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The off track Sushashan: Tracing the straying governance in Bihar

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In 2005, people of Bihar entrusted Nitish Kumar (JD(U) allied with BJP) for CM’s position. Before 2010 election he gained the Title of Sushasan Babu. The CM, “Sushashan Babu”, on 16 June 2013 JD(U) ended a 17-year-old alliance with BJP and quit NDA. In 2015 Mr. Kumar who got the leadership in the banner of Grand Alliance once again broke up and moved with NDA in 2017. The track of Sushashan seems to be lost in the battle for chair. Analyzing the aftermath complexities of the Nitish regime possibly indicates whether Mr. Kumar stood out in justifying his title, “sushashan babu” or not.

Education:  Passport for Future.

The Government of Bihar increased budgetary allocations on education by 10.5% in 2017-18 and 25% in 2018-19. But a report by NITI Aayog in Oct 2019 confirms that merely allocating money does not guarantee the quality index. Under that report, Bihar secured 19th position by scoring 37.3%, among 20 other states in the ‘State Education Quality Index’ (SEQI). The report further elucidated enrollment ratio only 32.7% population from the 16-17 age group, 44% transitioned from secondary to higher secondary, and 84.64% from elementary to secondary. In access to school, the state secured 42.9%, 41% in Learning outcomes, 57.7% in Equity (treating students equally), and in infrastructure and facilities the state got second the last position with 10.9%. 

As per the ranking, Bihar has witnessed a sharp decline of 9.3% in access to the schools’ category. In state there has been a systematic failure in teacher-pupil ratio, teaching quality, infrastructure, dropouts at the secondary and higher secondary level, irregular classes, etc. Another survey of Child Rights And You (CRY) and Centre For Budget And Governance Accountability (CBGA) has acknowledged that despite allocation 1/5th of the total budget, Bihar’s per-student spending is much less(₹ 9,583 per student) than state’s like Goa (which spent about ₹ 67000), Kerala (approx ₹ 39000) and Tamil Nadu (approx ₹ 24000). The state also reported only 52% professionally trained teachers implying a critical Right to Education parameters resulting in classrooms attended by a handful of unqualified teachers with almost 2 lakhs vacant post. Interestingly, only 1.6% of the school budget is spent on teacher’s training. 

Women safety and empowerment : freedom not feardom.

Being one among ‘Saat Nishchay-Vikas ki Guarantee’ agenda of JD(U), women’s safety and empowerment is a big failure. Between 2005-10, Mr. Kumar offered the female electorate a taste of freedom, reserved an unprecedented 50% seats in Panchayat and local body elections for them; his flagship initiative was the “Mukhyamantri Balika Cycle Yojana”. But the challenges are still there, just a year ago, Muzaffarpur shelter home rape case hit national headlines after a report by Tata Institute Of Social Sciences (TISS) went public. The abuse and sexual violation of the young inmates of the Muzaffarpur-based NGO (Sewa Sankalp Evam Vikas Samiti ) point to how the government failed, also nefarious activities of several state agencies got highlighted. Chandeshwar Verma, husband of Social Welfare Minister Manju Verma was accused of frequently visiting the place and spending hours there. In June 2019, a 48-year-old woman and her newly married 19-year-old daughter were punished by shaving hair and parading in a village (Bihari) of Vaishali to deprecate the rape bid against ward councilor Mohammad Khurshid. During lockdown on 3rd April, a migrant woman was sexually abused in Gaya hospital where she was kept in an isolation ward. Three days later, she died due to excessive bleeding. Behind the scene of reserved seats of local bodies election, women contesting elections as proxy candidates appears to be the status quo across Bihar. In several villages, they contest as proxy officials on behalf of their husband, who came to be called mukhiyapatis and sarpanchpatis. According to Bihar Gender Report Card 2019, issued by the Government of Bihar, 17,472 number of crimes against women was recorded in Bihar during 2018-19. Kidnapping alone constitutes 50% of the crimes committed against women in Bihar. 20% of cases filed under the Dowry Oppression, while 6% are Dowry Deaths, 9% of crimes are Rape, while 12% are under the broad bucket of Women Atrocities. The same report says that Bihar has the lowest labor force participation rate among women (aged 15-59) in India, just 4.4%. This is significantly lower than the male LFPR (71%) in the state. The average wage earnings among female regular workers are 27% lower than male regular workers.

Accountable care Healthcare.

Healthcare system happens to be a basic parameter for good governance, but  Nitish Regime did not even bother to include the health care facilities in its seven decision manifesto “Saat Nishchay- Vikas ki guarantee” in 2015 elections. Bihar’s fractured healthcare system came to limelight in 2019 when Acute Encephalitis Syndrome  ‘chamki Bukhar ‘ took more than 100 innocent lives.  AES has been killing children since 1995. In fact, according to ‘National Vector Borne Disease Control Programme’ between 2008 and 2014 AES epidemic with 44000 unknown cases and 6000 deaths across India mainly in UP and Bihar. That crisis again showed the failure of government agencies. Unsurprisingly in the NITI Aayog health index titled “Healthy States Progressive India” in 2017- 2018, Bihar secured the second-lowest position.

