Bihar — Part 2

The more I see of the world, the more convinced I become of two generalizations I have constructed. Generalization #1: different parts of the world display different levels of economic prosperity and development, and with time the differences accumulate thus increasing regional disparities. Generalization #2: basically all humans are the same, and at their core they all have the same innate human abilities, desires and drives. The first generalization in light of the second begs the question: what accounts for the varying degrees of success of various peoples? Why are certain aggregations of people successful while others not?

Traveling to Bihar made me acutely aware of the fact that I was in a part of the world which has been singularly unfortunate in modern times. One would have expected it to be a veritable paradise given that it has a rich and deep history, and is abundantly endowed with natural resources. What went wrong? It is a source of mystery to me.

The flight from Delhi (Patna is not directly connected to Mumbai) was seriously delayed. It was late in the evening when I checked into the hotel Maurya Patna, the best hotel in the best part of town. A machine-gun equipped policeman stationed close to the lift on my floor did much to remind me that I was in a state that is largely lawless and has massacres with fair degree of regularity.

Surveying the room and the bathroom, I did a quick calculation of the number of hours that I will spend in Patna and consoled myself that I will be too busy to note the passage of time. The air conditioning system vented an unpleasant stream of humid air into the room. I was told that the restaurant closes at 10 PM. The front desk informed me that hotels everywhere around the world shut down their restaurants at 10 PM. After checking out the room service menu, I decided to skip dinner.

The next two days I spent in the conference rooms in the hotel, meeting with a group of people who had finished touring three selected districts of Bihar: Samastipur, Muzaffarpur, and Patna. The organizers were from the Aga Khan Development Network and I was invited to take part in the de-briefing proceedings. My host was Dr Somnath Bandyopadhyay who was leading the mission to figure out what the AKDN should do to help with the development of those three districts.

The short answer to what’s wrong with these places: everything. Listening to the experiences in the field, it became clear that it is a systemic problem and that the entire ecosystem was sick. Too many people, too little land, too little production, too little education, too much government, under-performing government schemes – the list goes on.

Bihar has a population of over 80 million people, approximately that of Germany. While Germany’s annual production is valued at US$2.9 trillion, Bihar’s production is around US$24 billion, or less than 1 percent of Germany’s. Bihar’s statistics are depressing even compared to India. Its per capita annual product is a third of India’s. The growth of Bihar’s economy actually decelerated as the rest of India’s growth accelerated. In 1980s, Bihar’s real per capita income grew at 2.6 percent (national average 3.3 percent), but in the 1990s, Bihar slowed its real per capita income growth to 0.0 percent (national average 4.0 percent.) It was at the bottom of the list of 16 major Indian states.

Bihar’s agricultural productivity is half of India’s. That is all the worse because agriculture accounts for 45 percent of Bihar’s income (compared to overall for India 25 percent.) Bihar is actually almost all rural – 90 percent of the population lives in rural Bihar (compared to India’s 70 percent.) And the rural areas are crowded: the population density is nearly 900 people per sq km, about three times India’s population density. [Source.]

Not surprisingly, Bihar is at the top of the list of negative indicators. Kidnappings: 3rd highest after UP and Rajasthan. Murder rate: 2nd highest after UP. Total fertility rate: 4.4 second to UP (national average 3.3.) [Source.] Bihar trails in practically all indicators of development such as literacy rate to income distribution.

Sitting on in the de-briefing meetings, a picture of gradual and steady decline began forming in my mind. The signs were apparent. The power failed intermittently. Bihar produces no electrical power of its own. Somnath informed me that Bihar gets about 1000 MW of power from outside the state, 700 MW of which is unaccounted for. Patna consumes 300 MW, a good bit of which appears to have been used by the Rabri Devi household. It is reported that when she vacated her official Chief Minister’s residence, they had to remove 53 air conditioners.

Bihar is in dire straits and can be the textbook example of a failed state. One wonders whether bad governance is the result of poverty or whether poverty is the cause of bad governance. I suspect that it is a little of both given that democracy is the link. The people deserved their leaders such as Lalu Prasad Yadav, the guy who was at the helm of affairs for over a decade in Bihar. He is reputed to have dismissed development as of no relevance to his people.

