment — he could be part of any power combination at the Centre.

Lalu Prasad and Paswan, well aware that they have rocked (though not broken) ties with the Congress over seat-sharing, are desperate to do well enough not to allow room to Nitish to replace them in the UPA or third front scheme. Paswan, analysts say, enjoys more options, having been part of a BJP government in the past, but Lalu Prasad’s choices are really limited — it’s bust for the time being if the NDA manages to grab power in Delhi.

Conceding seats to Paswan and snatching them away from the Congress were both prompted by Lalu Prasad’s desperate need to get enough numbers in the next Lok Sabha.

His alliance with Paswan — a far cry from their bitter bickering in the Assembly polls of 2005, when both suffered — is aimed at consolidating the Yadav-Muslim-Dalit vote. The rupture with the Congress — temporary, Lalu Prasad insists — is a gamble on the party not cutting much ice with the electorate, not enough to damage Lalu Prasad’s prospects anyhow.

Spurned, the Congress reacted with spite, determining to contest all 40 seats, even welcoming such a rowdy lot of RJD rebels as Sadhu Yadav (Lalu Prasad’s stormy brother-in-law) and murder-convict Pappu Yadav.

But Lalu Prasad may yet have counted wisely on the Congress tally not going too far beyond the three in the last Lok Sabha; the man who has made most news for the party in the state is a political rookie and small-screen comedian called Shekhar Suman. Any guess on who the state Congress chief is? Anil Sharma. Google him, but don’t be too sure you’ll find him listed.

On the other side of the spectrum is a man who lived — and chafed — many years under Lalu Prasad’s long shadow but has now leapt out and cast his own over the state: the workmanlike and adroit Nitish Kumar of the Janata Dal (United). Even critics and adversaries aren’t able to take grades on performance away from the chief minister who has made governance his plank.

The allegation that does stick, though, is that he is in “communal coalition” with the BJP; Lalu Prasad and Paswan have been hammering that point hard. Nitish is too hardboiled a politician not to know caste runs thicker than calibre in Bihar — the support of the BJP’s upper caste base is a critical addition to his extremely backward caste constituency.

But it is often evident Nitish is suffocating in his alliance with the BJP and is looking for a route out. He has wooed Muslims, ignoring the BJP’s displeasure and recently made it known he would not have Narendra Modi campaigning in the state.

Should the BJP sense alarm in that? And the Congress an opportunity? They probably both need to keep a keen eye. Nitish Kumar could be the difference between one Prime Minister and another. Lalu Prasad and Paswan would hope they are too.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Bharti’s cellular theory of growth

States with 10% higher cellphone penetration than others have grown 1.2% faster, according to an Icrier study

Olhanpur, Bihar: Until about three years ago, Nizamuddin Ansari, 65, a retired head clerk from the Indian Railways mail service, spent most of his days on the verandah at home. The monotony of watching over his courtyard as the women of his family went about their household chores would be broken by the occasional visitor or a money order from his sons employed in Jeddah in Saudi Arabia and Dubai. Then, the small plot of unused land he owned next to his house got a celebrity tenant: Bharti Airtel Ltd.

The company wanted to set up a phone tower on the plot before it made a debut at Olhanpur, Ansari’s village of some 25,000 people, in Bihar’s Chapra district.
A one-stop Airtel shop in Olhanpur.

Recharge coupons of between Rs10 and Rs50 sell the most here ;and the Airtel tower in Olhanpur (in the background). Bharti Airtel was the first telecom company to enter the village. Madhu Kapparath / MintThere was much excitement in the Muslim-dominated village, whose economy was sustained mainly by remittances from West Asia and small-scale farming. Ansari recalls the villagers were thrilled at the prospect of not having “to depend on dead fixed-line phones, phone booths or a neighbour’s landline for receiving or making calls”.

The Ansari household then had two men employed in West Asia (the number has since grown to six), who would be lucky to see their wives and children once a year. Phone conversations were the only way to stay in touch.

The land would bring a monthly rent of Rs10,000, adding to the family’s income of around Rs50,000 sent home by family members overseas and from farming.
Within a year of Bharti Airtel entering Olhanpur in 2006, Ansari gave up his landline connection provided by Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd, a state-owned phone services provider, and bought five mobile phones for his family of 11, mostly women.

(Left) Parashar Telecom, a distributor for Airtel in Chapra, struggles with power cuts. Outages can sometimes last around 12 hours a day here; and Khushboo Paan Bhandar at Pathera village makes a busy picture of an Airtel retail store. Here, and mobile phone coupons sell like hot cakes. Its 14-year-old proprietor, Mukesh Chaudhary (behind the counter), says he makes an additional Rs45 a day selling phone recharge coupons. All the connections were from Bharti Airtel, India’s biggest mobile phone firm, started and scaled up by Sunil Mittal, a businessman who grew up in Ludhiana, an industrial town in Punjab.

The phone firm launched its services in Bihar early in 2005, and in the four years since, has built a coverage presence in all of the state’s 38 districts. Of at least 18.67 million customers in Bihar, according to end-February data with the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, or Trai, the company has 7.15 million

One out of four of Olhanpur’s residents have a phone, say Bharti Airtel executives—double the 12.6% phone penetration in the country’s villages and small towns.
Village voice

Olhanpur is the typical target market for firms such as Bharti Airtel and rivals Reliance Communications Ltd and Vodafone Essar Ltd, which have been aggressively courting customers here for the last two years. Poorly served by state-owned fixed-line phone firms and deterred by the difficulty of procuring such connections, customers in these pockets are increasingly turning to mobile phone services.

