Sunday, January 10, 2010

Bihar: 2009 - a year of promises and prejudices

2009 was a year of hope and despair, of promises and prejudices, of shocks and surprises and of course a roller-coaster on political front, as Bihar once again revolved around personalities.

Bihar stepped into the year 2009 by watching Chief Minister Nitish Kumar stepping out of Patna's concrete cocoon and discovering Bihar, as he travelled across the state- backwaters on his much-publicised Vikas Yatra.

As the year drew to a conclusion, Nitish Kumar was once again out of capital chaos to spend the year's last week in the serene surroundings of historical Rajgir where he held the last Cabinet meeting of the year atop the Ratnagiri hills at the height of 1,300 feet on December 29.

While the intent and the purpose are visible in whatever the chief minister said or did throughout the year, Nitish Kumar's attempts to reach out to people were dripped with symbolism. Perhaps therefore, whatever Nitish did was seen through a political prism.

While Kumar had launched his Vikas Yatra just before the Lok Sabha polls, his Rajgir Yatra at the end of 2009 is said to have timed with an eye on the 2010 Assembly polls.

Under the shadow of Vishwa Shanti Stupa, the last cabinet meeting of the year 2009 embossed and approved the revised pay package for government employees on the pattern of the sixth pay commission report. This almost confirmed the subtle political meanings of the Nitish's initiative.

The state exchequer would bear an additional financial burden of over Rs 3,500 crore due to revised salaries and pension component.

Of all things, General Elections 2009 was surely the biggest event of the year. Though the results further strengthened the political pecking order at the national level-with the United Progressive Alliance augmenting its lead over the BJP led National Democratic Alliance in New Delhi-Bihar adhered to a reverse order. Contrary to the national trend, the JD(U)-BJP combine swept Bihar by winning 32 of the total 40 Lok Sabha seats.

The NDA that suffered heavy losses across the country raced to the top in the two states of Bihar and Jharkhand by bagging as many as 40 seats.

In fact, the Congress party that staged an impressive comeback in New Delhi could gather only three out of the 54 Lok Sabha seats in the two states.

People in the two states clearly demonstrated a different political assessment of the political scenario.

Analysts could read various nuanced messages in the voting trends in Bihar, which clearly suggested that the two states were still largely influenced by micro issues and factors that overshadowed national issues. In short, the two states voted in the Lok Sabha polls the way they would have had voted in assembly elections.

The Lok Sabha elections in the two States also shattered many myths. For instance, RJD chief Lalu Prasad's much-vaunted political arithmetic that went horribly wrong is still billed as the biggest electoral shock of the year.

One of the high points of the General election for Bihar was electoral ineligibility of Bahubalis like Shahabuddin, Pappu Yadav, Anand Mohan and Surajbhan-who could not contest polls because of their respective convictions.

These men once ensured Bihar's drift from criminalisation of politics to politicisation of crime. But, Lok Sabha elections 2009 also decisively rejected their dummy candidates - read wife and mother.

Lalu Prasad lost Lok Sabha election to his one time friend Ranjan Prasad Yadav from Pataliputra, though he won from Saran while LJP chief Ram Vilas Paswan lost his home turf, Hajipur, to his long-time rival Ram Sunder Das of JD(U).

Although temporarily, Nitish Kumar emerged as the man with the Midas touch-a man who with his shrewd calculations coupled with a new social engineering ensured electoral meltdown of biggies like Lalu Prasad and Ram Vilas Paswan in the summer of 2009.

This, however, was short-lived. Three months later in September, when Bihar witnessed by-elections for 18 assembly seats, the "discredited duo" successfully turned the tables on Nitish Kumar by winning nine seats. Clearly, Lalu and Paswan clawed back to political centre stage.

The emergence of Congress as an independent political force in Bihar is also one of the major political development of the year 2009. The Congress broke electoral ties with Lalu and Paswan on the eve of the Lok Sabha polls when the two left only three seats for the grand old party.

