Bihar: Clinging to the “Backward” Tag

Bihar Legislative Assembly PPI

As States race against each other to inch closer to development, Bihar is assumed to be one of the participants who is thought to be lagging. I acknowledge my bias here too as I had similar notions about Bihar. It is the least literate state in India with a literacy rate of 63.82%. Naturally, I was unenthusiastic about researching on Bihar Vidhan Sabha for finding out about the policies in the State. I had imagined that the Legislative Assembly website would be outdated with no data and I would find myself in a loop of RTIs with no response. Interestingly, my assumptions were entirely wrong. Contrary to my thoughts, Bihar Legislative Assembly website is one of the most transparent and well-organised websites. It is up-to-date and has live recordings of sessions available along with transcripts of the same in the local language for citizens to access.

My preliminary findings showed that Bihar Vidhan Sabha had a consistent trend in terms of working days and the days spent in the budget session. 

Working Days Days for Budget Session
2017 2018 2019 2017 2018 2019
35 33 33 23 24 10

All data has been taken from the website of Bihar Legislative Assembly.

The Assembly was also active in-terms of utilising the Question Hour. To elaborate a bit, it is during the question hour that MLAs can ask questions on every aspect of governance and policy-making in the State. The verbal questions asked during the hour can have follow-up questions, also known as starred questions. The written questions asked during the hour are known as he unstarred questions. You may think why is it so important to know about questions? It is of utmost importance as the representatives of people can ensure the interests of people in his hour by asking meaningful questions that bring out effective policies and good governance. Unfortunately, the quality of questions, despite the numbers, were unimpressive.

Starred Questions 2017-19 Unstarred Questions 2017-19
1714 101

All data has been taken from the website of Bihar Legislative Assembly.

The data available shows that Bihar has been comparatively working more than most of the States and Union Territories in India, following closely after Maharashtra, Karnataka, and Himachal Pradesh. The Legislative Assembly also discloses all the questions that were raised in the session. With such transparency, it is indeed surprising that Bihar ranked second to last amongst major States in the India Innovation Index Report 2019 released by NITI AAYOG. How is Bihar government’s inability getting unnoticed by the residents of the State despite all the data available in the public domain?

The answer lies in the complacent belief that no progress is ever going to take place. Bihar may not be in the greatest space now but it has been trying to steadily improve. The bad politics in the State contributed to the stagnation of growth after the Freight Policy post-independence that had already crippled the State.

As per a report by IBEF, the per capita GSDP of Bihar increased at a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 12.91 per cent (in Rs) between 2015-16 and 2018-19. Bihar has also witnessed strong growth in per capita Net State Domestic Product (NSDP). At current prices, per capita NSDP of the state grew at a CAGR of 14.99 per cent during 2015-16 to 2018-19. Having almost 80% of its population engaged in agriculture, the growth shown by the state is commendable.

Unfortunately, being heavily dependent on agriculture comes at the cost of development. The failure of integration of service sector with agriculture is one of the prime reasons for slowed growth progression. It is also important to note that Bihar has been doing rather poorly in Education, which means there has been no substantial work being undertaken in the agriculture R&D, which could have benefitted the State greatly.

The India Innovation Index Report 2019 ranks Bihar rather poorly against the national average for Human Capital. In simple terms, human capital means the quality of education and research capability of a state. It is a fundamental enabler for development.

Bihar Growth Public Policy IndiaSource: India Innovation Index Report 2019

The gap being the highest in Human Capital is a gentle push to the government to act on improving the state of Education and Skill Development in Bihar. 

 The State Government had launched a couple of schemes in 2016 to improve Education and Skill-training in the State. Some of the schemes are:

  1. Bihar Student Credit Card Scheme: Under this scheme, an education loan of Rs. 4 lacs is being provided to every 12th pass student who is constrained from going for higher education due to financial crunch.
  2. Mukhyamantri Nishchay Swayam Sahayata Bhatta Yojana: Unemployed youth between the age of 20-25 years in search of employment, will be given Rs.1000 per month for a maximum period of two years to train themselves and find a job.
  3. Kushal Yuva Program: Bihar Skill Development Mission (BSDM) has established one skill training centre in every block of the state where soft skills, communication skills (in English & Hindi) and Basic computer literacy training will be taught to 10th pass candidates.
  4. Bihar Start-Up Policy: Under this scheme, a suitable environment will be created in the state to establish industrial units. Arrangement of financial assistance, incubation centre, funding, publicity, standardization amongst other things are part of this policy.
  5. Provision of free internet facilities through Wi-Fi in all Government universities and colleges in the state.

While the schemes were a good start and had the application system entirely online to make it accessible for the residents of the State, they failed to make the desired impact as shown by the diagram above which mapped the Human Capital of Bihar in 2019, three years after the launch of these schemes. The answer to this failure is straight-forward; a state which struggled with primary education and student-teacher ratio cannot make progress with higher education or employability. When foundational literacy and numeracy is a challenge, scholarships for higher education don’t help candidates pass the subject.

Similarly, training the youth without finding out where is it that they are going to be employed and what does the employer seek, fundamentally makes the policy flawed. However, it is also appalling that despite having online feedback available for all these schemes and the transparency with regards to sessions in the legislative assembly, there is barely any involvement from the citizens. We find solace in being complacent that the state is backward and there is nothing we can do, without making an adequate effort. Our representatives will be responsible when we ask for accountability.

Democracy is made by the people and it is the people who have the power to make their representatives fulfil the responsibilities that they were entrusted with. Bihar needs reform and it needs more than pity from the rest of the nation. It is time we stop lamenting about the backwardness and propose solutions to end the backwardness and we can start by thinking on the lines of this:

  1. A report by ADR on Bihar Legislative Assembly in 2019 showed a staggering increase in candidates with criminal cases against them. Why should it bother you? Justice and crime cannot go hand in hand. A person charged with criminal activities cannot represent the interests of the citizens freely. If the charges are true, then their tendency to compromise justice for self-benefit is a serious concern. It is unreasonable to expect them to show accountability to the public and work towards collective growth. India’s law bars a person convicted of any offence and sentenced to an imprisonment of two years or more from contesting elections. Those facing charges are free to run as the overburdened judicial system can take decades to resolve a case. This loophole in the system is thoroughly exploited by the defaulters. Therefore, we need a complete elimination of participation by candidates facing criminal charges in contesting the Vidhan Sabha elections.
  2. Bihar is also home to parties too closely identifying with one caste community and that is problematic in today’s context. It is important to realise that caste politics started with the idea to ensure that voices of the communities reach leaders to ensure inclusive governance and that there is no discrimination on the basis of caste. However, good governance is a function of inclusivity and therefore the focus should be on strengthening governance rather than exploiting a communities’ weakness for propaganda and in this case, it is our politicians who need to be the torchbearers.
  3. Literacy, which is a major pain point for Bihar needs to be a priority. It needs more than a knee jerk reaction before the formulation of a policy for it to be effective. Therefore, proper research on the factors contributing to the poor literacy rate will have to be identified and measures tailored to counter them will have to be set in motion.
  4. Most importantly, the citizens need to get out of the acceptance of Bihar being a backward state and actively participate in decisions pertaining to their well-being. 

After all if not you, then who? And if not now, then when?

Read more: Our Legislative Assemblies Need Our Attention


The views expressed in this article are the author's own.

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