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Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Bihar: The road-map to prosperity

For the past few weeks, I have been going through various panel discussions, books, blogs & news articles, both national and international that had some relevance or relation to Bihar. Through this blog dedicated to Bihar, my focus will be on laying out a roadmap for a prosperous Bihar. I will include the findings from the above exercises as well as inputs from discussions that I had with my Bihari as well as non-Bihari friends. Let us now start our expedition.


Law & Order: Whenever Bihar is the point of discussion, law and order becomes a hot topic. Corruption or lawlessness is not unique to Bihar but in the absence of other news making events, it became synonymous with the state. Successful initiatives in the city of New York that faced law & order problems show that dealing strictly with day-to-day violations yield great results as it’s like nipping the evil in the bud: easier and effective. Big ticket crimes attract a lot of attention but investigations take ages. Thus in order to restore the rule of law, it’s of utmost importance that administrators deal with crimes like eve teasing, without-ticket travel, traffic rule violations, petty thefts, cheating in exams etc. with iron hands. After all empirical evidences show that success in small crimes encourage criminals to attempt more grievous violations. 
As far as Naxal menace is concerned, we would be better off identifying and cutting off money supply to the red army than merely concentrating on new ways of tackling them head on. 
Other recommendations like modernization of police force, regular recruitment, and fast track justice are generic in nature and not specific to Bihar but nevertheless needed.

Empowerment: The first among the various E that I would dwell upon is empowerment. In order to ensure that fruits of development reach out to one and all, an empowered society is a must. Two common methods used in the past have been income based benefits and caste based reservations. Most if not all income based benefits have been misused as income assessment is almost impossible in India e.g. just 3% taxpayer base in India as per 2006 report. And competitive backwardness has ensured that caste based reservation won’t succeed. Here I would focus on women empowerment as states high on development index like Kerala have either matriarchal setup or empowered womenfolk. We need to focus on female adult literacy and increased participation of women beyond home based chores by encouraging women entrepreneurs or improving their numbers in the professional setup. Once they start earning and participating, respect for women would eventually rise. The case of North-Eastern states is a case in point.

Employment: This E has been our biggest bĂȘte noire. Bihar has one of the best coverage of railways. But this has only expedited the process of migration which has been a sad commentary on the employment opportunities in the state. Bihar has been an agrarian economy so any revival will have to focus on agriculture. To start with, the scientific angle which has been missing in the farming process needs attention. Often neglected but nevertheless crucial, allied activities to farming has a lot of untapped potential. The supply chain, processing and marketing of agro based produce has been characterized by inefficiency. Even agricultural research needs participation and investment. Bihar has been blessed by geographical indications that can match Basmati chaawal e.g. Madhubani Painting, Muzaffarpur’s litchi, makhaana and has the answer to idli-dosa in the form of litti-chokha. I am concentrating on agriculture and SMEs rather than industrialization as opportunities and abilities have to be matched. After all the old practices of "grass cutters forced to become gas cutters" hasn’t worked and won’t work. 
Bihar can be a hotbed for tourism as it is relatively unexplored because of absence of infrastructure and poor branding. Better infrastructure will also enable better interconnectivity within the state thus boost intra-state trading. 
The existing red tape has to be taken care of to encourage budding entrepreneurs.


Education: Not just female education but primary education per se needs ingenuous solutions. Recently a large scale teacher recruitment process has begun in Bihar. We also have the world’s largest education initiative in the form of Sarva Siksha Abhiyaan. Neither of the two initiatives can ensure quality education unless we act smart. This is where ICT i.e. Information and Communication Technology which includes TV, radio, computer, internet can help us out. Using TVs and radios to broadcast well-prepared educational offerings will uplift the level of education and will be a good exposure to newly recruited teachers. The teachers will thus be a “guide by the side” rather than a “sage on the stage”. ICT can be monitoring tool as well. Higher education, in order to attract and retain students needs to have employment potential. Agricultural universities, polytechnics, engineering colleges, medical colleges, BEd colleges are the need of the hour. 
But the problem is, depending upon demand, institutions simply mushroom in Bihar. The latest one being teacher training institutes with Engineering and MBA colleges possibly next in line. These activities need to be checked as they force students to migrate because of their poor quality and fake certification.

