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Mainstream, Vol XLVII, No 43, October 10, 2009

Open Letter to the CM of Bihar

Sunday 11 October 2009, by Shree Shankar Sharan

Respected Chief Minister,

I would put your by-election losses behind you and think ahead of the future. Elections reflect voter sovereignty It would be vain to expect the voter to line up all the time behind you even if your total score-card has been great but there have been some misses here and there. It is these misses that the voter picks on in by-elections with a view to drawing your attention rather than deserting you.

Every government has two main problems, the party and the bureaucracy. The party wants a voice in governance, the bureaucracy a share of power of doing, delaying or undoing things,and sometimes worse. Balancing the two is not easy and the balance has to change from time to time. As you get close to an election the party gains an advantage while the bureaucracy drags its feet, not sure which way the election will turn.

Perhaps the party needs a little more of mollycoddling and the bureaucracy a little more of cracking the whip. But justice as an ingredient of policy must be enjoined on both with the added caution for the bureaucracy to have a heart and human face.

In dealing with macro issues, the micro issues do sometimes fall in a shadow. As a matter of habit the bureaucracy steamrollers over micro issues as in the way of macro programmes.. These injustices, if not addressed, also cost votes.

There are some big questions of policy that will need your decision soon. In terms both of elections and the shape of the polity and economy they are crucial.

I refer to Bandyopadhyay’s report on land reforms. What do his recommendastion on bataidars to give them security of tenure by shifting the burden of proof from bataidars to land owners mean? It means that they have the security to stay as they are and where they are, that is, remain poor. The recording of bataidars in the revenue records will entitle them to loans against the security of their crops, not the security of their land without the consent of their landowners because they continue to be owners in the revenue record. That means long term loans for long term improvements can only be had by the joint application of the owners and the bataidars.The landowners may have a disincentive for getting loans or investment in a land much of whose benefit will be hogged by the secure bataidar. In Bengal a Communist Party watchdog also helped in its implementation which in Bihar will be drowned in litigation like the Purnea survey record or worse.

That is the revolution that the author is said to have brought about in Bengal. Even if we ignore the opinion that he ruined farming in West Bengal, is it good enough?

The socialist slogan has been “land to the tiller”, not a limited right on land to the tiller. We therefore had suggested to Bandyopadhyay to go farther than his achievement in West Bengal. But unhappily he has not. Since the Land Ceiling Act by poor implementation did not produce much surplus land and the bataidari law, though old in Bihar, has failed to be implemented because of under tenants in their wisdom seeking security in the goodwill of the tenant rather than the law, we would advocate a fresh approach to the question which the landlord will have no incentive to oppose.


Our suggestion was that the under tenant should be given the right to buy his tenant’s land at slightly less than the market price by legislation for which he should be funded by bank finance to be arranged by the government by an arrangement with the banks. Any further improvement in this scheme could be considered only if there were problems in bank recoveries. There should not be much problem because the undertenant will run the risk of the transfer being cancelled if he defaults.

The banks are flush with funds and a poor credit deposit ratio in Bihar and should be willing to lend with some persuasion and pressure. The recording of the under tenants’ status should be for this limited purpose with the government as a facilitator.

The tense and problematic agrarian relations in Bihar should be reformed by some such formula with the likely consent by both parties, without generating new tension, by taking advantage of the large scale exodus of the rural rich from the rural to the urban areas due to the former’s growing insecurity and the landlord’s anxiety to dispose off his land. I suggest referring this matter to a Select Committee of the Assembly for advice and not rushing it.

In urban development or rejuvenation, the accent should be on the minimal and the practical, not on the maximum or fanciful. In a land-hungry country the minimum possible land, arable or commercially viable, should be wasted on urban planning, and the plan should be least painful to the community or its weaker members.

The government should also pragmatically rethink its relations with the Central Government. Their relations with their ally, the BJP, has been getting tense because of their friendly gestures and welfare programmes for the minorities. The Congress of late has adopted many pro-poor policies that the JD(U) should welcome, if not all. The Central Government has been less than just to the State Government for apparently political reasons or lack of trust. If they promise to and act more justly which brings greater prosperity to Bihar and relief to the distressed who have been the worst hit, there will be good political reason to rework the shape of alliance between the Centre and the State.

As one of the best Chief Ministers that Bihar has had and the many more years of service that it needs from you, I have no doubt that you will match your vision with pragmatism, and your haste to change with prudence.

With best regards,

Shree Shankar Sharan

Shree Shankar Sharan, who retired from the IAS several years ago, is a Convenor of the Lok Paksh, Patna/Delhi.

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