First-person account of how he established the rule of law in a state where none existed
When we came to power in November 2005 I was asked by the media what my first priority was. I said, “Governance.” I was asked what my second priority was, I said, “Governance.” And what was my third priority? I said, “Governance!” There is a reason why I emphasised governance as my first, second and third priorities. Bihar that we inherited in 2005 was not afflicted by bad governance; it was afflicted by absence of governance.
What is governance? Governance means establishing the writ of the state; the law of the land. There was a time when the capital city (Patna) would be deserted by 7 pm. If one did not return home by the evening, his or her family members would start worrying about their safety. Today this has changed. Shops are open till late evening. People are out on the streets without any fear.
How was the rule of law established? Criminals were caught, produced in court and then sentenced. Earlier, the government witnesses didn’t appear in the court. The prosecution, therefore, sought adjournments time and again. After we came to power we ensured that the prosecution witnesses were present in the court. As a result the trials were wrapped up in time and today we have a record number of convictions – 50,000. This is what I believe is governance. Governance means, anyone who commits a crime is caught and produced in the court of law. It is up to the courts to decide whether that person is guilty or not.
Governance also means empowering women. After we came to power panchayat elections were round the corner. We repealed the old panchayati raj law and made a new one with 50% reservations for women. Initially there was scepticism, but soon people realised what a significant development it was. Women began to go out of their homes. The security environment began to change. Today women feel empowered.
But providing a place for them in the panchayats was not enough to empower women. We decided to focus on girls’ education. In order to encourage parents to send their daughters to upper primary school, we decided to pay every girl who went to class VI Rs 700 for school uniform, a pair of shoes and a school bag. This step alone doubled the number of girls going to upper primary school. To help them reach high school, we proposed to give every girl who went to class IX a cycle. In order to avoid a potential “cycle scam”, we handed over Rs 2,000 in cash to each girl to buy a cycle. This has worked wonders. When we started the cycle scheme, there were 1,70,000 girls in class IX. In 2010, the number shot up to 4,90,000. I am sure no other scheme in the country has brought a change of this magnitude. What would you call this? This, according to me, is governance.
Initially, there were apprehensions about the safety of these girls. To ensure that they didn’t face any harassment from the roadside Romeos, we decided to give them free training in judo and karate. Today, the girls cycle to their schools and people on the road give them way without any girl having to demonstrate her martial art skills. Soon, we started giving cycles to boys too. Today the number of cycles with both girls and boys stands at 25,45,000.
When you address the basic needs of your people, you can see the results. When we came to power, the number of children out of school was a staggering 25 lakh. It has now come down to 7,70,000.
People had lost faith in the public health system. When we got a survey done on the number of patients visiting a primary health centre (PHC) every month, it turned out to be a mere 39. We revamped the PHCs with new buildings and free medicines. We also ensured regular visits by the doctors. Now the number of patients visiting a PHC has shot up to 4,000 a month. In the case of routine immunisation, we have surpassed the national average of 54%.
What does governance mean? It means human development. We focused on human development and made everyone a participant, including the mahadalits. I have often been criticised for focusing on the marginalised sections within the scheduled castes (SC). Yes, there is indeed a marginalised section even within the SCs, we called them the mahadalits. My aim was to help them get the benefits that the SCs are entitled to. Tomes have been written on the mahadalits with no tangible benefits to them. My government, on the other hand, is helping them out of their miseries. They have now been made a part of the development process.
We also focused on infrastructure. Earlier the roads were in a pathetic condition. If you happened to visit the state, I am sure you would not have come back without breaking your back. Today I invite you to visit any part of the state. You will be surprised and wonder if it is the same state. I have set my goals on connecting Patna to the remotest part of the state, say a village in Kishanganj, by a road that will take not more than six hours. And we will achieve this in a year or two. n
(Edited excerpts from Nitish Kumar’s address at a Governance Now Forum meet on August 21)
Bihar is not comic-fodder any more: MJ Akbar
Bihar, the “template of good governance” in the 1950s, degenerated into a laughing stock by the late 1990s; it’s emerging now from years of misrule, believes
eminent journalist and scholar MJ Akbar.
Addressing the Governance Now Forum on ‘Bihar on the move’, he said a discussion on governance in Bihar would have been unimaginable a few years ago “except as a continuing form of satire”. “The fact that such a seminar is being held in Delhi and that such a large audience has come to attend it speaks for itself,” he said.
“Bihar is emerging from its ‘joke’ reputation and is starting to show promise as a serious player in the growth of the country,” Akbar noted in his inaugural address. “A snapshot of the contemporary Bihar story comes not from Patna, but from Ludhiana in Punjab. Today, the farmers and landowners there are feeling the pinch of labour shortage. The Bihari families working on their fields are heading back to Bihar,” he added.
