Nitish Needs to Focus on Men, Land and Water in His New Term

From agricultural productivity to employability, Nitish Kumar has his task cut out clearly, writes Mayank Mishra.

Updated
Opinion
5 min read
RJD leader Rabri Devi applying tika to the incoming Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar  during Chhath festival in Patna, November 16, 2015. (Photo: PTI)

The owner-driver of the taxi that took us recently from Darbhanga to Purnea, two important towns in the Kosi region of Bihar, was an unemployed youth, like so many of his generation, around the time when Nitish Kumar assumed office in 2005. He took a gamble by buying a vehicle to be used to ferry passengers. Transportation charges used to be very high then, they still are compared to many other states, as there was hardly any road to ply vehicles on.

He now owns three vehicles and earns a decent amount every month, thanks to good roads and markedly improved law and order situation all around. And these are two of the important contributions of Nitish Kumar as chief minister for two terms. Now that he is assuming office for a record third term, he will have to make a huge transition to live up to people’s expectations.

RJD chief Lalu Prasad hugging  Nitish Kumar after he was elected as leader of the Grand Alliance  in Patna, November 14, 2015.   (Photo: PTI)
RJD chief Lalu Prasad hugging Nitish Kumar after he was elected as leader of the Grand Alliance in Patna, November 14, 2015.   (Photo: PTI)

While he can continue to work on improving roads, policing and electricity for all, the basics which should have been there long ago, he will have to come up with an altogether new vision to make use of three resources Bihar has in plenty- fertile land, abundant human capital and rich water resources.

Snapshot

Agenda for Bihar’s New Government

  • Agricultural productivity of the state needs to be boosted; state lagging way behind in average productivity of rice and wheat
  • Bihar’s water resources need to be tapped well especially in the wake of as many as 89 million people being affected by floods from 2000 to 2012
  • Nitish Kumar will have to come up with something big to make the people of his state employable
  • As a baby step, the new government can plan for new cities—some commercial, some industrial and some educational

State Needs A Big Leap Now

Even after five decades of the launch of the Green Revolution, average productivity of rice and wheat in Bihar is nearly half of that in Punjab and Haryana. Making things worse, the average size of landholding in Bihar is small, preventing mechanisation of farms to take place. Thus, landlessness is quite high.  But that is no excuse not to adopt innovative steps to augment agricultural productivity in the state. If agri-processing businesses are set up and they are incentivised to go for backward linkages, farm productivity is definitely going to get a boost.

Farmers of  Surajpur village in  Bihar carry fodder for sale in the market. (File photo: Reuters)
Farmers of Surajpur village in Bihar carry fodder for sale in the market. (File photo: Reuters)

Nearly a month ago, I visited a sugar factory in Motihari that is running below its capacity as it does not get adequate supply of sugarcane. Unlike other states, sugar mills owe very little by way of arrears to farmers in Bihar. Still there is short supply of sugarcane. Upon inquiry, I got to know that it is a result of some complicated system that doesn’t help anyone. Can Nitish Kumar be expected to fix this in his latest innings? Such units will help a long way in boosting much-needed farm productivity in the state.

Waterways Can Provide Connectivity With Ports

The state’s fertile land is courtesy, the abundance of rich water resources. Not used properly, water resources have proved to be a bane rather than a boon thus far. Bihar has been ravaged by floods year after year. Of the total of 200 million people affected by floods in the country from 2000 to 2012, as many as 89 million were from Bihar alone.

Villagers move with their belongings and cattle to relief camps in  Supaul district in  Bihar, August 3, 2014. (Photo: Reuters)
Villagers move with their belongings and cattle to relief camps in Supaul district in Bihar, August 3, 2014. (Photo: Reuters)

With some ingenuity the state’s river system can work wonders. Why not build waterways using the state’s river system and connect it to the Kolkata port? That will rid the state of landlocked tag for international trade. The rich water resource can be harnessed to provide irrigation facility to the entire region. Nitish Kumar will have to take this as a challenge if he is serious about turning around the fortunes of Bihar.

But more than anything, the state has to come up with a plan to make use of its vast human capital. At 1106 people per square kilometre, the population density of Bihar is almost three times the national average.  Nitish Kumar’s new vision document does talk about setting up new medical colleges and giving concessional loans to students pursuing higher studies. But all that is just like scratching the surface. He will have to come up with something big to make the people employable and meaningfully employed.

An aerial view shows flood-affected people by  the banks of a flooded Kosi river near  the border area between Supaul and Saharsa in  Bihar. (File photo: Reuters)
An aerial view shows flood-affected people by the banks of a flooded Kosi river near the border area between Supaul and Saharsa in Bihar. (File photo: Reuters)

Build New Cities To Stimulate Economy

Migration for better opportunities is alright. But migration as a compulsion is awfully painful. Biharis have suffered the pain long enough. Now the new government will have to get around this problem and mitigate the pain.

As a baby step, the new government can plan for new cities—some commercial, some industrial and some educational. The existing urban infrastructure is bursting at seams. None of the state’s urban centres is liveable. New cities, if built properly, can ease pressure on the old ones and has the potential to give a major boost to employment opportunities.

Labourers  at a road construction site in  Bihar. (File photo: Reuters)
Labourers at a road construction site in Bihar. (File photo: Reuters)

Nitish Kumar and his allies, Lalu Prasad in particular, will have to understand that the mandate they have got is for good governance. Communal harmony is of course important. And so is empowerment of the weaker sections. But they are all possible only when the basic agenda continues to remain good governance and good governance alone. Both the leaders will have to complement each other’s strength and avoid working at cross purposes.

Government formation with the swearing in is just a first step. The arduous journey is just about to begin. Both Nitish and Lalu, this time together backed by a massive mandate, will have to prove that they are equal to the challenge.

(The writer contributes regularly to the Business Standard)

(The Quint is available on Telegram. For handpicked stories every day, subscribe to us on Telegram)

Published: 
Stay Updated

Subscribe To Our Daily Newsletter And Get News Delivered Straight To Your Inbox.

Join over 120,000 subscribers!