The Congress fought alone. And since then, subsequent elections have confirmed the party's ascendance to a status of being a political force in many constituencies of Bihar with considerable rise in vote share.

In the education sector Bihar remained a viable centre for quality learning, as the already functional branches of Indian Institute of Technology, Chanakya Law University and Chandragupta Institute of Management-which were established during the earlier years- continued to draw top talents.

Besides, a panel led by Nobel laureate Amartya Sena is also in the process of setting up an international university at Nalanda. Process is underway to accord the status of central university to Rajendra Agriculture University.

The Universities in Bihar remained pockmarked with controversies with State HRD department all through 2009 kept shooting orders-including one when Vice-Chancellors and some senior officials were made to refund their salaries, as they were disallowed to use internal resources to this effect.

Many thought this actually undermined the autonomy of the education centres. University teachers in Bihar, ironically however, are still awaiting the implementation of the revised UGC pay scales.

In the year 2009, the Nitish Government in Bihar also remained involved in a series of spats with the Centre over packages for floods and drought. Nitish Kumar kept demanding special status for Bihar, a comprehensive relief package for Kosi flood and assistance for drought hit districts of the state.

Though, Bihar's lists of demands were not without merit, Nitish Kumar's insistence on blaming Centre for everything that was wrong with Bihar failed to impress anyone.

In 2009, Bihar also had the misfortune of suffering two natural disasters-flood and drought-simultaneously. In fact, at a time when 26 districts of the state were declared "calamity- hit" following scanty rainfall and drought conditions, over 10 lakh people in a different corner of the state remained grappling with flood waters.

The dichotomy was all the more pronounced with one group of farmers left with too little water while the other with too much of it. A group of relief officials trying recuing the flood hit population while the other group praying for rain, as the spectre of famine loomed large on the state.

The year 2009 also recorded some improvement in the law and order situation with conviction of over 10,000 criminals serving as a deterrent. The crime graph, however, left a lot to be desired, as in the first ninth months of the year alone the state witnessed 2438 murders, 505 dacoity, 1253 robbery, 62 kidnapping for ransom and 720 robbery incidents.

Maoists also continued their stray attacks in which over two dozen cops were killed. The police, however, succeeded in targeting the extremists and arrested several top Naxalite leaders and seized huge quantity of arms and ammunition from various places including state capital.


* Bihar initiative of reserving 50 % seats for women in Panchayat Raj Institutions and local bodies was adopted by the country
* A large number of companies and private institutions reached Bihar
* Bihar registered a quantum leap in tourism sector. Bihar Administrative Reforms Mission Society Constituted.
* The medium term growth rate of NSDP at constant prices, during the period 1999-00 to 2008-09, is estimated to be 5.57 per cent. Although this growth rate is lower than the national gowth rate of about 6-7 per cent, it indicates an improved growth performance compared to the recent past when the state economy managed to grow at barely 3-4 per cent. The per capita NSDP of Bihar has grown at 3.61 per cent. The growth rate for NSDP at constant prices has been very good for at least three sectors - Construction (21.53 per cent), Communications (16.01 per cent) and Trade, Hotels and Restaurants (12.08 per cent).
* Bihar's per centage per capita growth of 12.07 per cent is not much behind the all India per capita growth rate of 12.73 per cent.
* According to Bihar economic survey for 2008-09, State has registered impressive growth trends in three sectors in the state - construction (21.53%), communications (16.01%) and trade, hotels and restaurants (12.03%).
* Among all States and union territories, Bihar with a crime rate of 118 stood at 28th position in the country. There has been a decline in major crimes including murder (-3.2 per cent), dacoity (-10.10 per cent), robbery (-4.99 per cent), kidnapping for ransom (-23 per cent), bank robbery (-15.03 per cent), etc. during the period 2001-08. There has been a sharp decline of around 50 per cent or more in the cases of dacoity, kidnapping, road dacoity and bank robbery in 2008 over 2001.