Indians are second only to the US when it comes to using phone minutes. Mobile phone customers in India record almost 500 minutes of use a month, ahead of the 423 minutes the Chinese record, according to data collated by consultancy BDA Connect Pvt. Ltd.
Such is the pace of expansion and growth in demand for phone minutes that the load on the Bharti Airtel network—and indeed other networks—keeps mounting daily. “We set up more towers...(but) the demand for fresh connections keeps rising,” says Manish Kumar, a territory manager for the firm in Chapra.
Elsewhere, his company sets up 100 towers every day, a task shared by Indus Towers Ltd, a 42%-owned unit, says Sudhir Gupta, vice-president of marketing at the tower firm.
Phone services are perhaps what comes closest to perfect competition in India. Sure, there are instances of collusive price changes, but when it comes to earning that extra rupee of profit, those in the business can be cut-throat. Almost.
So, within 12 months of Bharti Airtel building its tower at Olhanpur, Reliance Communications entered the market—it is now ranked second by customers, behind Bharti Airtel. In January, work got tougher for the likes of territory manager Kumar when two more competitors, Vodafone Essar and Idea Cellular Ltd, reached the village. “We haven’t seen the demand for Airtel declining but, certainly, people now have more choices,” he says.
The Ansari household has let out another piece of land to the latest two entrants to set up towers. Its income from rent has gone up to Rs30,000 a month and Naimuddin Ansari, 32, Ansari’s youngest son, has quit his accountant’s job at a New Delhi firm to return and help manage his father’s newfound occupation.
Hyper-local logistics
On days when networks fail in Olhanpur, there is much angst. “Poor connectivity is something the people here can’t stand even for 10 minutes,” says Sanjay Kumar, guard at the Bharti Airtel tower here, who doubles up as one of the two distributors in the village.
That happens often. Frequent power cuts mean that the towers rely on diesel-run generators for electricity backup—power cuts can sometimes last around 12 hours a day here. “The tanker comes every Monday, and if we run short of fuel during the week, we have to wait until Monday,” says Kumar.
The last time Bharti Airtel’s network failed for two days about eight months ago, villagers stormed the tower complex and protested till a tanker carrying diesel was called in from Chapra.

On a busy street at Pathera, a village neighbouring Olhanpur, Bharti Airtel’s distribution march—what chief executive and joint managing director Manoj Kohli calls his “matchbox strategy” to benchmark phone card availability to matchboxes in every village of India—is at work.
At a small paan (betel leaf) shop, its 14-year-old proprietor Mukesh Chaudhary makes an additional Rs45 a day selling phone recharge coupons. “Earlier, every passer-by would run into my shop asking for Airtel recharges. I figured this was also a product I could sell,” he says.
In neighbouring Khaira village, Bharti Airtel distributor Rajesh Pandey makes hundreds of photocopies of an emailed leaflet of the company’s latest tariffs to distribute in local markets. “We have no time to lose when a new offer comes. Photocopies of the schemes reach faster and are more economical,” says Pandey, who distributes Airtel coupons in six villages in Chapra, including Olhanpur. Recharge coupons of between Rs10 and Rs50 on prepaid phone connections sell the most, he adds.
Bharti Airtel also has a drive it calls FoS (feet on street) in rural areas, where distributors travel to sell prepaid phone cards, recharge coupons and related company offers to consumers.
To effectively serve rural customers and save on costs, Bharti Airtel has launched a programme called I-Serve, under which the company trains village shopkeepers to become a one-stop Bharti Airtel store—where customers can not just buy recharge cards but get their queries answered.
Azimullah Khan, who owns an electrical products store, is one such I-Serve shopkeeper. Last fortnight, a bunch of youngsters came with a question to Khan, who in his previous job drove a truck in Saudi Arabia for 16 years. They alleged the network provider was overcharging. “They had accidentally activated several alerts on their mobiles for which they were being charged. The problem is that they still do not know how to use their mobile phones,” he says.
Khan, whose shop also repairs cellphones with a locally trained hand, fixed their problem and sold them more recharge coupons. Bharti Airtel expects such on-the-ground distributors to save on customer service costs—but for Khan, the youngsters would have called up at the firm’s customer helpline using expensive call centre services.
Changing lives
As phone services spread in rural India—according to latest data from Trai, some 27.6% of India’s nearly 400 million phones (including around 38 million fixed-line phones) were in its villages and small towns—slow but potentially big changes are taking place.
In Olhanpur resident Gaffar Khan’s days in West Asia in the late 1970s, his wife Nazma Khan would travel to the district headquarters 20km away to make a phone call, or post a letter that would reach Khan weeks later. “There was not even one phone booth then in the nearest Khodaibagh market,” Khan says.
Three decades later, no household in Olhanpur faces that problem.

