Will Bihar CM Nitish Kumar’s malfeasance be an issue in the forthcoming polls?
The claim of providing ‘good governance’ has propelled Nitish Kumar’s return to power, but fifteen years down the line, has the JDU- BJP alliance been able to uphold its promises?
Each year, one state or the other goes for polls. This year too, the country will be witnessing an electoral bout amid the pandemic in one of the most populous states of India, Bihar. The state assembly elections are going to be held on time which the ECI has amply clarified besides setting out new rules of conduct.
Many political parties had sought the deferment of the polls given the raging pandemic. With social distancing and restriction on assemblage in place, the parties hitherto engaged in conventional and rudimentary canvassing are finding it hard to cope with the new normal.
It remains to be seen how the NDA led by CM Nitish Kumar would be pitching its malfeasance to the people who have grown much informed and attentive than earlier. The claim of providing ‘good governance’ propelled Nitish Kumar’s return to power, but fifteen years down the line, has the JDU- BJP alliance been able to uphold its promises?
Statistics and facts show the opposite picture and even real-life experiences on the ground depict a contrasting picture. Here are a few spheres of his administration to ascertain whether Nitish Kumar has stood the test of time.
The raging COVID-19 pandemic exposed the wretched health infrastructure of Bihar. Nitish Kumar bungled in dealing with the health crisis from the beginning and has set up only four COVID specific hospitals for a population of over 100 million. Bihar has the eighth highest Corona cases in India with over one lakh cases. The TPM (Test Per Million) figure in Bihar is still one of the lowest in the country while its doubling rate of the detected Corona cases is the third highest in India. Even though it has allegedly ramped up its testing capacity, it widely remains the non-reliable rapid antigen test rather the globally acknowledged RT-PCR tests.
According to National Health Profile, Bihar has only 0.11 beds and 0.39 doctors per thousand people. The rate of contagion of the front-line health workers in the state is said to be the highest and as of now over 20 doctors have succumbed to COVID-19. The health workers at apex health facilities in Bihar operating as COVID-19 centres, at the initial phase, appeared to have put up a fight without even basic protective kits. They were said to be using raincoats and HIV kits as protective gear against COVID-19. There was a dearth of N95 masks, and PPEs for the frontline workers.
The onslaught of Acute Encephalitis Syndrome (AES) last year when over 150 children died brought out to the public the pitiable health care facilities in Bihar. The outbreak of Encephalitis, locally known as ‘Chamki Bukhar’, was proof of the government’s laxity, and it batters the state annually. Every year hundreds of children fall prey to ‘Chamki Bukhar’ and yet the Bihar government remains smug. In the year 2019-2020, the state spent only 5% of the total budget earmarked for health.
The recurring problem of floods which have been ravaging the state year after year remains untended, and even on this day when the state is due for polls, over 83 lakh people remain affected. 16 out of 38 districts of Bihar are bearing the wrath of the deluge. Nitish Kumar’s administration has been myopic in dealing with nature’s fury and infirm to find out a concrete solution to it.
Reverse migration amid this pandemic has put additional strain on the state government which is reeling from scare resources and inadequate funds. Purportedly, over million returnees were made to stay put at around fourteen thousand makeshift quarantine centres at the village, block and district level. Those centres were even abysmal where inmates bore numerous afflictions.
Bihar has approximately received over two million people due to this lockdown as over twenty-nine lakh people had registered for ‘Corona Sahayata’, with monetary assistance of Rs 1000 provided to the stranded migrants.
Corruption continues to spread its tentacle even amid this health crisis and as reported by media, the funds meant for the procurements and distribution of masks and soaps were swindled. The multi-crore Srijan scam is the irremediable blemish of the Nitish Kumar. Srijan scam has exposed the connivance of the state administration, officials and banks in corruption in the governance. Had there been ‘sushasan’ then crores of the government’s funds would have landed in Srijan’s account. This incident, apart from drawing national attention, also highlighted the dereliction of Nitish Kumar’s administration.
Nitish Kumar’s act of prohibiting sale and consumption of alcohol has given rise to all a new economy of bootlegging. The implementation of prohibition remains a joke and has only advanced its delivery mechanism. The alleged instance of mice drinking thousands of litres of seized alcohol made the government a laughing stock.
According to the census of 2011, the state has the third-highest number of child labour in the country. In a report filed by the Govt of Bihar to the Unified District Information System for Education (U-DISE), around 1773 schools in Bihar are functioning without buildings and over 1140 primary schools are on the verge of closure due to lack of adequate students. The dropout rate of class 9 - 10 students was as high as 39.73% for 2016 -17, against 25% in 2014-15. Nitish Kumar’s cycle scheme has only made the girls enroll in the government schools merely to avail the cycles but they complete their schooling in private schools. As per an IndiaSpend analysis, Bihar has a shortage of around 2,80,000 teachers.
Nitish Kumar after taking the CM’s chair in 2005 has vowed to provide employments within the state, but fifteen years down the line little has fructified on the ground. Twenty out of fifty-four districts which account for half of the male migration in the country are from Bihar. The rural economy of most of the districts here is based on their remittances.
The unemployment rate in Bihar for the month of April was estimated to be at 46.6% which is double the national rate, as per the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE). It’s a matter to ponder for the administration and a question to be asked by the people that where would the returnees be employed as the state has neither the business capability nor industrial entities to engage them. Bihar is placed at 16th position by the NITI Aayog in industry, innovation & infrastructure. There is a paucity of job opportunities in the state and a rat race for government jobs amongst the youth. In one instance, over 1.3 million applications had come in for the posts of 11880 sepoys.
Even the law and order situation projects a dismal picture of Nitish Kumar’s governance as the state has one of the highest dowry-related deaths and kidnapping and abduction cases, according to National Crime Record Bureau (NCRB). The horrific incidence of Muzaffarpur’s shelter home where female inmates were sexually exploited is a grim reminder of the dark reality.
Conducting board exams in Bihar is a mammoth exercise; according to the state education minister PK Shahi, three to four are people are involved in helping an individual student cheat. Accordingly, over 64 % of the students had failed in board exams of 2017. And hundreds scaling the walls of examination centres to enable the cheating is just part of the education system in place under Nitish Kumar ‘sushasan’.
Now when the need of good governance is felt more than ever before, the Government of Bihar has turned to the Centre to help it sail through the crisis. Bihar has urged the Government of India to sustain the state’s portion of 66 central schemes such as MGNREGA and Mid Day Meal scheme after poor tax collection in the state due to the pandemic. If the Centre doesn’t oblige it could lead to the suspension of the central schemes in the State, including Mid Day Meal scheme, through which cooked food is served to school-going children. This puts the state at the mercy of the Union Govt and the poor at the receiving end.
Bihar continues to be out of the economic and industrial grid and that has weekend its financial base. Its leaders have been making a consistent request to the Centre to accord ‘special category status’ to the state to overcome its laggardness. No serious initiative was taken to revive the defunct industries nor earnest efforts were made to woo investments in Bihar. This is otiose when the PM has called upon the nation to be ‘atmanirbhar’.
The people are supreme in a democracy and it’s best to leave it to their wisdom to take a call on whether the state did see the transformation it voted for.
(Amrish Ranjan Pandey is National Secretary of Indian Youth Congress; Nirbhay Dubey is a Strategic Communication Consultant)