* Bihar still mans the bottom space for having the lowest per capita income in the entire country.
* The poor form 41.5 per cent of its population; it has a poverty and hunger average of 2.7 per cent against a national average of 1.9 per cent; 58.4 per cent of its children under the age of three are underweight and only one-fourth of its population has access to public health and toilets.

Patna: P For Progress

Patna today is seen as a source of hope emerging at the grassroots, as individuals and organisations, including the government make efforts at creating a city with new commitments to bring in new vistas of opportunities, creating employment, adding colour, vision and value to every neighbourhood, business centres and the pathways that dot Bihar's capital city.

There is indeed some good news to begin with. The World Bank's Doing Business in India 2009 report has adjudged Bihar's capital city, Patna ahead of Mumbai and second only to New Delhi when it comes to launching a new business initiative.

In fact, Patna's rating is above Chennai, Kochi and Kolkata in the overall ranking for facilitating smooth business, says the World Bank Report.
Kargil Chauk, Patna

In short, Patna appears promising. And even though the city still has promises to keep Patna today - the capital city of Bihar- means prosperity.

As we move towards 2010, Patna, located on the banks of Ganga, appears flooded with opportunities. The city is at the threshold of an economic renaissance, which has pushed up the paying capacity of the residents. Slowly but surely, Patna is emerging as a growth centre.

According to ASSOCHAM's study of the employment scenario in India between April and October 2009-10, Patna registered a growth of 20.52 percent in job creation.

Among the Tier II cities, Patna is placed behind Vishakapatnam (115.21 per cent), Indore (60.00 per cent), Bhubaneswar (49.49 per cent), and Jaipur (28.74 per cent) and is registering major growth in job creation during April to October 2009-10 as compare to the same period in 2008-09.

The ranking assumes special significance since cities like Bhopal, Amritsar, Gwalior and Ludhiana have witnesses a decline in job creation by 26.68 per cent, 9.60 per cent, 6.27 per cent and 3.94 per cent, respectively.

Prosperity indeed is writ large on Patna roads. The rise in number of vehicles plying on Patna roads is a huge indicator to this effect.

In the last one year, there has been a growth of 39 percent in private vehicles and 67 percent rise in the commercial vehicles plying across Patna.

In 2008-09, a total of 21,594 vehicles were registered. The number shot up to 30,229 by October 2009. 3,008 passenger vehicles were registered in 2008-09, which shot up to 5,025 till October.

In fact, Patna -- where the number of vehicles in 2007 was 1.75 lakh -- today is bustling with 2.93 lakh vehicles till October 2009 -- a rise by 67 percent in just two years.

The general perception suggests that a big thrust on development has given Bihar the forward momentum, besides increasing the money volume in the market, which has resulted in a corresponding rise in the purchasing power.

Things are looking up in Patna. The last few years have seen families having late dinner at restaurants. The shopping outlets in downtown Patna are chock-a-block, and the real estate business is booming while commanding a never before price tag in the city.

This is, however, just part of the story. Patna needs to expand, as the existing city just does not have a matching infrastructure ready to accommodate everything that the city currently has.

Patna is struggling in terms of infrastructure strength, which is inadequate to cater to the growing population. It desperately needs more flyovers, better roads and end of water-logging to join the big league of developed cities.

Several foreign financial institutions like World Bank and Asian Development Bank have offered to help Bihar towards infrastructure development under the urban development ministry.

In fact, the existing infrastructure in terms of roads and space is so grimly inadequate that the Patna High Court recently asked the Government of Bihar to speed up the decision-making process on the proposed master plan for the State Capital.

While hearing a PIL on illegal apartments, the HC also suggested the Urban development Department to take steps for developing areas adjoining Patna to ease pressure on the State capital.