Local phone access can ease trauma, as Sushila Devi found out. The 32-year-old housewife’s husband, Surendra Prasad, works at a Chapra factory and visits home once a month. Cradling her newborn, Devi recalls how last month she called him as labour pains mounted. “Just after my call, he was by my side with the doctor when I delivered my child,” she says.
At a broader level, economists say the spread of mobile phone usage is cranking up economic growth through enhanced productivity.
A January study by the Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations, or Icrier, a New Delhi-based think tank, says increased penetration of cellular technology has contributed to higher and more inclusive economic growth. States with 10% higher mobile phone penetration than others, it concludes, have grown 1.2% faster.
The economic benefits are yet to reach states such as Bihar, which has to boost its state-wide teledensity of 16% by at least half to reach the ideal benchmark—the study found benefits begin to accrue once penetration crosses 25%. “If Bihar were to enjoy the same mobile penetration rate as Punjab, then, according to our results, it would enjoy a growth rate that is about 4% higher,” the Icrier report says.
For now, new businesses are mushrooming around phone services at Olhanpur.
At Khodaibagh market, Ragini Kumari, 6, is perhaps the youngest customer at Mehta PCO, a public phone booth that uses a battery-powered inverter to charge up to five mobile phones at a time for Rs5 each. Kumari, a class I student, visits Mehta PCO at least twice a week to charge her father’s handset since the generator connection at her home runs for just 2 hours in the evening, she says, before sprinting back home.

Israel to build five artillery munitions plants in Bihar

Jerusalem (PTI): Israel has signed a whopping $240 million agreement with India to build five artillery munitions factories in Bihar over a period of three years.

The munitions factories will be built by the Israeli Military Industry (IMI) on the line of its ordnance factory in the Tel Aviv suburb of Ramat Hasharon, business daily 'Globes' reported.

The Israeli defence industry said that the contract was the result of its collaboration with Indian Government's Ordnance Factories Board (OFB).

IMI will be the chief contractor in the deal and will use Israeli and Indian firms as subcontractors.

The state-owned Israeli firm reported $660 million in sales last year, 16 per cent more than in 2007.

The firm's CEO Avi Felder said the global economic crisis would change the procurement pattern by the world's leading militaries, which would switch to upgrading existing weapons platforms on short timetables instead of massive investment in new facilities that would take a long time to develop and deliver.

Mad rush for Nano booking in Bihar, long queues for bank finance

PATNA: Joining the bandwagon of millions of others across the country, thousands of car lovers in Bihar too have taken part in the mad rush for purchasing the peoples' small car Nano since the booking began yesterday.

Much before the city's main car dealer Ginni Motors' showroom's door was open for public display of all the three variants of the Tata Motor's pride car in the heart of the city both yesterday and today, thousands of car lovers queued up since morning to have a glimpse of their dream car, and, if possible, book one of them on the spot.

Realising the mood of the commoners, a number of public and private sector banks, besides some other financial institutions, have lost no time and opened their counters in some selected branches as well as in the dealer's showroom to grant instant car loan for the eager customers.

The demand for the booking of Nano is so high in Patna that car enthusiasts like Ravi Kumar could not wait any longer to book one of them with the hope that his name would figure in the lottery for the first 1,00,000 cars Tata Motors promised to deliver by July this year.

Despite other pressing demands in the family he has already applied for a bank loan for his dream car, he said today.

''We expect to have similar demand till the end of the booking schedule on April 25,'' Anil Agrawal, partner, Ginni Motors, said.

Looking at the first two days demand he also hoped that more than 25,000 cars would be booked by the city's Nano lovers before the deadline

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Are winds of change sweeping through Bihar?

Chapra (Bihar): It's blowing in the wind. Evident to one visiting Bihar after a few years' gap years is the change in mood that is felt more markedly in rural areas than in the bigger urban centres of the state.

The air of despondency - a feeling that nothing will or can improve is no longer there. What has changed? Villagers talk of improved roads that help them travel for work. Whether it is a Rajput, Yadav or Dalit habitation, this is the first thing villagers mention when asked how things are improving. Aap sadak hi dekh lijiye ("just take the roads, for instance"), they say.

The change began three years ago, says everyone, and CM Nitish Kumar is generally credited for this. People can tell you which schemes were introduced by the state and which by the Centre, which one they owe to Lalu Prasad and to Kumar. But for putting them on the ground, they agree, some reluctantly, that the present CM has done a better job.

People also talk of better education and health facilities achieved simply because teachers have begun teaching and doctors attend to the health centres. The old get their pensions, the widows theirs; the safe motherhood scheme is operational and anganwadis function.

Every village has persons working in another state who send money back and income from the agriculture supplements this. There is no huge problem of rural indebtedness and no suicides. Yet. For the time being, the hopes are high.

However, while there may be doctors at hospitals, medicines are not as they are sold through shops, illegally. Schools have teachers but many 'teachers' are not qualified and have been employed by panchayat mukhiyas for other reasons.

Rural electrification has not made much headway. There is little power supply to begin with. The three thermal power stations the state do not work and Bihar gets all its electricity from outside. Most of Bihar gets electricity only for a total of four hours through the day. No wonder then, Bihar is a thriving market for generator sets.
"If you promise power and provide it, you raise people's aspirations and expectations. People would complain they are getting only 18 hours of power supply and vote you out because of power cuts," said one man.

Salim Parvez may queer pitch for Lalu in Saran

BSP's move to field a candidate in the Yadav-Rajput-dominated Saran Lok Saha seat may queer the pitch for RJD boss Lalu Prasad, who is locked in a cliff-hanger with BJP leader R P Rudy in the constituency where caste equations have changed after delimitation.