In some sense, Lalu is right. Bihar does not need development, thank you very much. The state has over 80 million inhabitants. Sure they don’t have the GDP of Germany, but the people get by, don’t they? The land provides. And that may be the reason that Bihar is poor. You can get by somehow by doing nothing. The land is fertile to a fault. Water is abundant. In north Bihar, water is not only plentiful, there is too much of it. The story of north Bihar and its floods is something I had not known about.

[Previous post: Part 1. To be continued.]

Author: Atanu Dey


19 thoughts on “Bihar — Part 2”

  1. My geography teacher used say this about Bihar – God had created Bihar with a lot of care – fertile land, abundant water, vast mineral resources and then he did one mistake – put Biharis there. Not to malign Biharis, but the question remains how come Bihar which was at the forefront not so long ago can descend to chaos. To say that these states have had failure of leadership is to state the obvious. But how come other states with equally pernicious leadership have managed reasonably well. I believe that Bihar and UP are the key states, not withstanding whats currently happening. If the country is to join the ranks of the developed these states would need to be sorted out.


  2. Interesting to say the least. I am looking for answers myself.

    Root cause may need more indepth analysis. But once the society is deteriorating, it sinks further because many good people move away to greener pastures. Revival becomes so much more difficult. My father grew up in amongst the most backward part of Bihar – Gaya/Nalanda. Fortunately for him and for us, his rational mind protested against the social system there. Although a Brahmin, he detested the practices where all meaning of the text was lost and only the parrots remained. Then all that text was used to justify their meagre existence and maintain the status quo of poverty, caste and age old traditions.

    After getting a job in the IAF, he moved away and today even after retirement lives in Mumbai, with little interest in going back there, inspite of the ancestral property etc.. I can well empathise.

    Lallu may be a lot to be blamed along with many others in recent past. BUT, what was the state of affairs before, say in the 50s, 60s vs rest of India. When all are poor the poorest does not look that bad but I gues Bihar was still at the bottom or close to that even then. No wonder, my father even in those days never ever thought of returning back.


  3. Reminds me of an article on career, “How leaders can avoid the success trap”. “.. One of the most insidious problems for managers and their organizations is the failure phenomenon called the Success Trap …”. Probably that applies to society and civilizations too. If the environment around changes drastically or outside forces change the power equation, the most disadvantaged are quick to catch the latest bandwagon or hitch the ride with the powerful one. The most successful ones want to hang on to the past glory or stick hard and fast to what made them successful in the past. Adabtability and innovation is then more difficult. Such societies shut their doors, close themselves and try to live in a cocoon.

    If that society is lucky and gets the past leadership that made it successful, great! but most often the leaders are gone, the successors are living in the momentum of their glory, thinking we are the creators of that success. The meaning is lost, words remain. Change is resisted.

    No wonder the best of civilizations have terrible days… Babylon, Egypt, China, India… before a few wake up and shake the fabric again to dust off and bring the old shine back. But before that happens it has to reach the nadir which makes one humiliated, then loss of all ego to forget the past and look for newer options….


  4. So another one of the pedantic essays about the negatives of Bihar. In your long list of negative statistics about Bihar, please also care to mention that the central grant for Bihar in each of the five year plans since independence, Bihar’s per capita share has been the lowest; the land of Nalanda, Vikarmashila and Odantpuri does not have a single IIT, IIM or central university, no CSIR lab; no IARI lab for this largely agricultural state; the modern highways of the Golden Quad or East West Corridor inevitably pass thru Bihar but the leave all population centres of Bihar – Patna, Gaya, Bhagalpur etc etc out as if Biharis did not exist.

    If you cant do this, pls leave Bihar and Biharis alone. We know very well that we are at bottom of the heap. We find it demeaning when people go on ranting that without any attempt to highlight the role of Planning Commission, the central govt and the English language press in making the mess that Bihar is today.