The good news is that the Urban Development Department has plans to develop Maner and Fatuha as satellite towns and also improves Hajipur and Sonepur in order to shift the population pressure coming to Patna urban area.

The Patna Regional Development Authority (PRDA) has charted out a plan to this effect, although the pace of its implementation has left a lot to be desired.

In fact, if the authorities including the city planners succeed in developing Patna in accordance with the requirements of time, the capital of Bihar will surely be a place to watch in the coming future.

The Patna Urban Agglomeration Area had a population of 16.98 lakhs as per the 2001 Census while the municipal corporation area of Patna had a population of 13.66 lakh (2001 Census).

The population of the Urban Agglomeration Area is expected to be 22.50 lakhs in the year 2011 and 28.01 lakhs in the year 2021. In addition the floating population who commute from districts to the Patna Urban Agglomeration Area each day is expected to be 3.00 lakhs by 2021 against around 2.00 lakhs at present.

In the years to come the existing planned residential area of 8938 hectares would go up to 14,609.57 hectares in another decade. At present, the planned residential area in Patna is 641 hectares while for apartments it is 242 hectares.

By 2021, the face of the city will change dramatically. There are plans of expanding the residential area to 8014.70 hectares. Correspondingly, the commercial space will go up to 514.9 hectares whereas 1073.91 hectares of space is to be earmarked for community space.

In addition to this, over 3000 hectares of green land, 1709.44 hectares of internal roads and 88.74 hectares of infrastructure area are to be created.

The authorities have planned to increase the areas for clubs, cinema halls, theatres, parks and playgrounds to 990 hectares from the existing 224 hectares.

Similarly in a decade to come, efforts would be made to reduce the existing land occupied by administrative offices of the government, educational and medical institutions, religious, archaeological and historical sites and graveyards and cremation ghats -- which is currently over 691 hectares There will be 800 hectares of 30 and 20-metre wide roads.

The area for clubs, cinema halls, theatres, parks and playgrounds is to be increased from 224 to over 990 hectares. There is a proposal for 60 metre-wide roads in Patna occupying a space of over 681.98 hectares,

All this, however, is yet to happen. But, the plan surely gives an idea that a focussed development and expansion of Patna is on the cards.

Being surrounded by three rivers, Patna also has a constraint of growth on the northern side due to River Ganga, southern side due to River Punpun and eastern due to Sone.

Moreover the topography of Patna is like a saucer due to the surrounding three rivers and thus drainage of the city poses as a major problem and pumping of water our seems to be the only solution at present. The city is also prone to flooding.

The Human Development Index (HDI) in Patna, however, needs some focussed thrust. The HDI is the more widely used means of measuring well being, which takes into account additional indicators like per capita income, along with life expectancy and literacy rate of a society.

Life expectancy in Bihar is 61 years, almost on par with the national life expectancy of 62.7 years. Patna's capita gross district domestic product of Rs 31,441. Patna also has the highest per capita saving in the state at Rs 675, highest per-capita fuel consumption and the highest per capita income at Rs 6,958.

Across the state, the city also has highest per capita spending share on health and education (in 2006-07) at Rs 674 and Rs 5,633. The literacy rate of Patna Urban Agglomeration area is 68.9%, which is higher than the literacy rate of the State i.e. 47.53%.

The state government also appears to making some concentrated efforts by increased expenditure on social services to improve the HDI (Human Development Indices). There are attempts at providing better access to basic education, health services, safe drinking water, sanitation, housing etc.

In Bihar, the total expenditure on social services in 2008 has gone up to Rs 10666 crore (35 percent salary component), which is up from 4197 crore of 2003-04.

It includes health and family welfare, water supply, sanitation, housing and urban development, education, sports, arts & culture and other social services.

In fact, in 2007-08, the total expenditure on social services was more than one third of the total expenditure and 48 percent of the total development expenditure.