The erstwhile Chapra Lok Sabha seat, dominated by Yadavas, has now been renamed Saran after delimitation with the Yadavas and Rajputs accounting for about 2.7 Lakh and 2.5 Lakh voters respectively in the electorate of 12.67 Lakh.

Besides, upper caste Bhumihars have around 75,000 votes, followed by Brahmins (55,000) and Kurmis and Koeris (60,000). Muslims comprise another 1.55 Lakh votes approximately.

As development and caste equations determine the outcome of elections in Bihar, often described as caste cauldron, Lalu is engaged in a neck-to-neck fight with Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati fielding a strong local Muslim leader, Salim Parvez, who is making a determined bid to make inroads into RJD's Muslim votebank.

Political analysts believe that in the event of the BSP nominee cutting into a sizeable minority and dalit votes, it may not be an easy sail for Lalu. The presence of Independent Yadava MLA Lalbabu Rai from Marhaura, who is in the fray as Independent, will further make Lalu's task of retaining the seat difficult.

Lalu's profile has undergone a metamorphosis between 2004 and 2009. In the 2004 general elections he went to voters tainted with involvement in the fodder scam and often accused of letting loose a reign of terror during his party's rule for over 15 years.

But now he is credited with turning the Railways around and posting a profit of Rs 90,000 crore during his five-year stint at the Rail Bhavan.

"He has brought a number of projects in Saran like the coach wheel factory, diesel locomotive factory, coach repair workshop, rail-cum-road overbridge and network of railway lines are among the projects worth over 25,000 crore.

"He has also upgraded Chapra railway station into a model station," his election agent and advocate Bhola Prasad Rai told PTI.

"People of the constituency will vote for development and we have support from all sections of society, including upper castes," RJD's ex-MLA Yaduvanshi Yadav, one of Lalu's campaign managers, said.

"Why will the electors favour Rudy, who did nothing when he was a minister in the erstwhile A B Vajpayee government?" asks Yamuna Rai of village Sitalpur.

"In fact, the cultivators, particularly Rajputs, are angry as Rudy failed to keep his promise to work for re-opening of the sugarmill at Marhaura," another resident of Doriganj said.

Ruling out a possibility of division of Muslim votes due to the presence of BSP candidate, Baglul Mobin, RJD's Saran district chief and a close confidante of Lalu, said, "They are aware of the BSP's plan to indirectly benefit the saffron party's nominee and thus will vote en-bloc for Laluji."

Rudy too is no less confident about achieving his long-cherished dream to defeat a leader of the stature of Lalu. He seems to be heavily banking on the development work being carried out by the NDA government led by Nitish Kumar in Bihar.

"The roads in Saran which were dilapidated and full of potholes are now pliable. New schools and community centres have come up and all-round development is seen," he asserted and ridiculed Lalu's claim of bringing several railway projects in the constituency.

"Please show me a single rail project which has become operational in Saran. Lalu has only laid foundation stones for the projects he claimed to have brought," Rudy, BJP's national spokesman said.

However, sources in the NDA, pleading anonymity, said intra-NDA squabbles may adversely affect Rudy's bid for victory following the denial of BJP ticket to Janardan Singh Sigiriwal, a Rajput leader and former member of the Nitish Kumar cabinet, for the seat.

"Please show me a single rail project which has become operational in Saran. Lalu has only laid foundation stones for the projects he claimed to have brought," Rudy, BJP's national spokesman says.

He said that the projects would take shape and concretise only when a development-oriented NDA government came to power at the Centre.

Insiders in the NDA, pleading anonymity, confide that intra-NDA squabbles may adversely affect Rudy's bid for victory following the denial of BJP ticket to Janardan Singh Sigiriwal, a Rajput leader and former member of the Nitish Kumar cabinet, for the seat.

BSP's Salim Parvez brushes aside the allegations that he is contesting the elections to benefit the saffron party and hopes that the dalits, upper castes, Muslims and extremely backward classes will support his candidature as they want installation of a Mayawati-led government for establishing an equitable society.

Rudy also apprehends large-scale riggings allegedly by RJD activists, a repeat of 2004, when the election to Chapra seat was countermanded and repoll held.

Lalu Prasad had, however, emerged victorious by a margin of 60,443 votes polling 2,28,882 votes against Rudy's 1,68,459 votes.

Lalu represented the Chapra seat thrice in 1977, 1989 and 2004. In 2004, Lalu successfully contested the elections from Madhepura and Chapra, but decided to retain the latter, now renamed Saran, comprising Marhaura, Chapra, Garkha (sc), Parsa, Sonepur and Amnaur assembly segments.

Out of these segments, ruling JD-U has its sitting MLAS from Chapra and Parsa, while BJP'S Gan Chandra Manjhi represents Garkha.

RJDd's Ramanuj Prasad reperesents Sonepur while Lalbabu Rai, who is contesting as an Independent, represents Marhaura. Amnaur is a newly constituted assembly segment.

There are altogether 12 candidates trying their luck from the seat.

Around 12.67 Lakh electors will exercise their franchise at 1270 polling stations on April 16.