  5. Be Haar…
    Be Hari

    Intellectuals have failed India, and particularly Bihar.

    Be patient and keep your eyes and especially ear open. Bihar is changing, and it has been changing for last 15 years.


  6. In my believe failure begets failure, and nothing succeeds like success. So although there can be many reasons for failure, some outside of the person/society the root cause is within. If sentiments like leave Biharis alone is said on one side how can one blame the planning commission, they gave what we wanted in first place, leave us alone!

    In one’s own family a kid does well, gains admission to the best of college, another fails and has no wish to study, where does the parent spend money. Not that he/she does not want to spend equally on all.

    I am no expert, but, the deep rooted caste system with its caste based armies has not only frightened outsiders from investing there but Biharis themselves. They would rather leave and progress elsewhere.

    The leaders within Bihar could not wipe it out, other politicians and center fuelled the fire to their own objectives. However, the fire was lit in Bihar by the Biharis.

    Note: I am a Bihari too. Better face facts for a better tomorrow. There will atleast be hope not the isolation that Bihar is today.


  7. One may rightly curse Lallu and his regime for 15 years of devastation in Bihar. But it will be quite unjust to lay all, nay even most part of the blame on him and his catorie.

    Lallu is not the cause, in fact he is the effect of a cause deep rooted in society. Believe it or not, many praised his coming to power when he first became the CM, and I mean accross caste boundaries.

    Atleast he did one favor. Took Bihar to the rock bottom from where there is only one way – UP. Bihar politics and hence the administration has been too divided, reflection of the society. Now, with lower castes asserting and winning, compromise may come more easily and muscle power may be put on Hold…. Do we have something to learn from the Mayawati here, or is that just Maya!


  8. Dear Sir,
    I read your blog with great expectations. I am from Bihar and is always on lookout for ideas through which we can impact the growth of Bihar in a positive manner.

    Its nice to write “everything” is wrong with Bihar but sir most humbly “do you have a way out?”

    To my dismay you also chose to continue Bihar bashing and highlighting the poor governance from the local leaders.
    However, what one expects from analysts today is to make an impact on the ground and not on text books.

    Bihar still being an agrarian society needs a strong infrastructure of roads to move from food crops to cash crops. We are forced to grow food crops as transporting cash crops to mandis is not feasible. The sugar mills are not working.

    Talking of the abundance of water in North Bihar, I would suggest you take a trip to Bihar in the monsoon season and would realise why abundance is not necessarily advantageous. There are no dams to harness the water and we lose huge crops in flood every year.
    Now coming to the columnists favorite Laloo bashing. Although, not a Laloo fan myself, I would like to draw your attention towards the per capita investment of center in Bihar. It has historically been the lowest. So isn’t the central leadership equally responsible for the plight. And not to mention the political compulsion of the central government, they have always chose to take Laloo’s help. If the central leaders have their compulsion cannot Laloo have one.

    I also chose to differ from your analysis of the education system in Bihar. Having seen so many states and their rural education system, I can confidently say Bihar is no worse. On papers one can calculate the ratios of population/teacher and population/school, but let not forget the quality of education. Bihar still produces the finest of Human Resources and here I would like to mention the often quoted presence of a Bihari administrative officers in the various districts of India. Similar are figures for engineers and doctors.And the best factor in the favor of Bihar education system is the willingness of people to educate their children and the importance they give to education. There are numerous examples of people selling their lands, doubling their shifts of work, just to afford sending children to schools and colleges.

    If you have visited Bihar in last few months you could not have missed the road construction taken up on war scale. The very districts you have visited are on the forefront of a revolution.
    Crime rate has come down drastically. The leadership is trying to project a positive image of Bihar to woo investors.
    Its the time when I request economists like you to highlight the positive aspects of Bihar, help us grow and help get what we deserve.
    Biharis had enough of Bihar bashing. Hasn’t helped us ever.