These efforts may positively impact the ground situation, as Bihar has been at the lowest position among the major states in India in 1981, 1991 and 2001. The same pattern is replete in its ranking with respect to Per Capita Income.

The spin offs of the prosperity is also visible across the board with Patna people expressing a pronounced consumer behaviour with larger disposable income.

The megatrend of consumerism is revamping Patna's economic structure, besides fuelling business growth in the city. Similarly, the retail industry here is also developing fast with improving business environment and rising income levels.

No wonder, Patna has also caught the attention of real estate developers, and a number of projects in both the segments of commercial and residential are underway.

However, the demands for space have come from sectors like banking, insurance, finance, telecom, coaching and educational institutes etc. According to an estimate, more than 10 million sq ft structure is being created to meet the demand.

Patna has also witnessed a huge influx of business organisations coming to the city, while the existing ones have been on an expansion mode thus generating hundreds of jobs in the private sector.

Advantage of cost is one big factor that makes Patna a preferred destination for business and real estate activities. At times when capital values at metros go as high as Rs 30,000 per sq ft, prices here are seemingly moderate.

In terms of retail business, although many big names are yet to set up shops in Patna but huge departmental stores like Vishal Mega Mart, Patliputra Shoppers Plaza, and Khetan Super Market have already emerged successful in drawing huge number of consumers.

Quite a few mall-cum-multiplexes are also likely to come up in a year time at Patna. These malls will have exclusive shops, showrooms and offices, besides silver screens with excellent acoustics, coffee house, and food court, with escalators and capsule lift.

From a production Market focussed on rest of the country, Patna is turning into an equally good consumption market much more focussed on selling to itself.

Clearly, what's happening in Patna is by far the most important development in Bihar. The policy makers want to develop Patna for rest of the state to follow. Patna has begun its journey.

SWOT Analysis

Strength: Advantage of large labour force. Well developed service sector. In fact, the Economy is witnessing a shift towards services, much before industrialisation, mostly driven by a buoyant urban economy

Weakness: Unavailability of land

Opportunity: Huge potential for tourism, as the city has a large variety of historical monuments (Like Golghar) from Maurya to Gupta age and down to the Colonial British Rule. It is the gateway to the Buddhist & Jain pilgrim centres of Vaishali, Rajgir, Nalanda, Bodhgaya and Pawapuri.

Patna can also develop as a major education centre. New centres of Indian Institute of Technology and National Institute of Fashion Technology are already here, besides an extension centre of BIT Mesra and a good business school, Chandragupta Institute of Management.

Threat: Poor infrastructure, poor HDI in addition to a negative sex ratio 873 female against 1000 males.

The Biggest Brand: There are many in Patna. But all debates over being the biggest brand in Patna stands settled with Hotel Maurya, which stands heads and shoulders above others.

Set up in 1978, Hotel Maurya, Patna, is a pioneering project of Bihar Hotels Limited (BHL) that has generated foreign exchange for the state of over Rs. 34 million. Located on a two and a half acre plot in the prime commercial area of Patna, the Maurya hasl almost everything -- food outlets, four conference, banquet facilities, swimming pool, gym -- to make it a complete experience.

Nitish’s A-team: Bihari babus show their mettle

Many in Bihar say Pratyay Amrit’s name should be entered into Guinness World Records for helming a sick corporation which built the highest

number of road bridges in a year. As Bihar Rajya Pul Nirman Nigam's CMD, this 1991-batch IAS officer oversaw completion of 259 major bridge projects in three years since 2006. In view of its success, the nigam has now been given responsibilities like road and hospital construction, among other things. “Now we are out of debt, making handsome profits and are also spending crores on philanthropy as part of our CSR (corporate social responsibility),” a nigam official says.

