Patna: First schoolgirls, then boys and now labourers. Pedalling its way to development, the Bihar government has now decided to empower casual labourers with bicycles to improve their quality of life and help them get to work in an eco-friendly, cost-effective manner.
Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has decided to extend to labourers his 2007 Mukhya Mantri Cycle Yojna (Chief Minister`s cycle plan) that provided bicycles to schoolchildren and actually led to enrolment increasing.
Hundreds of thousands of men and women working in the unorganised sector as labourers in the state will get the opportunity to buy bicycles in the first such facility anywhere in the country, officials said.
"Providing grants to labourers to buy bicycles is going to be the first of its kind plan, not only in Bihar but in the country," principal secretary (labour resources department) Vyas Ji told IANS in an interview.
Specifying that the grant would help improve their living condition, he said 21,000 labourers, who had been registered with the department in the state, would be the first to get the money.
"Later on, more labourers will get the grant after they register themselves," he said.
According to one estimate, over 500,000 labourers are employed in the unorganised sector and most are involved in the construction business.
Nitish Kumar, who launched the scheme Wednesday, has directed the department to register them in their respective districts so they can get the benefit of the scheme. The registration, officials clarified, will be a one-time affair instead of an annual fixture.
Under the scheme, the government will use one percent of the tax collected on every construction work worth Rs.10 lakh and above to fund the purchase of cycles.
The state government is also planning to make compulsory the registration of private sector builders to collect cess from them.
The widely lauded Mukhya Mantri Cycle Yojna was the brainchild of Nitish Kumar, who is credited with turning around the fortunes of a state dismissed as backward with infrastructure and other indices lagging far behind other states. Under the yojana over 871,000 schoolgirls have got bicycles at a cost of Rs.1.74 billion.
The scheme helped girls get to schools. Later, boys were also made part of the scheme.
Nitish Kumar said at the launch that it would be heartening to see women workers pedalling along with girl students.
He believes that the cycle scheme for schoolchildren had helped turn around education in the state. The attendance of girls shot up from less than 170,000 to 490,000 in just three years. Dropouts among girls in Bihar declined to one million from about 2.5 million in 2006.
Describing the scheme as very close to his heart, he said it had changed the face of Bihar. The project, many believe, was successful because the money was given directly to the students who were required to show that they had bought the cycles.
With the scheme being extended to labourers, it is being fervently hoped that they too would get the much-needed push towards a better life.