Book Review: Sea of Poppies by Amitav Ghosh

Amitav Ghosh’s novels are all meticulously researched and Sea of Poppies is no exception. With the opium trade and the opium wars as a background, the book explores in detail the East India Company-run opium factory at Ghazipur, the workers whose lives depended on it and its produce. At another level, it also tracks the origins and journey of the first batch of the Indian Diaspora, the indentured laborers of the nineteenth century. This class of people, who supplied cheap labor in the British Empire after slavery was abolished, traveled under horrendous conditions to escape the poverty and deprivation in their native land. The book chronicles well, the life and ambitions of the grandiose empire builders and the effect of their actions on ordinary Indian people.

Against this background, Sea of Poppies paints a poignant picture of the human devastation caused by imperialism. The fertile farms of the Ganges plain are blooming only with poppies - beautiful, deadly, denying the peasants the crops to sustain them and indebting them to moneylenders and landowners, themselves indebted to the buccaneers of the East India Company. Skillfully and seemingly randomly, Ghosh assembles those who will set sail in his narrative of the Ibis, an old slaving ship that is taking indentured laborers to Mauritius.

The characters are many and diverse and yet richly etched. He begins in the villages of eastern Bihar with Deeti, soon to be widowed; her addicted husband, who works at the British opium factory at Ghazipur; and Kalua, a low-caste carter of colossal strength and resource. Moving downstream, we meet a bankrupt landowner, Raja Neel Rattan; an American sailor, Zachary; Paulette, a young Frenchwoman, and her Bengali foster-brother Jodu; Benjamin Burnham, an unscrupulous British merchant, and his Bengali agent, Baboo Nob Kissin; and an assortment of nautch girls and Indian sepoys and soldiers in the service of the Company.

As they sail down the Hooghly and into the sea, their old family ties are washed away, and they view themselves as jahaj-bhais (ship-brothers) who will build whole new lives for themselves in the remote islands where they are being taken.. Cut off from their roots, in transit, and looking ahead to a fresh start, the migrants are prone to invent new names and histories and innovatively try to recreate rituals surrounding marriage , funerals and other rites of passage which can no longer be performed in their original form.

The novel closes with the Ibis in mid-ocean in a storm. Serang Ali, leader of the lascars, has abandoned ship, along with the convicts and the condemned; the first mate as well as the subedar are dead; of the key figures only Deeti, Paulette, Nob Kissin and Zachary are left, watching from the deck the disappearance of the long boat and those close to them. the deliberately ambiguous ending of the novel which leaves the reader speculating about the fat of those left behind on the ship as well as those who have sailed away on the boat seems to have in its kernel the seeds of the other parts of the trilogy that Ghosh is said to be writing around the them of the opium wars.

Bihar no. 1 in terms of money earned through jail inmates

PATNA: Having hogged the limelight for all wrong reasons in the past, jails in Bihar, for a change, are now making the state proud at least on one
front. This pertains to money earned by sale of products produced inside Bihar jails by the inmates.

Quoting figures provided by the Bureau of Police Research and Development (BPR&D), an official of home (prisons) department said that Bihar stood first in 2008-09 in India in terms of money earned by sale of products made by jail inmates.

While Bihar jails earned Rs 10.76 crore, jails of Maharshtra and Uttar Pradesh stood second and third with corresponding figures of income of jails of these two states being Rs 10.36 crore and Rs 10.20 crore respectively.

"A major share of this income has come from the products of Buxar Central Jail as the Swiss cottage and tarpaulin, manufactured by inmates there, were supplied in good number during Vikas Yatra undertaken by CM Nitish Kumar," said a senior home (prison) department official and added that the supply was made in accordance with the Bihar Finance Rule, a clause of which stipulates that all tents for official requirement should be purchased from Buxar Central Jail.

Income generated by this jail is over Rs 9 crore which constitutes about 90 per cent of the total income of jails in Bihar. Taking a lesson from the good performance of Buxar jail, the bosses in home (prison) department have taken steps to enhance the income of other major jails of Bihar, too.

Steps have been taken to start work for producing tents and blankets using the services of inmates of Central jails in Muzaffarpur. This will be in addition to the leather items already being produced by the inmates of this jail.

A printing press has been installed in Bhagalpur Central Jail and its commercial use would start after the trial run of the press which would be conducted very soon.

A bakery has been set up in Beur Central Jail, Patna, and the product of this bakery would also be sold in the market.

"These are a few steps we have taken to sustain the income level of jails and if things move as planned, there is no doubt that Bihar jails would continue to be number one in the country in terms of money earned by sale of products produced by jail inmates," said the official.

Empty promises, as Gaya voters live in ‘lantern age’

Gaya (Bihar), April 11 (IANS) For 30 long years candidates kept promising that the power situation will improve in Bihar’s Gaya town. They no longer do so, knowing the empty promise will only irritate voters.

Residents complain that electricity is a luxury in Gaya, a pilgrimage centre for Hindus and Buddhists alike and located about 100 km from Patna.

Shakeela Khatoon, who lives in the Gewal Bigha area in the more upmarket part of the town, is bitter.

“We live in the lantern age.” she said. “We have three lanterns in regular use. There is hardly a night when we don’t light the lanterns. The electricity mostly fails.”

Even in the run up to the last state assembly elections, the Janata Dal-United (JD-U) nominee in this area promised better power situation in Gaya town. But in over three years, the situation has only got worse.