Pratyay delivered. So have others in chief minister Nitish Kumar’s A-team, who were chosen for their competence. Earlier as principal secretary (finance) and now as development commissioner, Navin Kumar has been the chief strategist in financial matters. Known for his sobriety, the 1975-batch IAS officer is the man behind the state’s budget drafts and also the all-important memorandum to the finance commission. He also heads the State Investment Planning Board, formed by the Nitish government to attract investment. The board mobilized proposals worth Rs 96,000 crore in just three years.

R K Singh was the builder during the initial years of the Nitish regime. Currently secretary (defence production) at
the Centre, the 1975-batch officer was the architect of the development of the state’s road network as principal secretary, road construction.

Madan Mohan Jha was specially brought in from central deputation. As HRD boss, he initiated the move to recruit over two lakh teachers on contract. He also conceptualized several other projects. After his untimely death in 2007, Anjani Kumar Singh has been brought in as HRD principal secretary to complete his unfinished work.
While Deepak Kumar managed the key health department for the first three years, Afzal Amanullah's three-year tenure as home secretary is still remembered for the bold initiative to rein in criminals, including politicians of Nitish’s JD(U). The 1979-batch officer now looks after urban development.

Anup Mukherjee, as rural development department head, supervised implementation of poverty alleviation schemes, including NREGA, and won accolades for the state even from the Centre. The 1974-batch officer, who believes in working quietly, is the state’s chief secretary today.

Bureaucrat-turned-MP N K Singh is also an important player in Nitish's team. Not only does he give ideas to the CM, but he is also credited with successfully showcasing Bihar in the country and abroad.

BACKROOM BOYS : During the Lalu-Rabri regime, a single bureaucrat called the shots at the CM’s office. The change of guard brought a tech-savvy team to manage the affairs. Ram Chandra Prasad Singh, 52, the CM’s principal secretary, has been associated with Nitish Kumar since 1998 when the latter was railway minister. Both Nitish and RCP, a 1984-batch IAS officer of UP cadre, are from Nalanda and belong to the same caste. Insiders say Nitish treats RCP like a family member.

Nitish also banks heavily on S Siddharth (1991 batch) and Chanchal Kumar (1992 batch). As secretaries to the CM, they coordinate with principal secretaries of various departments and oversee implementation of welfare and development programmes. Siddharth, from Tamil Nadu, is a BTech and has attended advanced courses at IIM-Ahmedabad. Chanchal, an MTech, has also studied micro-finance in the US.

There’s a clear division of work. While Siddharth looks after infrastructure departments like road, building, urban development and energy, Chanchal has been assigned social sector departments like education, health, social welfare and disaster management.

Pride and Prejudice

Who carries you on a rickshaw or an autorickshaw in Delhi? Biharis. Who drives the cars of Delhiites? Biharis. Who built the Delhi Metro? Biharis. (You may not agree with the last one.)

Who is building the new houses and the expanding suburbs of Delhi? Biharis. Who made Punjab the most prosperous state in the country? The answer again is Biharis. (Here too you may not agree.)

The credit for building the Delhi Metro or making Punjab prosperous will never go to Biharis. Does anyone ever say that blacks built America?

In colonial days, Bihar supplied the girmitiya, or indentured, labourers who built countries like Mauritius, Suriname and Fiji. A bulk of the labour employed in the Raj capital of Calcutta came from Bihar. After Independence Bihari workers flocked to places like Delhi, Punjab and Mumbai.

At the same time, Biharis excelled in other fields. Many became great political leaders, ICS and IAS officers, scientists, doctors, engineers, writers and artists. Delhi and other Indian cities attracted huge white-collar Bihari populations and Biharis formed a large part of the Indian diaspora of professionals.

But in the eyes of the rest of India, “Bihari” had come to mean a labourer, a person doing menial jobs. It had become a term of scorn and contempt. In their anglicized lingo, places like Delhi University turned the word into “Harry”, but the pejorative tone remained unmistakable.

Heaping scorn on the working classes is a universal phenomenon. That is how words like Negro, Paki (used for Pakistanis and Indians in Britain) and some of the words denoting dalit castes in India earned contemptuous connotations.

