Sub Optimal Performance: Bihar may have to pay dearly for it

Earlier, it was the fratricidal thought process of the voters of Bihar, popularly known as ‘the identity politics’ (in layman’s term, as caste based politics), which had bedeviled the economic development of state. Wiser from their past experiences, people then discarded the yoke of sectarian politics to an extent, and reposed their confidence in a forward looking political thoughts. At least they thought it to be the case based on causes espoused by the present incumbents.

People at the helm of affairs have done some justice to the promise, yet this is not enough. While in twenty five years time a complete generational shift is witnessed, ten years time period should also be sufficient to usher in transformational changes. Example, of Andhra Pradesh is for all to see. Accepted, the case of Bihar is much more difficult and complicated! Yet, going by the current pace of transformation, state is unlikely to achieve this transformational makeover for a long time to come, much beyond a 25 year timeline.

Major reason for this underperformance seems to be the concentration of decision making authority in hands of a select few. Concentration of decision making authority is a two edged sword. On one hand it ensures speedier decision making in the focus area, on the other hand it results in narrowing down of focus so much so that lots of critical affairs are left out of deserving attention. Leadership certainly needs to act as a decision multiplier force, as opposed to concentrating force. Perhaps, Bihar is missing out a lot due to this inability of its leadership to act as a decision multiplier catalyst. Situation is so acute that it won’t be an exaggeration if we say that less than ten ministers or bureaucrats are playing meaning full role in the state administration. Others are simply looking at the power center for initiating them into even the normal functions, which they are supposed to be discharging of as part of routine responsibilities. Either it is lack of trust in their capability or the arrogance of people at the core of power center; things have not been moving at the pace they ought to have been. Coupled with an adversarial federal dispensation, Bihar is losing out on its core competitiveness for the remaining period of current cycle of national resurgence. If state misses the bus, next period of preeminence will be a 1000 of years away, if at all it happens.

It is hardly a secret that no initiative, howsoever well meaning, can be taken without expressed instruction from the CMO. Otherwise, if anything were to go wrong, retribution will be swift and equally harsh. This has dissuaded many in the state administration from coming up with new initiatives and keep looking at CMO for an instruction. This has resulted in gross underperformance of administration resulting in an increased workload on the CM Bihar himself. In this administration, it seems only one person, that is chief minister, is accountable to people. Other ministers owe their job to the mercy of the chief minister. Be it shortfall in electricity, mismanagement of higher education, unspent central funds or for that matter any administrative action, people are made to look up at chief minister as though other ministers do not exist at all.

Let us ponder why pace of transformation is so important. Bihar is part of a federal polity comprising of a pluralistic national identity. Stressed fault lines across the diverse identities are often exploited by the vested interest groups. More often it has been that the people of Bihar have been at the receiving end. This often happens as and when two identifiable groups come face to face over scarce resources, or also if the presence of migrants overshoots acceptable limit which the incumbents are inherently comfortable with. Problem with migrants from heartland has been that even a small percentage of their movement tends to challenge the tolerable limit of the hosts due to their sheer population size. There may be other groups where even larger percentage movement may not be as significant for the hosts. Federal policy makers should have recognized this psychology borne out of the tendency of equilibriums to perpetuate themselves, and also the impact of significant changes of demographic profile on the society. Ideal recourse for them would have been to locate national assets having economic multiplier effect, first in the larger population centers. However, same can’t be expected to be the case going by the experience. Their seems to be a mad rush to monopolize the national resources by various interest groups, so much so that different domains of federal administration have started witnessing hegemony by different groups catering to their sectarian state level constituency .

Then there is a further dimension in the form of an integrated national economic market. While there is no restriction on movement of capital, goods and services, there is often an extra constitutional embargo on movement of labourers, imposed by the vested interest groups. Even otherwise, labour movement entails lot of human pain. Breaking family, cultural shocks and conflict with host culture are the associated problems with this process. While in multilateral forums like WTO, India has been fighting for free movement of labourer, sadly, the same is not the case even internally. Yes, constitutionally, people have all the freedom, but then the internal migrations have been very much despised, and also humiliating for migrating labourers. Thus, either India should see an inclusive growth of all the states or we should settle for state control over capital flow, goods trade and services trade market, as is the case with any sovereign entity. As the latter is inconceivable, an inclusive growth of the state is a must. Therefore, I had been in support of special state status for Bihar all along, given that it is the bottom most state on all the objective parameters of development. However, I have been somehow apprehensive about it due to intention of congress led government at the center. Will it ever oblige an opposition led state government?