“It is common here to spend hot and humid summer nights without power,” a bitter Khatoon told IANS. “If there is power at night during summer, it is considered a luxury.”

In the nearby neigbourhood of Rampur, Manisha Sinha curses her decision to force her husband to construct a new house with all their savings and settle down in Gaya.

“It was a wrong decision. We were confident the power supply would improve but nothing has changed. Most residents either use lantern or lamp. Some are using battery-operated emergency lights,” she said.

The energy department says Bihar faces a deficit of 400-500 MW of power a day and that the situation is likely to worsen with the onset of summer if additional power is not made available.

Bihar does not produce even 100 MW a day, India’s only large state to face such a predicament. The government of Nitish Kumar blames the previous Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) government for the mess.

Bihar is almost totally dependent on the central grid for power. The state needs 1,600-1,800 MW of power a day but gets 700-800 MW from the central pool.

“This should be the main issue during the election,” says bureaucrat Munna Singh, a resident of Nai Godam locality. “Instead, politicians are wooing voters on caste lines.”

Gaya goes to the polls April 16. The town is Bihar’s second largest educational hub after Patna, and the power crisis has hit hard the student community.

Dinesh Yadav, a college student in his early 20s, says: “I failed to watch cricket on TV. We pay Rs.30 per hour for surfing the Internet, three times as much as in Delhi and twice the rate in Patna, and all because the cyber cafes have to be run on generators.”

Sanjay Kumar, another resident, said people had lost hope of getting power. “Thanks to uncertain power supply, kerosene oil sells at Rs.40 per litre.”

The situation is precarious in villages. They hardly get any power even during the day.

It is not unusual to experience day-long power cuts in most of Bihar’s 38 districts. People in small towns and district headquarters are considered lucky because they have electricity for four to six hours a day.

(Imran Khan can be contacted at

Meet The Miracle Indian Woman Who Cries Tears of Blood

Indian woman Rashida Khatoon has been dubbed a 'living miracle' because she cries tears of blood.

According to the Austrian Times, the women of Patna in Bihar has become a 'holy shrine' where people see her weep blood several times a day.

Even the doctors are stunned at Khatoon's condition.

"I do not feel any pain when it happens but it's a shock to see blood instead of water," the Daily Star quoted her as saying.

The local Hindu holy men have declared her a living miracle.

People visit her home daily to see her cry blood and have even showered her and her family with gifts as holy offerings.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Vina Sahee Joins JD(U)

PATNA: Congress leader and former minister Veena Shahi on Saturday hurled accusations on the state Congress as well as High Command and said most of
the Lok Sabha seats were put on sale. "A minimum of Rs 10 lakh has been charged for giving tickets. The rate goes high depending on the paying capacity of the ticket aspirants," she alleged. Veena, who joined JD(U) on Saturday, is the daughter-in-law of veteran Congress leader and former Union minister L P Shahi.

Veena was also a ticket aspirant, but was denied one. Asked if she was also asked to pay, she shot back, "They do not have courage to ask me, but I know many people have paid." She said after March 18, when the Congress decided to contest all the parliamentary seats in Bihar, the game of selling tickets began.

She also accused the High Command of keeping its eyes shut on what is happening in the state. "The day is not far when the oldest party will cease to exist in Bihar as some so-called leaders have made politics a business," she reacted.

NDA vows to complete Patna AIIMS

The then Atal Bihari Vajpayee led NDA government's move six years ago to have a unit of the prestigious All India Institute of Medical
Sciences (AIIMS) at Patna has seemingly proved to be abortive. The state BJP has decided to make it an issue during the parliamentary poll.

The state BJP thinks that the Manmohan Singh led UPA government did not resume from where the Vajpayee government had left in 2004. It, on Saturday, held both the UPA government and the Bihar ministers in the UPA's Union cabinet as largely responsible for the seeming abortion of AIIMS. Initially. the estimated cost of the poject was Rs 285 crore. It has now escalated to Rs 400 crore, which, in itself, might work as a deterrent on the Centre to pursue the project to its fruition.

State NDA convener and health minister in Nitish Kumar government Nand Kishore Yadav did not mince words on Saturday, when he said, "The UPA government felt that JPNAIIMS would be seen as an achievement of the NDA, and, therefore, it did not push the matter to its logical end. To add to it, the Bihar ministers obstructed it."

Asked why CM Nitish Kumar did not coordinate with the Union ministers from Bihar and organize an all-party delegation to Delhi if the project was so prestigious, Yadav said that he had met UPA's Union health minister A Rama Doss, and Nitish, too, had written to the Prime Minister separately.

"The JPNAIIMS has been allowed to suffer abortion under a design, but if the NDA comes to power in Delhi we will see that the project is completed," Yadav said, adding: "The Delhi under Atal Bihari Vajpayee had tried to address the health needs of the people of the state, since its critical patients, normally, had been rushing to Delhi AIIMS for treatment."

According to him, Union health minister Sushma Swaraj had initiated the official move for an AIIMS at Patna in July 2003, when she, in an official letter, asked the then CM, Rabri Devi, to allot 100 acres of land for the Patna AIIMS, pointing out that the project would be completed in two years after the land transfer. Rabri consented, and former vice-president Bhairon Singh Shekhawat laid the foundation stone on January 2 next year.