  9. Some good recent news from Bihar:
    1. awarded as India`s best eCulture website
    2. Bihar’s tiny school is churning out IIT-ians
    3. Global Meet for a Resurgent Bihar
    4. India Inc to give Bihar a facelift
    5. Japanese bank to fund road project in Bihar

    Need more of these…


  10. It’s not just bad governance, it is the lack of freedom. As you may observe all over the world, freer a country is, better off it is. By free I mean both political and economic freedom, which at root are the same.
    Simply free the people of Bihar from strangulation of endless bad laws and regulations,let the state concentrate on providing security(the good governance part),and in a decade or so Bihar will begin to look a up-coming Hong Kong.
    There you have it-the best and the fastest working solution. It works where ever tried.


  11. Look..Bihar has everything except will power. Bihar can change if every Bihari wants to change this state…but..Lalu and Rabri would continue to give their best and Bihari will grow in all areas..from kidnapping, murder, cheatings and other great things. One of my friends went to Bihar and he was robbed, beaten badly and some Biharis also urinate over his face…, WHAT A FRUSTATION….iF BIHARIS get a chance,they will make whole world “Bihar” a Stigma…..maro sale biharion ko…sabse pehle Rishi bihari ko..


  12. Babua ko mania hoi gava re..Bihar se…Well, i think twice before going to Bihar..iT IS LIKE A HELL on Earth..Lalu should be given the best Babua prize for putting his best efforts in the ruining of Bihar..Bihar the land of Shahbuddin, kidnapping, Pappu Yadav, murder, extortion, Mafia..and what not…yeah..some more can be added in the coming years…Lalu has made this great state a living hell on Earth…Shame on such politician…Babua ne Bihar ko Mania bana diya re..


  13. For Arvind above:

    Fact facing does not mean allowing oneself to be denigrated. If a child in a family falls behind, cultured families pool resources to pull him up, not push him further into an abyss. The continuous barrage of negative articles on Bihar out to prove nothing good can ever comes out of it are just that. Even good news is given a bad slant. Case in point – when underprivileged children from a village near Gaya started to get into IIT in droves in mid nineties, it was implied the centre at Gaya allowed unfair means!!! The impoverished children now undertake the journey to Varanasi for JEE and the numbers have gone up further!!! Who cares for such facts?

    The exhortation to leave Bihar alone is to pedantic pen pushers who can do nothing more than write long essays to demonise Bihar. The types of the Planning Commission, NHAI & other such bodies have to be made accountable for their decades and decades of neglect and made to earn their pensions. Sensitivity and empathy while reporting are the minimum requirement for any good to come out of an endeavour to improve Bihar.



  14. Heck…another lalita jee types moronic, one sided and blockheaded representation of data and facts. The problem with likes of Dey is they lack proper understanding of development as social process and merely go by statistical numbers to prove some rakings which represents only part of the story.

    He is blissfully ignorant of the developments which have been taking place in Bihar. Simply putting numbers do not convey the true picture. Spend some time to understand the cultural, social and intellectual capital of the state before making verbose statements on the basis of your one day visit.

    Last but not the least folks like him can only write commentaries but seriously can’t be constructive in their approach and work for betterment. I think the state can do better without your jaundiced representation of facts.


  15. ”Sure they don?t have the GDP of Germany, but the people get by, don?t they?
    The land provides. No doubt about it

    And that may be the reason that Bihar is poor. You can get by somehow by doing nothing. The land is fertile to a fault. Water is abundant.

    In north Bihar, water is not only plentiful, there is too much of it. The story of north Bihar and its floods is something I had not known about.”

    Yes you are right, of course.. people get by. And they do not crib or cry for things they have no use of. There are also less instances of farmer commiting suicide.

    You say 90% of Bihar is rural population, with density of 900/ and that Bihar is a farming centered economy.

    If you think about it ,people in Bihar would be having very small land holding per capita, and this keeps on getting smaller and smaller with every passing generation. The end result ; commercial profit making farming is a non starter. Still, Bihar is self sufficient in agricultural products and sells surplus grain to many other ‘developed’ states of India. Given a background of these circumstances.. an average Bihar farmer produces much much more grain per square centimeter. And that too, without hybrid seeds, pumping sets et all.