In view of aforesaid background, Bihar needs to trust its own people, who are in charge of affairs of the state, to deliver quickly. Also, given the state’s political clout, these people should have been able to extract better deals from federal dispensation. Yet we have witnessed failure on both the counts till now. Federal projects in Bihar anyway seemed to be jinxed. On closer examination, it is apparent that they have been systematically sabotaged internally by the interested federal authorities. See the table below

SN Project Name

Nalanda Ordnance Factory
Downgraded and Much Delayed
Cancellation of Contract and Blacklisting of First, Dennel and Then IMI

Harnaut Coach Factory
Much Delayed

Munger Rail cum Road Bridge
Delayed Indefinitely

Patna Rail cum Road Bridge
Delayed Indefinitely

Marred by downgrading to 2 lanes and long delays
Policy Muddle. Naked Politicking. Were priority in UPA I but put on Backburner in UPA II

Madhepura Railway Loco Factory
Non Starter
Victim of Politicking and Regionalist World View of Successors

Marhaura Railway Factory
Non Starter
Victim of Politicking and Regionalist World View of Successors

Dalmiyanagar High Capacity Freight Bogie Factory
Non Starter
Victim of Politicking and Regionalist World View of Successors

Sonepur Wagon POH
Non Starter
Victim of Politicking and Regionalist World View of Successors

Rehabilitation of Bharat wagon post integration with Railway
Downgraded and Delayed indefinitely
Victim of Politicking and Regionalist World View of Successors

RAU Central University Proposal
Non Starter
Decrease in Political clout at center

Railway Line Projects/ Divisional Offices
On backburner, indefinitely delayed, No starter

GAIL Haldiya- Gaya-Jagdishpur with Betiya and Barauni Spur pipelines
Non starter
Lack of application of political clout

Nalanda University Project
Downgraded (land requirement reduced from 1000 acres to 500 acres already) and Delayed
Sheer Inefficiency of federal government

Central University Project
Politicking between Congress and JDU

IISER Proposal Submitted by Government of Bihar
No movement post 2008 proposal to PMO
Decrease in Political clout at center

Kosi Rehabilitation & reconstruction Package
No attention has been paid to it.
Absence of necessary Political clout at center

Eastern Economic Corridor Proposal
Not on Planning Commission Agenda despite States Plea
Absence of necessary Political clout at center

Sapt Kos High Dam and Sun Kosi diversion Project DPR preparation
Much Delayed
Lack of Focus in State and Center

Barauni Fertilizer Revival
Not known/ Perhaps in Limbo
Decrease in Political clout at center

Metro Rail/ Mono Rail for Patna
Stuck at prefeasibility stage
Absence of serious pursuit by state government

MNREGA Funding
Abysmally Low Utilization
Inefficiency of state administration and lack of vision

Barh Thermal Project
Much Delayed
Technoprom Fiasco by Federal authorities

PPP Power Projects
Non starter
Absence of coal linkage due politicking

Proposed Nuclear Power Project
Non starter
Lack of application of political clout to push for this proposal

River Linking Projects
Stuck in Politicking by center

Direct Processing of Sugar Cane in Ethanol
Non starter
Stuck in politicking by center

Building of Key National Institutions and Establishments in Bihar
Non starter
Unfavorable central dispensation giving priority to other states.

Politicking (or plain inefficiency)

Special Category Status
Casual treatment of this proposal by Central Government
Absence of Serious pursuit by state government and lack of desired political clout at center

List is pretty long and could be even longer. Swift, mission driven, no nonsense actions are required for salvaging the situation here onward. It is important that politicians, bureaucrats, media, and more importantly, people in general get their act together to safeguard their own interest, that is, the overall interest of Bihar.

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