State in Inertia: Nitish’s 8 Years in Bihar

By Pawan Kumar | Updated: Nov 30, 2013, 11:43 AM IST

Pawan Kumar

The Nitish Kumar government completed 8 years on 26th of November in Bihar. I think this is a good time to evaluate the performance of the state government. Nitish can claim that his “su-shashan” centric government is new and mending all-things-wrong with a state like Bihar will take more time. His other credible argument is that he has spent half-the-time in power than his erstwhile RJD government and reforms will take their due course of time. Point taken, Mr Nitish! Your wish to be seen as the saviour of democracy and reforms-messiah in Bihar is not misplaced but perhaps mis-timed.

A quick look at his speeches and one can find some common words being repeated time and again… hunger, backwardness, poverty and other “inherent” problems from the RJD-era being the most common! We know about the problems, Mr Nitish. We have known them for long now. It is the solution to these “inherent” problems that the “aam janata” of Bihar is expecting from their “Su-Shashan Babu”. Your “raam-baan” (pun intended) to all things wrong is to give Bihar a “special status!” If special status is the only credible solution, what are you doing at the helm of power?

You came into power in 2005 riding on the 15 years of lawlessness during the Lalu era. You promised restoration of law and order, bringing light to everybody’s life (not literally but through electrification!) and expansion of road network along with a bundle of other goodies that is doled-out every five years to the “aam janata” of this perplexed democracy! One thing is certain, Bihar had already seen the worst during the Lalu-Rabri rule and Biharis would have found a hero very easily in any leader who would have given them the faintest of hope of a better life. You, Nitish ji, were at a vantage point. Any other leader apart from you would have also got the same admiration.

No doubt, the first five years of Nitish Kumar government did what it could have, with heart and soul and restored confidence in the governance. But saying that the local government has done much better? Much better in comparison to what? Compared to other states? The answer is, a flat NO! If you were comparing your rule with that of the RJD’s, then YES! But RJD rule is no benchmark. The aam janata in your now-famed Janata Durbaar were looking for a catharsis! You gave them none.

Here we need to understand that when the basic needs are fulfilled then aspirations and expectation of general public also go up. Perhaps after you came to power, the problem of bread and butter was resolved. Now if you claim that your rule has provided relief from the infamous and sometimes loosely used “Jungle Raj” analogy, and the people of Bihar must celebrate… Well, the argument stands but on shaky grounds! This theory of upward mobility is a well established fact in economics and in the case of Bihar too, it is equally correct.

It is your second term in office that has disillusioned me the most. Dissatisfaction has gone up drastically. The aam janata who were finding it difficult to make ends meet were now certainly doing better. But is that it? Now that their tummies ware full, they wanted empowerment! They wanted electricity, better roads, better infrastructure, tighter governance and corruption-free government machinery! You promised them the Moon, gave them mangoes!

Your style of administration is certainly not of this era! It is unfortunate. We were expecting a lot more from a progressive sounding CM. We thought we would see at least one Bulllet train-style example in Bihar, unfortunately your governance still reeks of Kiul-Gaya Passenger (perhaps one of the slowest trains running and Biharis would understand the reference better) days.

One of the basic parameters of an economy doing well is the consumption of steel and cement. In case of Bihar, the cement and steel consumption is going up by a good margin. This shows that construction of roads, buildings, flyovers is going on. Consumption of cement is 16 percent and steel consumption is 15 percent whereas the national average is 5.5 and 9 percent respectively. It means work within the state is going fine. But when we discuss this we must understand that apart from roads and flyovers in any construction work credit doesn’t go to the state government. Prosperity in the state has gone up, economic activities are much faster, people have money in their hands now, which was not the case in the previous regime.

Let us understand it with a very simple example. In Patna, a rickshaw-wala used to earn 70 rupees per day. Now he works till 9 pm and earns 120 rupees per day. Can someone tell me what the contribution of state government is, except that law and order has been restored and that now a rickshaw-wala can earn at night too.