Akbar, who once represented Kishanganj in Bihar in the Lok Sabha, spoke about how the Bihar story had changed in the last few decades when caste-identity politics hijacked the election agenda in the state. While easy alliances came along caste lines, the excess of caste politics overwhelmed every aspect of governance. Politicians started confusing, very dangerously for the state, political rhetoric with power. “They charmed people at one level and instigated differences at another,” he said.
“There was a time when the ruling class in the state would laugh at suggestions of improving infrastructure in the state,” he added. That the narrative is changing now with the realisation that governance is not charity; rather, it is instrumental in creating value for investment, he said.
At the same time, he was critical of the statistical growth story. “I am not too prone to praising people in power but when I was in Patna speaking at a function attended by the chief minister, I said: ‘I do not understand statistics, I don’t know what you mean when you say eight percent growth, 29 percent growth, 48 percent growth...’ These statistics are utterly meaningless. In any case, this eight percent growth that we talk about is a statistical lie. To begin with, if eight percent growth is going to only 10 percent of the people, then that growth can become counter-productive as we are seeing in the rise of the naxal movement.”
Akbar said chief minister Nitish Kumar had put governance back on the forefront. “I congratulate the CM of Bihar for beginning to change the image of Bihar. But this is not a moment to feel smug. Nothing substantial has been achieved yet, but a difficult corner has been turned,” he said in conclusion.
Branded Bihar to Brand Bihar
Pramath Sinha, founder and managing director, 9.9 media: Perceptions about Bihar’s have discouraged the private sector to invest in Bihar. Those perceptions haven’t gone away. People still think of other states before Bihar when it comes to development projects; So Bihar has to compete from behind.
Nikesh Sinha of APCA: In the last few decades, Bihar had given its labour and people to the entire country. Punjab’s green revolution was possible because of the labour from Bihar. It is time this work force returned to Bihar.
Shalini Vatsa, Theatre and movie actor, Peepli Live: Cultural vibrancy exists in a place only when the place is safe. I have grown up in Bihar and have been a member of various theatre groups. Earlier it was difficult to get out of one’s house and go to one’s place of work. That has changed. I have experienced it.
G S Kang, former chief secretary of Bihar: The criminals’ involvement in politics is fast becoming a thing of the past and the wild Bihar of yesterday is fading out.
Harivansh, editor, Prabhat Khabar: In the past five years the state has reasserted itself. The writ of the state has been reestablished even in the remotest of villages.
What Bihar needs next
Rituraj Singh, chief operating officer, SI securities: Instead of inviting big investors, it would be ideal to draw up a list of businessmen from the state and go after them with a plea to invest in their own state. Bringing back the large population of Biharis working outside in low-skilled jobs is important as also reskilling them and enabling them to contribute to the development of Bihar’s economy.
Amit Kapur. Professor, Management Development Institute: The important thing is that there is a huge land mass in Bihar which needs to be tapped to the fullest. We should see what we can do to attract people back to Bihar. People have been leaving this state for decades now. They will not come back overnight. We need to create favourable situations for them. There was a time when Nalanda was the seat of knowledge in the world. It is ironical that we are not promoting Nalanda and other such places as tourist destinations. Bihar has immense potential for tourism which needs to be tapped. Almost all the governments have ignored it.
Anil Sharma, CMD, Amrapali: The development of infrastructure would lead to overall improvement in living standards in terms of housing, sanitation and health care.
What Bihar needs most
Saibal Gupta of ADRI : In the absence of any social movement, Bihar has not had a sub-national identity. That is changing now, as there is a sense of ownership in the people of the state.
Ali Anwar Ansari, Rajya Sabha MP from Bihar: Pasmanda Muslim Mahaz, an Indian Muslim welfare organisation I founded 10 years ago for the liberation of dalit muslims has been helping the marginalized sections of the muslims and it has helped restore their pride.
Mahesh Rangarajan, noted social scientist from Delhi University: While the dalits of the south sought to empower themselves with entrepreneurship, the dalits of the north are only now moving in that direction.
Badri Narayan, a scholar on dalit studies from GB Pant Institute of Social Sciences, Allahabad: The welfare of dalits in Bihar has started where those of Uttar Pradesh had failed. Identification of Mahadalits amongst dalits was a step in the right direction.
Nitish is like Sachin
Uday Shankar, CEO Star India: “I agree with MJ Akbar that a seminar on Governance in Bihar would not have been possible a few years back and the credit for this change goes to chief minister Nitish Kumar. He has set the ball rolling. But having said that, I would like to know from the chief minister if the process that he began will go on even after Nitish and if yes how?”
This provoked Nitish to render the heartfelt speech on ‘governance in Bihar’ (previous page). After that Uday engaged Nitish in a one-on- one interaction. Drawing an analogy from cricket, he said, Nitish’s position was akin to master blaster Sachin Tendulkar who was expected to hit a century every time he took to the crease. To which Nitish retorted: “Don’t worry, I’m in good form.”