The author, a Retd Professor of M.I.T, Muzaffarpur and presently an Advocate of Patna High Court, is a social activist of long standing having deep grasp on prevailing socio-economic conditions in Bihar.
ince the launching of e-seminar on poverty in Bihar on bihartimes.com, the state has been bifurcated and in view of this development while Jharkhand is being termed as one of the five richest states of the country, poverty in truncated Bihar has all the more become accentuated. In this perspective, it would be advisable to deliberate on poverty in truncated Bihar- its causes and cure.
The causes of poverty in Bihar may be viewed in terms of certain parameters such as (i) Over population and apathy towards family planning (ii) Poor land and water management for agriculture (iii) Mal-administration, poor governance and corruption (iv) Illiteracy (v) Poor Health care (vi) Lack of industrialisation.
Bihar's population in the ensuing census may reach 100 millions. Excluding one-forth,being that of Jharkhand, it comes to 7.5 crores in truncated Bihar. Its land area is 94786.72 sq Km which means that its density is 791 persons per sq Km. If any particular region on the globe needs ruthless family planning, it is Bihar. Experience has it that no systematic and constant effort has been made in this direction since 1977 when late Mrs Indira Gandhi was thrown out of power on this issue. Now, no vasectomy or tubectomy camps are being held in Bihar. No annual target fixed. Family planning devices are not distributed freely from door to door and there is no arrangement for termination of pregnancies in rural hospitals .Even the legal sanction in the garb of Medical Termination of Pregnancies (MTP)Act are not yielding desired results. The rate of population growth in Bihar is 3.1% which is the highest in the country and it has to be brought down to replacement level. If growth of population is not checked, no amount of development is sustainable in Bihar. The poor and illiterate sections in society do not resort to family planning devices and in their case, it is the termination of pregnancies which only can work. A door to door survey of pregnant women ,especially in
rural areas, may be conducted to persuade and educate them for abortion if such women have more than two children, irrespective of female or male. If such sustained effort is made by the Government and the NGOs, result may be encouraging and far reaching. Foreign funding agencies may be persuaded to give grants for combating population direct to credible NGOs instead of routing through the State Government which is a den of corruption in Bihar.
Truncated Bihar has strong agricultural base. It is bereft of mines, minerals, forest, industries but rich in the fertility of land. Bihar is known for Indo-Gangetic plains which is famous for its fertility. Flood is boon for the State if water is controlled. There should be a mapping of flood zone areas and flood water should be harvested properly. About 47 lac acres of land in 42 districts get flooded every year while 10 lac remains permanently water logged. The level of bed of the rivers of the State has risen considerably due to deposit and silting of mud and sand. Rivers need to be excavated along with construction of embankments and bunds along the Himalayan rivers. Water has to be contained within the river itself and where water level rises high, it has to be channelised and stored for the purposes of irrigation and fisheries. Cooperation and collaboration with the Government of Nepal is highly needed as most of the dams would originate in Nepal and will pass through Bihar for irrigational benefit of both the states such as high dams on Kosi river at the Barah chhetra, on Kamla river at Sishpani and on Bagmati river at Nunthat in Nepal. These projects will free truncated Bihar from problems of flood, soil erosion, drought and would ensure cheap power and better irrigational facilities.
Although, it is a gigantic project involving huge fund, it has to be undertaken but it can not be accomplished by the Government of Bihar and the State Government's even minimal involvement would result in draining out of fund. Experience has it that fifty years ago, a gigantic irrigation and electricity
Project covering an area starting from Valmiki Nagar in Bettiah district to Dalsingsarai in Samastipur district still remains inconclusive and fruitless after huge investment because it was handled by the Irrigation department of Bihar Government. Flood is not a curse rather a boon as peasants have bumper crops after flood but they starve when rural areas are visited by drought. There is no doubt that truncated Bihar would be a granary if flood is controlled and water is managed properly.
Poverty can not be removed by only increasing wealth. This Amaratyan formula holds good for Bihar too. In this State, wealth is concentrated in the hands of a few politicians, bureaucrats, contractors, suppliers and middle men who have amassed it by virtue of economic exploitation, political and administrative corruption.The Planning Commission has recently observed " Bihar is not making desired development because of prevalent corruption among bureaucracy and lower echelons of the government in connivance with the public representatives right from Panchayat level to the top." This has resulted into a dismal growth of 2.9 percent in he State compared to 6.1 per cent at the national level, relegating Bihar to the lowest level in the country in terms of growth rate. Important poverty alleviaton programmes like Jawahar Rojgar Yojana, Indira awas, Trysem etc are not being properly implemented in rural areas. Central funds for increasing food production are not being utilized even though the land is most fertile. A major part of the funds are gobbled up by the officialdom and the schemes shown completed on paper. In many cases, huge funds remain unutilized as utilisation certificates for the amount spent on many centrally sponsored schemes are not sent, leading to non-disbursement of more funds. Further, the Central govt fund to the tune of Rs 500 crore per annum for executing schemes through Panchayats are not being availed as the Central Govt stopped release of funds because the State has not cnducted elections to the Panchayats and local bodies for long. As a result, the percentage of people below poverty line has gone up to 58% in Bihar posing problem in achieving the target of poverty reduction at the national level by 2000-2001. In Bihar, Fodder, Bitumen, Health department, Education deptt scams are a few instances which have drained out funds meant for development. Socrates used to ask " from where did you get it?" If people of Bihar are empowered to ask persons having ill-gotten money, the same question in public lanes and roads like posters of cinema, the result is expected to be salutary.
Let the corrupt neo rich explain the sources of their ill-gotten and unaccounted wealth for peaceful forfeiture. It would ensure distribution of wealth for making an egalitarian and healthy society.
Due to poor or no governance in the State, protective security is on wane. Crime is on the rise patronised by politicians. It is hampering development. Industries are wound up. Industrialists are on the run from the State. Bureaucratic apathy caused by corrupt motive is a deterrent for the entrepreneurs to do anything innovative for the State. In a caste-ridden society fogged by illiteracy, superstition, dogmas, progress and development is elusive. As its cure, education specially female one has to be given priority. Village panchayats should be empowered to take control of primary education with little interference from the bureaucrats and the panchayats should be empowered for all round governance at local level in all fields concerning rural populace.
If people's mental horizon is developed and endowed with a scientific temper, many of the ills besetting Bihar like over population, poor health, illiteracy and above all poverty are bound to be cured.