Bihar deserves Better

Raghaw Sharan Pandey,IAS(Retd), Former Secretary(Govt.of India).

Author: Raghaw Sharan Pandey,IAS(Retd), Former Secretary(Govt.of India).

News of Shubham Kumar from Bihar topping UPSC Civil Services 2020 examinations has rightly been welcomed with enthusiasm. But  a recent report of  Reserve Bank of India which published economic statistics including GDP for the states from 1997 onwards makes sombre reading. Bihar had the lowest per capita income of Rs 4014 at current prices in 1997–98( 31.58% of the country’s average); in 2019-20, it remains at the lowest at Rs 45071( 33.58% of the country’s average), moving  only two percentage points in the last 22 years. Significantly, the gap between Bihar and the better off  states has increased over the years. Goa’s per capita income in 1997-98, was around eight times more than Bihar’s; 22 years later, it is 10 times more. Sikkim, the second richest state in per capita terms, had  three times more per capita income than Bihar’s in 1997-98; currently it is over 9 times more. The gap from  Kerala has gone up from 3.62 to 5 times during this period. Similar is the case vis-a-vis Maharashtra and other better off  states.

In terms of progress towards Sustainable Development Goals, as per NITI Aayog report released this year, Bihar  scored 52 out of 100 against the average of 66 and is ranked the last among the states of India. Its ranking was the last even last year. Kerala, the topper, secured 75 out of 100. 

The relative decline is a post independence phenomenon .

It is clearly a fall from grace for Bihar which used to be the centre of glory, grandeur, knowledge, wealth and power in ancient India of Maurya and Gupta Ages. Even during periods of occupation by the Moghuls and the British, Bihar was among the better off provinces. In the period immediately following India’s Independence, Bihar’s per capita income was around 80% of India’s average.Today, it has slid down to one third. And the irony is that the relative deterioration happened post- independence when the government is of and by the people. 

MLAs and MPs are friends, philosophers and guides of the people. The better they are in terms of character, caliber and commitment, the better will be the course of prosperity.

So, what is the score in this regard? Bihar is much ahead in matters of criminality amongst elected ‘rulers’ and the criminality is on the increase of late. An analysis of the reports of the Association for Democratic Reforms would indicate that 68% of the newly elected MLAs in Bihar had pending criminal charges, and 51% had  serious charges including rape and murder. In the country as a whole, out of 3980 MLAs, 40% had criminal cases and 26% had serious criminal cases.In the previous Bihar Assembly in 2015, 58% MLAs had criminal cases against them and 40% had serious criminal charges. 50% of MPs from Bihar elected to the Lok Sabha in 2014 faced serious criminal charges.

Some of the key issues where commitment to the cause of Bihar by the elected representatives would have made a difference merit attention. 

Incentivising investment is a must

While liberalisation of the ‘90s spurred domestic and external investment which accelerated India’s growth, states such as Bihar remained left off. Its  landlocked geography, poor infrastructure and poor governance environment were obvious handicaps. In view of its poor fiscal base and overwhelming dependence on Centre for its budgetary needs, Bihar demanded Special Category Status from the Centre, even through unanimous resolutions in the State Assembly. This would incentivise investment. But the Centre has not found it possible as Bihar doesn’t fulfil the criteria of having hilly terrain, low population density and sizeable tribal population to qualify for such a status. Bihar may not fulfil these criteria, yet it is poorer than the hill states. The stated national objective of ‘balanced regional development’ remains largely on paper. If all the 40 MPs from Bihar are determined on this issue irrespective of party affiliations, Government of India will have to find a way to incentivise investment by way of Special Category status or otherwise.

Human Resource Development requires top priority 

Bihar has the highest population density of 1102 per square kilometres ( in 2019) which is around  three times the average India’s density. And its rate of population growth is highest in the country at 18.16% during 2011-21 as against India’s 12.56%. Therefore, Human Resource development sectors of education, health and skills ought to be the highest priority. While there has been good progress in matters of roads ( third position in India after Kerala and West Bengal) and electricity ( almost universal like many other states), provisioning for health such as beds and medical professionals per lakh of population is amongst the worst in India. While infrastructure for education has improved, quality improvement measures cry for attention. Institutions such as Patna College, PatnaScience College, Patna Medical college Hospital which were among the best in India during British period, have suffered decadence. Bihar faces substantial migration of students and patients along with labour. 

Governance environment needs to improve 

Development and investment would also be deterred by adverse governance environment. Bihar witnesses on average, nine murders a day and the criminal justice administration would take years, at times decades to bring culprits to book if at all. 

Political reforms therefore to elect right representatives will lead to right policy priorities and implementation environment .It would make a tremendous difference if political parties, voluntarily or compelled by law, avoid fielding candidates with criminal antecedents. 

But in a democracy, the behaviour of the MLA or MP will be influenced by expectations of reward or punishment from the voters. If voters’ behaviour is not determined by ‘development’ but other issues such as caste, religion or emotional subjects, growth will take a back seat. It is again a chicken and egg story. 

But as Verse 21 of chapter 3 Of  Bhagavad Gita says:

“yadyadaacharati shreshthastattadevetaro janaha |

sa yatpramaanam kurute lokastadanuvartate || 

Whatever a leader does, so do other people. Whatever standard he sets, others follow.”

Obviously, the quality score of elected leaders has to improve if development and income grades of Bihar are to improve. 

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