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Mainstream, Vol. XLIX, No 14, March 26, 2011

Bihar: Triumphant Truncated Area Development

Monday 28 March 2011, by J. George

The following article was written quite sometime back but could not be used earlier for unavoidable reasons. It is being published here as its contents remain valid even now.

The jury of the people in Bihar has given the verdict for truncated development. This development template constitutes road infrastructure, bicycles to school-going girls and conditional cash transfer on certain social development entities. The operational and linking magical password to accessibility to this edited version of develop-ment is surely the maintenance of an amiable law and order scenario for a long time. Such dignity to the people has indeed opened up a can of expectations.

The author of the abridged version is the CM who rightly pointed out that the develop-ment story-line in Bihar is a challenge to be addressed in subsequent editions. What are these challenges?

Development Pathways: CM-DM Variant

LAND-BASED development strategies have their inherent deficiencies but income earning potentials do not have to suffer this “collateral damage”. “Gol Ghar” is a symbol as well as an approach that needs to be thought “out of the box”—where the communities are in control and manage their food needs in a village as well as responsibly deal with the deficit-surplus syndrome in a rare economic integration framework. Certainly markets can be made to perform the fostering role.

Development of local area and agriculture, for instance, are State list subjects. Then why did it get relegated into the background in the first edition of the development story-line of Bihar? An engagement with this question unmistakably indicates that the Bihar CM, unfortunately, seems to be following the Haryana CM, namely, getting fixated to the eyes, ears and cognition of the babudom.

It is often said that the PM, CM and DM are the troika of local area development. This is the most practical and operational worldview under any setting, be it tackling the Maoist problem or the development dilemma in a district.

Then how is it that the primary performance of the DM does not get audited while the PM and CM get a report card from the “aam adami” at the hustings? The career progression chart of all those manning the DM’s chair, say, since 2000-01, in most of the development deficient districts does create some instructive study in tweaking the nuanced career growth pathways as well as livelihood security strategies.

Be that as it may, the unease of the PM and CM is understandable given the dependence of the population for their livelihood security on the activities producing primary commodities. Notice how it was craftily avoided in the UPA-II’s first-year report card and during the PM’s press conference as well. The CMs also avoid the issue like a plague. We have already noticed with much dismay how this issue was deviously brushed aside in the 11.43 per cent growth rate story-line of Bihar.

Local level planning and development is mandated by the Constitution as well as the Eleventh Plan framework of grassroots level planning. The Finance Commission’s recent largesse also reinforces the modification of the same.

Agriculture: Backbone of Bihar’s Livelihood Security

IT is undeniably recognised that agriculture in Bihar is the cornerstone for the economy in any turnaround story-line. Rightly so, since 81 per cent of the workforce and nearly 42 per cent of the State’s domestic product is not only based but entirely dependent on agriculture and allied activities.

Hence it is gratifying to note that the Roadmap for Agriculture, at least rhetorically, acknowledges the activities of production of primary sector commodities as being “about lives of persons of the State” and not merely “about the farming alone”. And yet Central assistance is recorded as the mainstay of the budgetary support for any movement on this road.

Certainly the lives of the people of Bihar are at stake and what else do they have other than agriculture and related activities to keep their body and soul together? The CM-DM duo must be starkly aware of the facts that 12.5 per cent of the number of operational holdings and 6.6 per cent of the operational area—second highest in the country in both the cases—are in Bihar. Besides, 5.4 per cent of country’s total area under foodgrains produces a mere four per cent here, while Haryana with a 3.5 per cent area produces about 6.6 per cent of the total foodgrains production in the country. The case of Punjab is also informative as with a similar (5.3 per cent) land area under foodgrains to the all-India total, the production contribution is a whopping 13 per cent.

These figures convey a much deeper insight into the problem that is pivoted on the stellar role for public institutions. That does not mean Bihar should blindly follow the Punjab-Haryana model. The key difference, however, is in the lives of the people, particularly 90 per cent belonging to the marginal and small farmers (1.16 million) category who are able to operate against heavy odds of tenancy arrangement only on about half of the 10.743 million operational hectares in Bihar. Hence, the inclusive approach needs to reach out to these bottom millions.

The Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana (RKVY) since 2007-08 is again a part of the trinity belatedly ushered in as panacea for the agrarian crises plaguing the country since 1999-2000. The other initiative is the National Food Security Mission (NFSM) concentrating on wheat, paddy and pulses in some select districts in every State. The third one is creation of the agriculture technology management agency (ATMA) in each of the districts as a public-private partnership entity. The ATMA is indeed the key element and the ‘soul’ of the agricultural sector enterprise. But it is also a classic case of complete abdication of the State’s responsibilities enshrined in the State list.

Avoid Punjab-Haryana Model for Agriculture

IN reality, the RKVY is one of the boldest programmes that theoretically provide unlimited opportunities for a district-centric primary sector-led development plan to leapfrog into an enviable growth path. The CM-DM combination failed to seize the opportunity and fell prey to the ‘one- size-fits-all’ district planning template designed and provided by the Planning Commission. The buck finally must stop at this CM-DM duo.

Despite flawed tenancy arrangements, the empirical evidence between 1999-2000 and 2005-06 indicate some resilience efforts that have been completely missed out by the so-called road- map arrived at by following a consultative process (Kisan Panchayat) in 2008. During this peak agrarian crises period, while the sown area under total foodgrains declined by slightly over 0.53 million hectares, the total foodgrains production declined by nearly 3.7 million metric tonnes. On the other hand, the area under total coarse grains increased by over 5000 hectares and production by about 0.07 million metric tonnes.

Questions like who are the consumers of these coarse cereals and where are the markets for these primary commodities should be addressed with all sincerity at least in the genuine district agriculture development (DAD) plan. Given the plagiarised and unimaginative district agriculture plan, rural folks indeed call it a “dead” plan and they are correct both phonetically and metapho-rically. The technically correct nomenclature is CDAP—comprehensive district agriculture plan.

Vulnerabilities

BIHAR has a track record of natural disasters that are generally categorised as slow onset events. Hence these are manmade due primarily to their propensity to extract nature’s bounty without any concern for sustainability. The concealed land tenancy patterns along with the rush towards the public-private partnership mode of development for pelf (PPP4P) not only heightens the vulnerability, the frequency of occurrences too has risen. These vulnerabilities are amenable to timely corrective mitigating actions. More importantly, adaptation to a sustainable deve-lopment paradigm will be most beneficial. For instance, the recurring floods and droughts leave their first and lasting impression on the agricul-turally dependent population. The condition of maize cultivators in the recent past is a case in point. Did the State Seeds Corporation or any other public institution like the Agricultural Produce Marketing Board come in with a relief package? The maize cultivation season this year has seen some suicides and many instances of spurious seeds and back-tracking on the contra-ctual terms. The insensitivities demonstrated by the State agencies certainly need to be corrected post-haste as the State has the natural advantage to grow the crop in three seasons, namely, autumn, rabi and summer, but is not integral to the food security options.

Rural Indebtedness

ISSUES of consumption and indebtedness in the Bihar economy attain grave proportions because the default-setting favours redistribution of generated wealth from its deprived (marginal and small farmers) to its wealthiest in the oligarchic formation to accumulate dispropor-tionate riches. My friends remind me that Nitish Kumar, during his brief ‘avatar’ as the Union Agriculture Minister at the Centre, had requested each State to repeal the draconian Public Demand Recovery Act promulgated in the early 20th Century by the British rulers. The statute still in use provides for jail term to defaulting farmers even for an insignificant sum besides recovering the jail expenses from the farmers. Hopefully, Nitish Kumar during his second term will be able to now practise what he preached in early 2000.

While the Bihar farmer household’s incidence of indebtedness (2002-03) is the third lowest (33 per cent), Punjab (65 per cent) and Haryana (53 per cent) figure among the top three. The 63rd round (2006-07) of the NSS, on the other hand, indicates that the share of food in the total expenditure in the rural household is the highest (60 per cent) in Bihar and so is the case (26 per cent) for the share of cereals in the total expenditure. In comparison Punjab (43 and eight per cent) and Haryana (47 and nine per cent) report the lowest shares of food and cereals respectively in the total expenditure. The sad part of this story in Punjab and Haryana is that the skewed pattern has been financed by the Central funds and market extractions have been adopted most vigorously.

