Bihar and ‘India Today’

The annual feature ‘State of the States’ survey of ‘India Today’ that claims to provide the definitive ranking of the quality of life across India appeared in its September 24, 2007 issue. I was eagerly waiting for it to see if after almost two years of Nitish Kumar on the chief minister’s chair, Bihar makes some improvement in the rankings of Bihar. However, Shankkar Aiyar in his cover story has clearly pronounced: “The performance measured is that of states, not their chief ministers. All data used in the study is objective and taken from central government sources, as has been in the past four years.” But the survey and its findings can certainly help the state ministers and the bureaucracy working under it to take some lessons and make a roadmap to improve the overall performance of the state. The observations of the study and certain data on Bihar’s state of affairs are painful. It is more so when you see many states that were far behind after the independence coming ahead of Bihar, as Bihar has slipped to the bottom.

Bihar remains being ranked at the bottom among large states on eight parameters for all the five years ‘India Today’ has been publishing this ranking. Worse, the state scores less than one on a scale of 10 on critical parameters like agriculture, health, education and governance. To get an idea of how bad things are, let’s look at some comparative figures.

The average yield per hectare in Bihar is 1,535 kg compared to 3,943 in Punjab. In agriculture, Bihar rank deteriorated from 11 in 2004 to 12 in 2005, and now to 14 since 2006. It is based on the variables such as percentage of cropped area under cash crops, gross state domestic product/rural population, electricity consumption for agriculture/rural population, food grain yield, loans extended to agriculture households cultivating land, net irrigated area/not sown area. Despite being among the most water-rich states, Bihar has only 60% of its cropped area irrigated. Will the chief minister hold the agriculture minister and his bureaucracy accountable to certain extent and come out with some plan to improve it providing a target for the next three years that he will be ruling?

Bihar has just 62 affluent households per 1,000 in rural areas, which means only 62 households per 1,000 are in the Rs 690 to Rs 1155 and more income bracket and 122 households per 1,000 with incomes between Rs 930 and Rs 2,450 or more in urban areas. The comparable figures for Punjab are 509 and 393 households per 1,000 in rural and urban areas, respectively. 37.48% in Bihar live below poverty line (BPL) against the national average of 27% with BPL defined as the availability of at least 2,400 calories per capita per day for rural areas and 2,100 per capita per day for urban areas. Bihar has a per capita income of Rs 6,311 as against Mizoram’s Rs 27,733. Is it not a disgrace?

Bihar’s ownership of TV sets is at the bottom with only 14.97 % households, whereas even Jharkhand’s percentage is 23.94. How can the people know about what is happening in the country all around?

And more depressingly, barely 14% of the households in Bihar report having an electricity connection that is way below even the national average where 55% of the households have electricity. How can the prosperity come in this era where electricity is basic necessity for any manufacturing activity?

Bihar’s literacy rate is 46 per cent and only 37 per cent of 10-plus children have completed primary education. And still some from Bihar keep on boasting about its performance in education sector, heritage and false claims of having maximum numbers from Bihar in administrative services or IITs.

“Sixty years after independence, only 27% of child birth cases are medically assisted in Bihar meaning seven out of ten children are delivered without medical assistance which is the reason why for every 1,000 children born as many as 60 die at child birth.”

The cover story has referred to ‘having a large contingent of Cabinet ministers from Tamil Nadu’ as a help in its better ranking. I am sure Bihar had and has equally good number of cabinet ministers for decades. Why has it not helped the state?

However the study reveals at least one good aspect of the state of economy. Bihar (undivided) stands third best in poverty drop with 12.94 percent after Assam (21.02%) and Himachal Pradesh 18.80). Bihar has shown relative improvement in health too.

Unfortunately, though many good things are happening in Bihar under Nitish Kumar, I feel he is still very conservative. I am amazed with his opposition to SEZs. If SEZs can benefit the whole of country, why is that it will not do so in Bihar? Bihar will have to get urbanize faster and that too in planned manner, if it wishes to be in race. Nitish Kumar may satisfy his constituency but it will not bring development. He will have to be aggressive.

I wish next year the ranking showed improvement.

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