How Bihar has been economically strangulated

As opposed to an All-India per capita developmental expenditure during the last three years of ₹ 7,935, Bihar’s is less than half at ₹ 3,633

Representative Image
Representative Image
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Mohan Guruswamy

In the run up to the last Bihar Assembly election, Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently announced a Rs-50,000-crore package for Bihar. He also announced a Rs-100,000-crore package for J&K. The first question one must ask is why twice as much for J&K than India's poorest and most backward state? Bihar has a population of over 103 million and J&K has a population of 12.5 million.

This is not a new story. Bihar has been systematically exploited by getting denied its rightful and deserved share of central funds for quite long.

That Bihar is India's poorest and most backward state is undeniable. The facts speak for themselves. But what makes its situation truly unique is that Bihar is the only state in India where the incidence of poverty is uniformly at the highest level (46-70%) in all the sub-regions. The annual real per capita income of Bihar at Rs 3650 is about a third of the national average of Rs 11,625. Bihar is also the only Indian state where the majority of the population - 52.47% - is illiterate.

But Bihar has its bright spots also. Its infant mortality rate is 62 per 1000, which is below the national average of 66 per 1000. But what is interesting is that it is better than not just states like UP (83) and Odisha (91), but better than even states like AP and Haryana (both 66). Even in terms of life expectancy, the average Bihari male lives a year longer (63.6 yrs.) than the average Indian male (62.4 yrs) and the state's performance in increasing life spans has been better than most during the past three years.

Bihar has 7.04 million hectares under agriculture and its yield of 1679 kg per hectare. While it is less than the national average of 1739 kg per hectare, it is better than that of six other states, which include some big agricultural states like Karnataka and Maharashtra.

Despite this, in overall socio-economic terms, Bihar is quite clearly in a terrible shape. Why?

As opposed to an All-India per capita developmental expenditure during the last three years of Rs 7935, Bihar's is less than half at Rs 3633. While development expenditure depends on a bunch of factors including a state's contribution to the national exchequer, no logic can explain away the per capita of the Tenth Plan, which at Rs 2533.80 is less than a third of that of states like Gujarat (Rs 9289.10), Karnataka (Rs 8260) and Punjab (Rs 7681.20). We don't have a Planning Commission and no planning but we do have a Niti Aayog. So what is the niti now?

Simple but sound economic logic tells us that when a region is falling behind, not just behind but well behind, it calls for a greater degree of investment in its progress and development. It is analogous to giving a weak or sick child in the family better nutrition and greater attention. Only in the animal kingdom do we see survival of the fittest with the weak and infirm neglected, deprived and even killed.

But instead of this we see that Bihar is being systematically denied, let alone the additional assistance its economic and social condition deserves, but also what is its rightful due.

From the pitiful per capita investment in Bihar, it is obvious that the Central Government has been systematically starving Bihar out of funds. Quite obviously Bihar has also paid the price for being politically out of sync with the central government for long periods. The last one was for a dozen years from 1992 to 2004. For the last few years Bihar had a government in New Delhi that was supposed to be favorably disposed to the regime in Patna.

Quite clearly states that are in political sync do much better in terms of central assistance. Lets take a look at how Andhra Pradesh, a state that has stayed largely in political sync with New Delhi, has fared in the past few years. In terms of grants from the Central Government (2000 to 2005), Bihar fared poorly receiving only Rs. 10833.00 crores while AP got Rs. 15542.00 crores. Bihar has also been neglected as far as net loans from the center are concerned.

The results of the economic strangulation of Bihar can be seen in the abysmally low investments possible in the state government's four major development thrusts. Bihar's per capita spending on Roads is Rs.44.60, which is just 38% of the national average, which is Rs.117.80. Similarly for Irrigation and Flood Control Bihar spends just Rs.104.40 on a per capita basis as opposed to the national average of Rs.199.20.

Now the question of how much did Bihar "forego"? If Bihar got just the All-India per capita average, it would have got Rs. 48,216.66 crores for the 10th Five Year Plan instead of the Rs.21,000.00 crores it was allocated. This trend was established in the very first five-year plan and the cumulative shortfall now would be in excess of Rs. 80,000.00 crores. That’s a huge handicap now to surmount.

Then it would have got Rs. 44,830 crores as credit from banks instead of the Rs. 5635.76 crores it actually got, if it were to get the benefit of the prevalent national credit/deposit ratio.

Similarly Bihar received a pittance from the financial institutions, a mere Rs.551.60 per capita, as opposed to the national average of Rs.4828.80 per capita. This could presumably be explained away by the fact that Bihar now witnesses hardly any industrial activity. But no excuses can be made for the low investment by NABARD.  It can be nobody's argument that there is no farming in Bihar. If the financial institutions were to invest in Bihar at the national per capita average, the state would have got Rs.40, 020.51 crores as investment instead of just Rs.4571.59 crores that it actually received.

Quite clearly Bihar is not only being denied its due share, but there is a flight of capital from Bihar, India's poorest and most backward state. This is a cruel paradox indeed. The cycle then becomes vicious. This capital finances economic activity in other regions, leading to a higher cycle of taxation and consequent injection of greater central government assistance there. If one used harsher language one can even say that Bihar is being systematically exploited, and destroyed by denying it its rightful share of central funds.

To even make a dent on the abysmal state that Bihar is now in, Bihar will need at least twice what it gets from the Centre, as of yesterday.

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