In two lots, the Rabri government transferred 72.67 acres of land by June 2005, while the Nitish government transferred the remaining 27.33 acres of land on November 28 the same year, and the Centre intimated about the possession of land on April 27, 2006. In between, nothing beyond the boundary wall and work on residential quarters has been initiated. "The UPA has been insincere in the implementattion of the project," Yadav said.

India (Bihar) born Sanjay Jha of is now USA’s top paid CEO (Motorola)

As reported in Wall Street Journal, Motorola’s Sanjay Jha is currently the top paid CEO in USA. Current one year pay package of Sanjay Jha is around $104 million (Rs 510 Crore ). He did Ph.D in electronic and electrical engineering. He is working for Motorola since starting of his career.

Many people think that Ph.D is useful only for teaching career or career in research, now this is not true. Ph.D degree holder from reputed university can also grab the top management position in any company.

Sanjay K. Jha [1], born 1963, joined Motorola in 2008 and serves as co-chief executive officer of Motorola, Inc. and chief executive officer of Motorola’s Mobile Devices business. He is also a member of Motorola’s Board of Directors.

Before joining Qualcomm, Jha held lead design engineering roles with Brooktree Corporation, San Diego, and GEC Hirst Research Centre, London, England.

Dr. Jha joined Motorola in 2008 and serves as co-chief executive officer of Motorola, Inc. and chief executive officer of Motorola’s Mobile Devices business. He is also a member of Motorola’s Board of Directors.

Prior to joining Motorola, Jha served as chief operating officer of Qualcomm Incorporated where he oversaw Corporate Research and Development and Qualcomm Flarion Technologies (QFT). Jha also served as president of Qualcomm CDMA Technologies (QCT), Qualcomm’s chipset and software division.

Jha began his career at Qualcomm in 1994 as a senior engineer with the Qualcomm VLSI (very large-scale integration) group working on the Globalstar satellite phone, and later on the first 13k vocoder ASIC (application-specific integrated circuit). In 1997, Jha was promoted to vice president of engineering, where he was responsible for leading the integrated-circuit engineering group. He led and oversaw the development of five generations of modem and cell site chipsets, both digital baseband and RF (radio frequency), and system software. Jha was promoted to senior vice president of engineering in 1998.

In 2002, Jha led the formation of Qualcomm Technologies & Ventures, where he managed both the technology investment portfolio and the new technology group as senior vice president and general manager. Jha became executive vice president of Qualcomm and president of QCT in 2003. He was named COO in December 2006.

Prior to joining Qualcomm, Jha held lead design engineering roles with Brooktree Corporation in San Diego, and GEC Hirst Research Labs in London, England.

Jha holds a Ph.D. in electronic and electrical engineering from the University of Strathclyde, Scotland. He received his bachelor’s of science degree in engineering from the University of Liverpool, England.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Bihar Election Report

Nitish favourite to lead Bihar again, survey shows

New Delhi, April 1 (IANS) Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar is the most popular leader in the state and was likely to retain the post, an opinion poll said Wednesday.

'Nitish Kumar emerges as the most popular candidate to be the next chief minister in Bihar with 63 percent people in favour of him whereas Lalu Prasad Yadav trails by 25 percent,' the NDTV said in a release on the findings of the opinion poll.

A large majority believes that the Nitish Kumar government has done a good job in handling flood situation with 73 percent people saying he has done enough on development indicators like 'bijli, sadak and paani' (power, roads and water).

A majority of people in Madhya pradesh, 67 percent of the respondents, are in favour of the state's Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan being elected as the next chief minister.

Centrally Planned Inequality Punjab Bihar

Centrally Planned Inequality Punjab Bihar Centrally Planned Inequality Punjab Bihar api_user_11797_viveksinha_in An article on 2 states of India. Bihar's comparision with Punjab.

Development in Bihar: overview, appraisal and approach

Development in Bihar: overview, appraisal and approach Development in Bihar: overview, appraisal and approach somnathban Why is Bihar poor? How poor is it? Is there a way out? These are the questions that the Aga Khan Foundation grapples with in this document, in order to prepare for a long-term development commitment in the State.

Bihar’s IIT dream

State capital Patna wants to be the next Kota-the Rajasthan town known for its IIT coaching institutes

Patna: Along the busy Rajendra Nagar flyover in Patna, the skyline is dotted with huge, irregularly placed hoardings. More than a hundred in number, they congregate with a purpose: to help every child in the city enter the Indian Institute of Technology (IITs), the country’s premier technical institutes.