Branding: Bihar has been the classic case of “a bad man is better than a bad name” i.e. improper or bad image. It has resulted in a cynical attitude towards the very notion of the term Bihari. Unfortunately this cynicism exists amongst the state dwellers as well. Some might call it "the lack of sub-nationalism". Unless and until, one takes pride in being Bihari, s/he is not going to make effort to uplift the state. “Bihar Diwas” is undoubtedly a great initiative. Awareness about the glorious past of Bihar at the school level itself would help a great deal. Other activities like sports too have great potential in inculcating sub-nationalism. Revival of the state cricket federation is thus a much needed step. Who knows we might see thousands of Biharis cheering for local team in the IPL match at Moin-ul-Haq stadium. Now comes the branding to those outside the state. We need to highlight that Bihar has more to offer than just migrants and glorious past. After all Super 30, new-age rickshaws, Bhojpuri cinemas have been international successes.  “Rustic Bihar” could well be the next sought after destination of the national as well as international tourists. 
One thing that I noticed that most articles on Bihar either had views of Biharis long settled outside Bihar or correspondents who had never visited Bihar. And it was not a surprise that news was either exaggerated or simply baseless. One must take them with a pinch of salt as you can’t stop them but can certainly neglect them.

Though the solutions, if implemented, would yield positive results but a reality check is needed to check for deviations and take corrective actions. Thus we need to focus on the right indicators. India’s experience has proved that GDP growth rate doesn’t tell the entire story else one of the best performing country on GDP growth basis ranks nowhere on the human development indices. So our HDI figure i.e. literacy rate, mortality rate and per capita income should be the benchmark as we are looking at holistic development rather than just economic growth.

The lists of problems are endless and so are the solutions. It is not possible to enumerate all of them because of constraints of space, time and above all my limited knowledge & perspective. Through your comments and views, please enrich this attempt at finding innovative solutions to problems that are unique to our state.

Every opinion matters. Make yourself heard. 

6 comments:

  1. indeed a food for thought and for action as well.. :) prosperity starts from oneself.. lets improve ourselves first. as soon as the "bihari" inside us starts doing things right, the graph of prosperity will already rise higher..

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  2. I liked the way you put together the thoughts.

    Bihar is India's third most populated state and half the people live below the poverty line. You rightly said that lists of problems are endless but if we want to find the solutions we first need to address the problems of the bottom of the pyramid.
    One prominent problem which is not captured in your article is the absence of a consistent energy source. The energy defecit of Bihar is the most severe of any state. The progress of Bihar will be obstructed unless reliable & affordable energy services is provided to the people of Bihar. The most vulnerable are the rural population who are the last to receive the energy services (In the current centralised electricity provision scenario). This is also a case of energy injustice.

    Now talking about the solution. Solution to this problem can be installing new energy generation units. The solution sounds good but considering the size of population & the present condition, implementing the solution may become a utopean dream.
    One pragmatic solution which can be thought of at this moment is doing something in the field of renewable energy. Bihar has immence potential of generating energy from local renewable sources but negligible effort has been put in this area. Renewable energy can be harnessed at the place energy is needed. A system can be designed to cater the local demand depending on the resources locally available. The government can empower the people and provide them the opportunity to operate their own energy services. The forms of the renewable energy generation systems may vary depending on what is most suitable to the demand & location.

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  3. Nice thoughts Aseem & kunal.

    @Kunal, it was great that you have highlighted the topic of energy (the fourth E). I didn't put in as I didn't have anything new to add in terms of solution.
    By the way just came across a nice & innovative initiative, "Husk power system" in Bihar that concerns the topic raised by you.

    http://www.economist.com/node/17419805

    Don't forget to share the link as "Every opinion matters."

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  4. @saket: Thank you for sharing the link. The exploits of these young Biharis are inspiring.

    In the article it was disappointing to see how the efforts of these young entrepreneurs were thwarted.

    Its good to see that Greenpeace has come forward to spread the message of renewable energy (RE)in Bihar.
    http://greenpeace.in/bihar-renewable-energy-pledge.html

    Go through the following links for Case studies for bridging the energy deficit and driving change in Bihar.
    http://www.greenpeace.org/india/en/publications/Empowering-Bihar/?utm_source=SilverpopMailing&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Bihar%20-%20Support%20RE%20pledge%20(4)&utm_content=

    You will find that other than "Husk Power Systems" there are few more cases where commendable steps were taken.

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  5. http://abhinav619.blogspot.com/2010/11/bihari-tastemaker.html

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