HATS OFF TO BIHAR, BUT IT HAS A LONG ROAD AHEAD!

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In the first week of January 2010, most newspapers carried a stunning report. And the report was based on data from the Central Statistical Organisation, which revealed that Bihar has clocked the second highest growth rate in the country, only second to Gujarat, between the period 2004/05 and 2008/09. Although in the same period, most of the backward states have shown a reasonably decent growth rate, but none could match up to Bihar. And what is even more remarkable is the manner in which the state has turned around. It was only in 2003/04 that it had shown a (de)growth of a negative 5.15%. Five years hence, the state has an aggregated growth of 11.03%, beating all conventions.

Initially, analysts were skeptical about the data, but once it was reported that the data had been released by CSO – a central government agency – all doubts were put to rest. What is more interesting is the fact that most of the growth has taken under Nitish Kumar’s regime – which also proves that howsoever poor a state might be, finally it all depends on an able leader whether a transformation can occur. And all credit should go to Nitish Kumar for his intent and a proper follow-through with governance. It is not just Bihar – the same can be said with respect to Uttarakhand, Orissa, Jharkhand and Chattisgarh, as these states have clocked growth rates of 9.31%, 8.74%, 8.45% and 7.35% respectively for the same period, beating the conventional growth rates that had been seen over the years. What is even more intriguing and creditworthy is that of these states, four states – namely Bihar, Uttarakhand, Orissa and Jharkhand – have beaten the national growth rate of 8.45% during the same period!

But then, without taking away any credit from these states, there are a few issues that should also be taken into perspective for a more balanced evaluation. Though on the face of it, Bihar has stood second nationally, and next to Gujarat, but the fact is that the state has a long way to go to even get close to Gujarat in real terms. As we all know, growth rates are always relative. And in absolute terms, the growth of these states is nowhere close to that of Gujarat or a Maharashtra. States like Bihar, Jharkhand were growing on a very low base of historically languishing state GDP, whereas states like Gujarat and Maharashtra are already on a much larger base. Therefore, if states like Bihar, Orissa et al have to catch up and earn any kind of parity with other progressive states, then they have to grow even faster than the latter. Other than this, a high growth rate also does not guarantee that the growth is uniform – encompassing all sections across the state. A case in point has been Madhu Koda’s government. We all know the level of corruption that states like Jharkhand have been subjected to in the past few years. Indications now also are very clear that the so called growth rates have actually not touched upon the masses in these states – and this is not good news at all. As this means that the income disparity has grown not only at the national level, but to a large extent at the states’ level too. Along with all this, we also know that these newly praised states are also the states which are subjected to the maximum number of Naxal atrocities, which is also an indicator that though apparently the states have scored well on growth, the masses still remain disconnected. I’ve written about this a number of times earlier and would like to reiterate here that Naxalism has a deep connect with poverty. Over the years, Naxalites have prospered only in those states where poverty has been deep-rooted; and that’s why we don’t hear about the Naxal menace in Gujarat, even though we hear about the same in Maharashtra (because there are poor pockets in Maharashtra where Naxals thrive).

But then, as I said earlier, the credit can’t be taken away from these states. The better news is that if they have reached this far, the day is not far when they would even tread the extra mile to ensure growth to masses as well. Their biggest achievement is that they have been able to come out of the ‘BIMARU’ tag, with which they had been living for decades. But to finally be counted amongst the truly leading states of India, these states would have to ensure that growth looks meaningful and inclusive. For now, it’s at least visible!

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