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Nitish’s claims and Bihar’s reality

Migrant labourers on their way home to Saharsa arrive in Patna in March soon after a nationwide lockdown was imposed to control the spread of the pandemic. Ranjeet Kumar  

As Bihar goes to the polls, it is important to scrutinise Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s repeated claims about delivering ‘sushasan’ (good governance) and ‘taraqqi’ (prosperity). Does the reality justify these claims? Or are these boasts similar to the ‘Gujarat Model’, merely effective as propaganda?

Poor on many indicators

Bihar’s economy has performed poorly under the Janata Dal (United)-Bharatiya Janata Party coalition government. Its gross state domestic product (GSDP) is well below the average of other States. Between 2011-12 and 2018-19, its compound annual growth rate (CAGR) was 6.16%, while the average of all States and Union Territories was 7.73%. Given its low economic base, Bihar should have clocked immense growth if it was governed half as well as the propaganda would have you believe. A couple of good years of economic growth have been overhyped to hide the overall poor performance.

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The CAGR of Bihar’s per capita income (PCI) was 4% in the 2011-12 and 2018-19 period, while the average of all States and Union Territories was 5.61%. In fact, Bihar’s PCI is the lowest in the country. While in 2011-12, Bihar’s PCI was 26.11% of the overall average, it fell to 23.48% in 2018-19. In 2004-05, before Mr. Kumar took over, Bihar’s PCI was 26.48% of the overall average. An analysis of the suppressed National Sample Survey’s consumption expenditure survey revealed that between 2011-12 and 2017-18, poverty in Bihar increased by 17 percentage points to 50.47%. Does making Biharis poorer count as taraqqi?

Bihar’s debt burden has grown considerably: 375% since 2005 levels. Outstanding liabilities as a percentage of GSDP have been increasing since 2014-15. The Comptroller and Auditor General’s audit of Bihar’s finances noted, “Since 80 to 85 per cent of the borrowed funds were utilised for repayment of borrowings and interest thereon which implies that the State was spending less on developmental activities.”

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Jobs continue to be scarce. The National Sample Survey’s periodic labour force survey (2017-18) revealed that 87% of workers in Bihar do not have a regular/salaried job. In this respect, Bihar is the worst performing State in the country. The unemployment rate has remained in double digits since February 2019, peaking at 46.6% in May this year. Suicides due to unemployment have increased by 438% since 2015.

Bihar was a pioneer in abolishing Agriculture Produce Marketing Committees (APMC). Agriculture remains one of the largest employment-generating sectors but Bihar has the lowest average monthly income per agricultural household (₹3,558) in the country.The national average is ₹6,426. More than 86% of Bihar’s marginal agricultural households are in debt compared to the national average of 63.6%. The agricultural growth rate fell to 0.6% in 2018-19 and crops recorded a negative growth rate of 3.9%.

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A study by the National Council of Applied Economic Research post the APMC reforms concluded that net income had been declining. Mr. Kumar’s government has simply abandoned Bihar’s farmers, who receive a price much lower than the MSP due to inefficiencies by procurement agencies. More than 80% of procurement centres have shut down since 2015. This Rabi season, less than 1% of Bihar’s wheat was procured. This is neither sushasan nor taraqqi.

The crown jewel of the good governance propaganda has been the claim of improved law and order. The reality is vastly different. Between 2010 and 2019, crimes in Bihar nearly doubled. Bihar ranks second in the country in violent crimes. Crimes against women and children increased at 26% and 73%, respectively, between 2017 and 2019. Every day, more than 12 minors are kidnapped for forced child marriages, the highest incidence of such crimes in the country.

A government that doesn’t act

Given these crime statistics, one would expect any responsible government to act. Unfortunately, not the Nitish Kumar government. Until June 2019, Bihar had not spent a single rupee out of the different programmes under the Nirbhaya Fund. Only after much criticism were some of the sanctioned funds actually utilised, but 59% of the funds still remain unspent. Further, the alleged ‘kidnapping raj’ seems to be thriving under the National Democratic Alliance: kidnappings have increased by 391% between 2005 and 2019.

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Last, migrant labourers who returned home to Bihar after the sudden announcement of a lockdown by Prime Minister Narendra Modi have been disillusioned by the Bihar government’s empty assurances of employment and livelihood opportunities. The government’s tall claims of issuing more job cards are moot when existing card-holders cannot find work. Bihar has more than 2.5 crore workers registered under MGNREGA (the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act). However, only 4,788 households have completed 100 days of MGNREGA work guaranteed under the Act. The Central government’s apathy combined with the Bihar government’s neglect are proving disastrous for the people.

Bihar’s citizens regularly face the brunt of floods and havoc inflicted by nature. More than natural calamities and pandemics, it is Bihar’s elected leadership’s inability to deliver sushasan that ensures that taraqqiremains a distant dream.

M.V. Rajeev Gowda is a former member of Parliament and chairman of the All India Congress Committee’s research department. Akash Satyawali is outreach coordinator with the department

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Printable version | Dec 5, 2020 3:11:09 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/nitishs-claims-and-bihars-reality/article32895794.ece

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