That was not all, it also marked as having ‘Deteriorated’ with the highest number of indicators which have fallen in the category of “deteriorated” and “most deteriorated”. An official agency of Health Ministry in 2018 – 19 revealed that 98 Primary Health centers did not meet the requirements of having one medical officer, two nurse – midwives, and not even a labor room. The district hospitals did not even qualify the minimum criteria in the state’s healthcare apparatus. The Cleanliness Survey Undertaken by the Clean India Campaign listed Bihar as least hygienic in the country. Despite receiving dubious distinction after the report and an additional 300 crore under PM-JAY/ Ayushman Bharat, no efforts have been made to change the health system. With such a horrible healthcare system, how the state is dealing with coronavirus outbreak is a question of apprehension.

Space to Social Harmony.

Mr. Kumar has followed a policy of zero tolerance towards communal forces, as he had said “he will not ruin Communalism”. But the collapse of Grand Alliance in July 2017 and the homecoming of Kumar to NDA, led BJP higher control.  Nitish did succeed in penalizing the rioters of the Bhagalpur massacre (1989-1990). But now it is rarely possible, his ally, now a dominant one cannot allow him to do so because of the hindutva card being played by his ally as an electoral savior. A report by The Indian Express in early 2018 claimed that since July 2017 after quitting the grand alliance by Mr. Kumar the state has seen a flow of communal tensions.  The report said that more than 200 cases of communal tensions have been recorded by the police including 64 in 2018. With 270 cases 2017 recorded the highest number of communal incidents in recent times.

According to the NCRB report, of the 723 incidents (India) of riots, 163 (highest in all) are from Bihar communal/Religious riots in 2017 this number is marginally increased to 167 in 2018. The involvement of Arjit Shashwat, the son of union minister Ashwini Choubey in Bhagalpur violence on 17 March 2018 which leds tension in another nine districts and the FIR against Shashwat is termed as a piece of garbage by his father Mr Choubey. Same domination was seen in Patna in last September of 2018 when district administration issued an order calling for the immersion of all the idols of Durga Puja within the stipulated time as Muharram was to follow a day later none else but the Union minister of state Giriraj Singh publicly flayed the Nitish Kumar government. Ultimately the administration withdrew its order, indicating dilution in the sushashan and promises of Mr. Kumar.

Still Sick: BIMARU and Bihar.

From 2004-05 to 2014-15 Bihar emerged as the fastest-growing state in India with 10% annual growth and remained in double-digits in 2016-17 with 10.3%. But, the economist, Kaushik Basu’s remarks, “Bihar’s high growth did not translate into a significant reduction in Poverty”, draws everyone’s attention to the fact  that between 2004-05 and 2009-10 the percentage of poor people hardly declined and has even increased in past 5 years. In the 2018 “Multidimensional poverty index ” 50 districts in the country came in BIMARU states and from 1998-99 to 2015-16 Bihar remained a multidimensional poorest state. The state massively lacks industrialization and several other factors such as apathy towards family planning,  corruption, illiteracy has contributed to poverty. Bihar’s policy makers need to centered around bringing qualitative strategies and new vision that can alleviate poverty  and not just focused annual growth. 

Weak lumps: Flowing Liquor.

Bihar prohibition and excise act came into effect on April 1st, 2016 which prohibits manufacturing, bottling, distribution, collection, storage, possession, purchase, selling or consumption of liquor. Later in 2018, this law was amended by Bihar government due to huge pressure from critics, watering down its stringency. The implementation of the law barely impacted the availability of liquor, rather, cross border smuggling or ferrying, has defied prohibition imposed by the government. 

Due to liquor being sold abundantly in the black market statewide at high prices, episodes of death owing to country-made liquor have also been reported from across the state. The ban also led to the emergence of gangs of local bootleggers and increasing corruption in the Bihar police force. This liquor ban card was played by the government to safeguard the votes from women suffering from alcoholism of men in the family. Instead of stopping, this ban acted as a catalyst for the crime and a reasonable surge by 46% from 14279 in April 2016 to 20915 in May 2020 (as per Bihar police crime data) was seen.

Nailing these points arises a questionnaire on Nitish’s Sushashan’s tag. But Bihar’s Sushashan Raj can be revived and retrieved by allocating adequate resources, along with pledged team for execution. With the loftiest youth population in India, just a resolute personality is needed to kick start the pace of development. For state to overcome its rouge attitude, people of Bihar need to redeem their ignorant behavior of glorifying past and neglecting present real issues.

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