Why Obscure Rural Infrastructure?

BIHAR is well known for a large margin of bureaucratic error in both the planning and execution arenas and this has attained monu-mental proportions. The classic case in point is the “Gol Ghar”—the foodgrains storage facility created by the imperial bureaucrats. Alas! Bihar cannot claim ‘hamare pas “gol ghar” hai’ from the roof-tops in a typical Bollywood style.

Compared to the contemporary flavour in infrastructure—roads and bridges—food as well as livelihood security concerns have been certainly obscured in Bihar. For instance, nine out of every ten people in the State live in villages and in all probability operate on a mere one-third operational area under cultivation for their livelihood. The average size of a holding is a tiny 0.75 hectare when the last count was made public.

‘Gol Ghar’, in a positive sense, is a symbol of commitment for ensuring food security. It is indicative of the sensitivities of the State in general and babudom in particular. With a fraction of investment currently being made on the “designer roads and bridges”, useful connecti-vity and networking could have been established by building grain storage points. Unfortunately, the ‘Bharat Nirman’ template for rural infra-structure does not recognise this ground reality, but ‘Gol Ghar’ is far away from the Planning Commission’s reckoning in New Delhi.

Interestingly, the 1976 National Commission on Agriculture in Part XII Chapter 56 made a fervent plea for providing farm level storage at reasonable cost. The report did point out that over 70 per cent of the public agencies’ storage capacity was utilised by traders and over three-fourths of storage facility owned by cooperatives were used for storing fertilisers. Forty years later, things have not changed because food stockpiling is not a priority with the State.

It is often lamented that high food prices paid by the consumers do not help in raising the farmer’s income. The crucial issue here is embedded in the question: who holds the stock? If the State claims to have gained in fiscal health by narrowing down the debt liabilities, invest-ment in decentralised storage facilities at the cluster of panchayats is economically desirable as well as feasible. Then Bihar can rightly claim: ‘hamare pas “Gol Ghar” hai’ and make Punjab Haryana history. Since Bihar has already been awarded the first position in wheat production under the NFS, the realm of possibilities are indeed genuine.

Planned Spending

RECOGNISING that planned spending was tripled within the first three years of the Nitish Kumar’s first term, the drive to improve the conditions of the bottom millions toiling on the farms can be certainly attempted. For instance, the State’s economic survey confirms that nearly three-fourths of Bihar’s expenditure comes from the Centre. In 2003-04 this was a mere two-fifths. The focus on rural settlements livelihood security is imminently required and the leadership should not be found wanting in this regard.

The planned spending during Nitish Kumar’s second term is helping to obtain a market-fostering ambience. This stimulation will lead to a correction in the marketing institution as private institutions, brought in as stakeholders by either withdrawing the state institutions or out-sourcing the public institutions’ critical role, did not measure up to the challenge of the inclusive growth framework.

In the final analysis, Nitish Kumar has the life-time opportunity to rewrite the next edition of the story-line of the ABC of development for the Bihar State where Agriculture, Bureaucracy, and Caste and Corruption form the trinity. This will make or mar the remaining five years as there is hardly any credible Opposition either in numbers or voluble voices. The functional password (mantra) would be LOADS—leadership, ownership (I versus We), accountability, decent-ralisation (in an effective manner) and sustain-ability that will value regenerative principles of the Nalanda school of thought.

This ABC of development is a double-edged weapon of mass destruction. The Opposition, mutatis mutandis, can use it with the same precision to come back to power. In their efforts deprivation and the vulnerabilities of the agricultural sector could be used for re-engineering by the elements of caste and corruption in the electoral equation.

Prof J. George, an economist, is with the Institute of Economic Growth, Delhi. He was a member of the Agriculture Working Group set up by the Planning Commission for the Eleventh Five Year Plan. The views expressed here are his personal.

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