This dream caught Navneet Rajan’s fancy when he was struggling to balance his aspirations and limited means at the Patna Muslim High School. He enjoyed chemistry and mathematics; and the slogan in the neighbourhood only helped concretize an idea: “Do not be a chemist; become an IITian.”
To make things easier, he, like thousands in previous years, did not have to set out for Kota, the city in Rajasthan which has become synonymous with the IITs for the sheer number of coaching institutes. All of them train students for the Joint Entrance Examination (JEE), conducted for admission to the IITs.
Rajan signed up with JEE Classes, a newly launched coaching institute that caters to Patna’s IIT aspirants. The coaching institute says it delivers on Kota’s promise—but with cheaper fees that can range from Rs25,000 to Rs60,000 a year. Coaching in Kota can cost a student on an average Rs15,000-20,000 more, excluding travel and accommodation expenses.
Rajan is one of 700 in his batch, where several batches add up to a student strength of 1,500. In a class resembling a downtown garage, the students make several rows of intent listeners as their teacher writes equations on the blackboard and addresses the class through a microphone. In a peculiar gender divide, girls occupy the front benches; boys sit in the back rows. Yet, as ambitions go, they all think equal. Everyone here hopes to get into the IITs; an average one of 5,000 aspirants qualifies for the JEE every year.
Elsewhere, too, this dream has triggered a deluge. The city of the working class and small-time traders is now waking to a smart new set of coaching institutes that promise a seat in the IITs. Coaching class owners recall that about a decade ago, there were around 300 such institutes, that helped students get admission to both medical and engineering colleges. Today, an estimated 1,000 such coaching institutes are run here, positioning IITs as tickets to a dream job and promising to make Patna “the next Kota”.
More than a hundred new classes have been set up in the last couple of years, thanks to several coaching institutes from Delhi and Kota setting up branches.
Here, success stories from the big cities are seeping into the psyche of the middle class and fuelling ambitions. Just last year, Shitikanth, who uses his first name only, from a school in Patna secured the top spot in the JEE. That was 27 years after another student from the state hit the merit list with a second position in 1981.

In recent years, at least a thousand students from the state have made it to the IITs, with more than half the number coached at the home-grown training institutes. Super 30, a tent house coaching institute for the state’s underprivileged, is now the best fable in town.
As local tales go, one doesn’t just need to make way through littered alleys and roughshod roads to reach the institute, also known as the Ramanujan Mathematical Academy. There is a stringent entrance test to qualify for admission and for 30 seats, about 5,000 apply every year.
For the deserving, boarding and food are provided at two small student lodges in the midst of the cacophonous town, at a meagre Rs6,000 a year.
Poring over a thick book in one of the barely furnished lodges, Kumod Ranjan, 18, is unconcerned about the lack of a ceiling fan in his room. “Sweat keeps us burning. What if we sleep during study hours?’’ he says.
In less than three months, he along with 29 other promising mathematicians, picked from economically weaker sections, will appear for the JEE.
According to house tradition, each one of them has to qualify because they are what make the Super 30, an initiative launched by founder Anand Kumar along with top cop Abhyanand.
Six years ago, 18 of the Super 30 students cracked the IIT entrance. The number rose to 22 in 2004 and 26 in 2005. Last year, it recorded 100% success.
Then, for the lesser equals, there are various options: Genius Forty, Fantastic Fifty and Stupendous Sixty, styled after Anand’s Super 30.
Bhupesh Kumar, founder of Genius Forty, says it’s not about aping anyone, however. “We are into welfare initiatives. We are doing some good work,” he says, adding that his institute picks up 40 students to coach for the IITs every year at heavily subsidized fees.
At Vision Classes, however, ex-IITian and founder K. Singh’s slogan for the institute—“Let’s make Patna the next hub for IIT coaching”—also makes profound business sense. After 11 years at a coaching institute in Kota, Singh returned to his hometown last year to arrest the flow of students to the Rajasthan town.
“Our dream is to set up a system which stops the brain drain from here. Bihar loses approximately 30,000-40,000 students to coaching centres in Delhi and Kota every year,” he says.
Singh’s vision is already seeing results. Sujata Kumari, 18, who coached for a year at Kota’s famed Bansal classes, along with two others, joined his institute as soon as it was set up. “My parents didn’t have enough money to pay for another year. Here, teachers have experience from Kota and the classes match that quality,” she says.

But competition for the likes of Vision Classes has grown tougher. While institutes such as Delhi-based FIIT-JEE and Kota-based Daswani Classes and Resonance have already made deep inroads in the flourishing business, several others like Sahil Study Circle and Vidhyamandir Classes have also stepped in with glossy brochures and air-conditioned classrooms over the last couple of years and are offering attractive discounts. “We have kept our fees 30% lower than the fees being charged at our Delhi centres. This offer is open only to students from Bihar,” says Amit Singh, administrator at Sahil Study Centre in Patna, which is headquartered in Delhi.
Many of the locally set up institutes, therefore, including Singh’s, have aggressive marketing strategies in place to meet the competition including launch of websites to attract outstation students also, free T-shirts with the institute’s slogans and coffee mugs and tie-ups with local schools to tap the IITs aspirants at a young age.
At JEE Classes, administration head Balaji, 30, with an engineering degree from IIT Bombay and a management course from Xavier Labour Relations Institute in Jamshedpur, is using his four-year stint in the corporate sector to hard sell JEE as the city’s premier coaching institute. “The education sector in Patna is booming and this is the time to erect good infrastructure and teaching facilities for students here,” he points out, adding that in the last one year, JEE Classes has grown to four centres in the city. “We hope to enrol 4,000 students this year.”
But as with any thriving business in Bihar, there are challenges too. Kumar, whose Super 30 now holds a near-iconic status and has featured in international media regularly, has survived two fatal attacks in the last five years. He blames it on bitter professional rivalry. “There are coaching institutes who do not want us to grow,” he says.
Today, most prominent coaching centres in the city have hired private security guards, from Vision Classes to JEE Classes, though few admit that deepening rivalry is now posing grave dangers.
In Kumar’s case, this perhaps means living life dangerously. He has a posse of security guards provided by the state police to accompany him each time he steps out of home.