In fact, while Biharis were getting their hands dirty on Punjab’s farms, Punjabis were migrating in hordes to the US, Canada, the UK and Australia. Never mind that they would take up blue-collar jobs as taxi drivers, petrol pump attendants and waiters in those faraway lands.

As the years passed, many of the Biharis who had come to Punjab or Mumbai as manual labourers started moving up the economic ladder as did the blue-collar Indian emigrants abroad. A usually unnoticed aspect of the so-called racial attacks against Indians abroad is the threat the rise of working classes poses to the entrenched social order. This accentuates the contempt they face. From this angle, the attacks on Biharis in Punjab, and Mumbai, and the attacks on Indians abroad are manifestations of the same phenomenon.

What stopped Biharis from bringing about a green revolution or building a Metro in Bihar? The answer is geography and history. Geography, because ravaged by floods, the land of Bihar was unable to feed its growing population. And history, because what was the centre of the biggest Indian empire in ancient times was reduced to an obscure provincial existence. The skewed landownership system introduced by the British rulers worsened the situation.

Things could have improved after Independence had the political leadership of Bihar been able to exert influence on the rulers in New Delhi to get enough funds for development projects and set off a process of industry in the state.
On the contrary, Bihar continued to live the same, conveniently ignored, provincial existence. A system built on casteism, nepotism, corruption and crime came to dominate the state. It spawned a neo-rich class of netas, babus, contractors and government engineers who would build palatial houses for themselves with the money meant for dams, power projects, ration for the poor or even fodder for cattle.

The money meant for roads and public amenities would go into their bank accounts. No wonder, the roads in front of those houses would be full of ditches and become the playground of pigs every monsoon.

With limited options of higher education and hardly any employment opportunities in the state, the youth of Bihar started looking out. They flooded places like Delhi University and Jawaharlal Nehru University. They started dominating the country’s toughest competitions like the IIT-JEE and the civil services exam. With this success, Biharis started believing they had the best brains. The world began to grudgingly acknowledge their capabilities.
Academic success, however, did not do much to rid the word “Bihari” of the scorn it had gathered. People in Delhi continued to laugh at those who spoke with a Bihari accent. Those without an accent would get this compliment: “Oh, you are from Bihar? But you don’t sound like a Bihari.”

Biharis, meanwhile, were retreating into a shell, with little but the historic glory of Buddha, Mahavira, Chandragupta, Chanakya, Ashoka, Aryabhatta, Guru Gobind Singh and Sher Shah to bask in. Now comes 11% growth. The state can recover from the damage it has suffered over hundreds of years only if such a high rate of growth can be sustained for many, many years. Then Biharis would not have to till others' land or build cities and countries elsewhere.

Bihar, a growth story

Roads “as smooth as Hema Malini’s cheeks” was a promise that Lalu Yadav had once given to the people of Bihar. Ironically, it is his rival Nitish

Kumar who seems to be delivering on that front. Despite three years of floods followed by a year of drought, ‘backward and benighted’ Bihar reports a miraculous figure: 11% GDP growth, second only to Gujarat. The state’s economy has never grown so fast so consistently as it has since 2004-2005. A few pointers on what’s going right in Bihar:

* Getting anywhere in Bihar has always been an exercise in endurance. But that’s changing. More than 6,800 km of roads have been relaid and 1,600 bridges and culverts constructed in the last four years. Journey time in India’s 12th largest state, sprawling over 94,163 sq km, has been cut by half today in many places. Now, most of the state’s 38 districts — from northernmost West Champaran to Kaimur on the western end — are a drive of six hours or less from Patna.

* Automobile sales in the state grew 45% in 2009, at a time when sales had dipped 20-25% in several other states during the economic slowdown. Is this buying spree an indication that a section of Biharis have more money to splurge than they did earlier? “A few people had money earlier too, but they didn’t flaunt it for fear of attracting extortionists and kidnappers,” says Ranjit Singh, director of a high-end Patna hotel. That fear may have evaporated now.