    When Jharkhand was part of Bihar. coal lines supplied coal to the whole country on a ridiculously subsidized freight rate. Why dint the central government open a hub of national thermal power generating stations during that time. Just imagine if erstwhile Bihar had 20 large thermal power stations situated near coal mining areas and connected to the national grid. central India would never have had power crisis. Enough coal was/is there to sustain these demands. Who is to blame ? Lalu- Rabri ?

    There is only one bridge across Ganges at Patna; this is a national shame.. what were the pseudo intellectuals doing in Delhi for the past 60 years…waiting for the cement n rebar rates to fall down, maybe ? No ?

    And then you talk about water and fertility of the soil. And, oh also something about floods ? Right. It would have been better if you had read UN report on flood and drought in Bihar and Bangladesh.

    Have you spared a thought about the poor and downtrodden.. They are getting more poorer…and frustrated. They are invoked to picking up arms against the establishment by vested interests camouflaged as leftist parties. what you have is a broad band of land starting from coastal southern India and passing through Andhra, M.P, Chattisgarh, Jharkhand, Bihar and into Nepal… into China. What is the center doing/has done about it sir ?

    I am not anywhere near what a professional ‘thinker’ and ‘writer’ can invoke; hence I would request you not to write biased or generalized views. People read you, respected educated people read you, and what you say will be believed by them. There is no doubt that Bihar is a struggling state. give it a fair chance. If you report 10 negatives.. then at least put two positives too; I am sure there are more than 20% development happening in Bihar. Wouldn’t you agree ?

    There is this story about a Sage and his disciple, the disciple wants to know why the poor become poorer and the rich get richer. To answer, the Sage tells his disciple to get him a brick from a well. When he returns, the Sage asks him to show the place where he brought the brick from. What he sees are two almost identical wells. one is very clean, the other is broken. The disciple tells that he took the brick from the broken well, because it was already broken, and no body cared if you took anything from there. That is the answer. Something that is broken/ poor /weak is always exploited. it does mot get a chance to redeem itself… that’s why poor become poorer and rich becomes richer. Isn’t the case same with Bihar ?

    Should we not try to mend it rather than sending people to get bricks from it ?

    And, oh; the next time you smell and inhale tepid air in your hotel room.. call the room service or floor manager. they take care of it.. don’t they ? It certainly doesn’t deserve a mention on a socio economical critic that you seem so fond of penning.

    Be well,

    Chandan Singh.


  16. To the Author,
    If you cant be a solution then pls refrain yourself from being labelled as another problem. We Biharis have work to do for our state. We know there are problems and that needs to be sorted out. We are aware of that.

    Mind you (Babua) if today Bihar and UP are out of India and that would mean Pulling back Biharis and UPs from all the states, there will be nothing left in other state to maintain their so called development.

    I lived in Bangalore for 9 yrs and there except MG Road and few other localities every other place is crap, Roads have potholes, traffic staled and lots of other problems. I am not counting other parts of Karnataka here. They are worst than it can be imagined. Has anyone been there?

    We Biharis dont sell our daughters like ppl in Andhra do. Our farmers do not suicide like Andhra and Karnataka.

    And last but not least mind your tongue before you speak. I know its a free world but sometimes your word can take you to real hell. What impression non-Biharis have got about Bihari, the same impression west carries towards Indians (especially so called elite class Indians).


  17. i request to all the authors to stop blaming bihar.if they can’t suggest to improve the condition of the state then they should stop blaming it.


  18. what do u mean by development?copying the western culture….the backbone of our country is agriculture and india can never stand in the list of developed countries without our main focus should be on agriculture…and i think this time you will not find bihar on the bottom ..we have good land,better resources,excellent manpower,only the thing we have to do is to utilise it in a proper way and then we will be in a much better condition..and you all say bihar is low in literacy,yes i agree with you but then also the boy who topped cbse x was a stop commentig and start writing the solutions..


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