Let’s have a look at another parameter of economic development and prosperity in the state. Power consumption in the state is a good indicator. The power consumption in the state per day is almost 2200 megawatt which is 700 megawatt higher than three years ago. An interesting comparison is with Gurgaon, a city in Haryana. Daily power consumption in Gurgaon is almost equal to Bihar!! The state government claims that since NTPC Barh plant has started operating the power situation in the state is expected to improve fast.

The state government also does not seem to be in hurry just because the demand for power is much less than in other states. Per capita power consumption on national level is 818 units whereas in Bihar it is 128 units. There is no major power consumption by industrial units in the state but power is largely used by small and medium units.

There has been no such effort where the government has brought industrial units in the state by attracting companies. There is no future plan for addition of power as well. One more interesting aspect of economic indicator is the illusional poverty line. On national level, the number of people living below poverty line is 29.30 percent. For Bihar, number of people living below poverty line is a staggering 52 percent. More than half the state’s population and almost double the national average are below poverty line.

As per the economic survey 2012-13, unemployment rate in rural areas is 26 percent and 72 percent in urban areas. Talking about the financial inclusion of Biharis living in the state, only 44 percent people in Bihar have bank accounts. In Kerala and Pondicherry, it is 100 percent and even in the hill states like Himachal Pradesh, the rate is an impressive 90 percent.

The story does not end there. There is a huge mismatch in deposits and loans in Bihar. Mainly all PSUs collected 7000 crore rupees from Bihar whereas total advances in the same period are just above 2500 crore rupees.

In a state where banks are shy in lending, economic progress can easily be predicted. Also, the bank branches are scarce when compared to other states. Everyone knows that increasing number of bank branches is no rocket science. It just needs efforts of the local government to convince various banks, public sector or private. These are very simple parameters but very important. If not anything else, it shows the priority and sincerity of the government.

In the last 8 years, there has been no big ticket investment by any company or big industrial house in the state. That doesn’t mean companies are not taking interest. Companies are interested but the state government is lagging in follow up. Of course small units are being set up. But small biscuit factories, cycle plants and some leather tanning units are not very impressive examples of investment in a state. Certainly, not headline making material.

Last year some big names like Godrej Industries, Aditya Birla Group and Raymonds had proposed setting up respective units in the state but almost in all cases either there has been no investment or even if there has been, the approval rate was very slow. IT giants like Infosys and Wipro had shown interest in developing a software development centre in Bihar. Looks like the development centre may never get out of file due to government apathy and lack of initiative from the state machinery. Similar fate awaits the proposed 4-5 star hotels by different companies.

These could have been big investments, bigger revenues generated and much needed employment for the youth in the state. The Bihar government’s excuse in many such cases is the problem of land acquisition. But going by that logic, this problem exists in the whole country but somehow things are moving ahead.

Before I end, the story of Bihar will be incomplete without talking about the biggest villain. Corruption! Here, let me narrate my first-hand experience with the state machinery and its infamy with being one of the most corruption-riddled states in India. It is common knowledge that one cannot get his or her work done without greasing the palms of the concerned “babu or sir”. ‘No bribe, No work’ seems to be the common law that governs our government offices - Bihar being no different. In case of Bihar, it can be easily said that it has a history of 15 years of extortion and 8 years of corruption. If you need a driving licence, the rate could vary from Rs 300-500, for residential certificate, Rs 450-800, etc. Likewise, the rates for other works are also fixed depending upon the importance.

This is but common. The one that perplexed me was bribe for tax! Have you ever heard paying a bribe for tax payment? Perhaps, no. But in case of Bihar if you are going to clear land tax dues you need to pay bribe. In the recent past the local government has made a rule that before any land sale deal one needs to clear all past dues on that particular piece of land. So when the tax is paid, bribe is demanded. When you visit the office, officials present will not ask for the bribe but won’t do your work either. This is an indication that you need to bribe them, else your work will not be done. If this gives heartburn to any concerned official reading this article, I will be more than happy to give them my own example of having sieved through the corrupt state machinery. If this is not institutionalization of corruption, then what is? Everyone can see it. Can Mr Nitish Kumar?