* Only 317 kidnappings for ransom were reported during the last four years as against 1,393 during the previous four. The kidnapping industry has clearly fallen on hard times. One indication of this is that doctors no longer refuse to go to patients’ homes on emergency calls. “Today you can see boards at clinics saying we go on calls,” says Dr Amulya Kumar Singh, who runs a nursing home in Patna.

* Most of Bihar’s infamous dons are behind bars. That includes Mohd Shahabuddin, the former RJD MP who had once gone live on TV, daring the state police chief to arrest him. Things are a little different now. A ruling JD(U) MLA, Sunil Pandey, attempted an encore of sorts in early 2006 when he brandished a revolver and talked murder on TV. But Pandey found himself behind bars within no time. Speedy trials have ensured a total of 38,824 convictions between 2006 and September 2009.The convicts included dons and their henchmen.

* Gun-toting strongmen are no longer a common sight on the streets of Bihar. Policemen patrol them now. And places like Siwan, where Shahabuddin once held sway, do not get deserted after dusk.

This improvement has shown results. Malls, shops and private educational institutions are coming up. So are mobile service providers and banking firms. It’s boom time for real estate with apartment buildings coming up all around. “That’s because even non-Biharis for a change want to have a foot in Bihar which has become a better place to live in,” says economist Shaibal Gupta of the Asian Development Research Institute. Adds Faizal Alam of Kalyanpur Cements, “Cement inflow to the state went up 18% to 51 lakh tonnes in 2008-09.” That’s an indicator of the construction boom.

Ironically, this economic growth has happened without any worthwhile contribution from the manufacturing sector. The state’s economy is growing because of a boom in agriculture and services sectors. “It’s government-induced growth,” admits Bihar Industries Association (BIA) president S P Sinha. According to former BIA president K P S Keshri, private investments in the manufacturing sector have been as little as Rs 1,500 crore during the last four years.

Many attribute the growth to the fact that the flow of Central funds to states has increased manifold in recent years. In the case of Bihar, it went up from Rs 37,341 crore during the five-year period 2000-2005 to Rs 55,459 crore during the next three years. But equally importantly, the funds are now getting better utilized than during the Lalu-Rabri regime when large chunks remained unspent. Also, adds Gupta, the state made concerted efforts to mobilise internal resources with its own revenue collection going up from Rs 2,919 crore in 2003-04 to Rs 5,256 crore in 2008-09.

The flip side is that much of this growth does not get reflected in social indicators which remain abysmal. But, as Gupta says, it would be unrealistic for anyone to “expect the moon” at this stage. “Right now the fundamentals are getting corrected and therefore you can find mostly infrastructural indicators of growth; one will have to wait for social indicators to become visible,” he says.

While contractors and realtors stand to gain, more than half the state’s 8.2 crore people — 1.25 crore families — still live below the poverty line. For these families to prosper, Bihar desperately needs huge investments and more growth. The State Investment Promotion Board, formed by the Nitish government, has received proposals worth Rs 96,000 crore. But most of them, especially the major ones, remain on paper as Central rules prove a stumbling block. For instance, thermal power plants cannot come up in Bihar because the Centre has so far refused to provide coal linkages to ensure regular supplies to any such new plant.

Also, Bihar has a lot of catching up to do with the rest of India. “There cannot be any comparison between Gujarat and Bihar, both of which reportedly grew by over 11%; since our base is low, even a small investment results in impressive growth in percentage,” Gupta points out. State officials admit that crucial sectors like health are still sick with meagre resources in comparison to other states.

From its bleak past, Bihar may be finally moving towards a brighter future, but the common Bihari is not patting himself just yet. Maybe he is still waiting for this high growth to translate into better food on his table and more money in his pocket.