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In the Heart of Darkness

Omkar Goswami


Dear Shri Nitish Kumar


Congratulations on your convincing victory and welcome to Number 1, Anne Marg, which must be one of the very few houses in Bihar that gets a steady supply of electricity and other basic civic amenities. Your winning has proved that, at long last, people of Bihar have chosen to rid themselves the cynical politics of Lalu and his 15 years of obscene misgovernance in favour of someone who might actually administer the state and focus a bit on long-forgotten things like development.


I am sure that you have a pretty good sense of how backward Bihar has become in just about everything. Even so, let me share with you some indicators from the 2001 Census of India. Given your illustrious predecessor’s and her good husband’s spirited performance in Patna between 2001 and 2005, I am sure that the numbers are even worse today. The data are for rural Bihar which accounted for 12.66 million households in 2001, or 9.2 per cent of all rural households in India.


Banking: Lets begin with the percentage of rural households who have a bank or post-office savings account. The all-India rural average is 30 per cent. For rural Bihar, it is 19 per cent.


Households with bathing space within the homestead: For rural India as a whole, the share is 23 per cent, which is bad enough for it implies that more than three out of four rural households need to bathe in the open. But for rural Bihar it is far worse: 6.3 per cent.


LPG for cooking: For rural India as a whole, 6 per cent of households used LPG for cooking. In some states like Himachal Pradesh, the median is as high as 22.4 per cent. The average for rural Bihar is 0.6 per cent – or one-tenth the rural India average.


Electricity: Perhaps the most telling indicator of protracted misgovernance and underdevelopment in Bihar is electricity. For rural India as a whole, 43.5 per cent of households had electrical connections which, of course, did not mean that they actually got adequate supply of electricity. For rural Bihar it was a pathetic 3.9 per cent. Think about it. Not even one out of 25 households in rural Bihar have an electricity connection. The worst off district is Araria, where rural electricity connection is as low as 1.2 per cent, followed by Jehanabad (1.5 per cent), then Gaya (1.7 per cent) and Kishanganj (1.8 per cent). In these districts, not even one out of 50 rural households have electricity connections.


Small wonder then that if you were foolhardy enough to risk dacoity by driving at night from Jehanabad to Gaya, you will see only darkness, occasionally interspersed by the dim flicker of light from all-lit wickers rude kerosene battis constructed out of modified Lal Baba zarda tins.


Shri Kumar, here is one more truly frightening statistics for you. The 37 districts in Bihar are further sub-divided into 533 administrative tehsils. Do you know that there are 190 tehsils with over 24 million people where less than one in 50 households have electricity connections? Nothing can be more pathetic than this. Indeed, there is no state as poorly off as Bihar – not even Jharkhand – on electricity and most other indicators. For the lack of space, I won’t talk about the moon craters that pass off as roads.


Let me say just this. If one were to look at the key asset, amenities and expenditure indicators, rural Bihar ranks the worst among all states – and in many instance worst by a long margin.


There will be many who will advice you on how to govern. Let me suggest my two-paisa bit. Please use all your resources to electrify as much of rural Bihar that you can. And supplement this by rapidly accelerating the highways, roads and rural roads programme. Go everywhere for funds: the Prime Minister, the Ministry of Finance, World Bank and ADB. Start BOTs on roads. Begin power reforms. Get whatever resources you can lay your hands on. But electrify Bihar and give it roads. That ought to help win you the next elections. Even if it doesn’t, it will surely create a better Bihar.



Published: Business World, November 2005


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