Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Transformation of Bihar

It is wonderful to see Bihar in the news for the right reasons!

But I just don`t get it. On one hand you have Lalu Prasad Yadav who left Bihar in shambles to become a celebrated Railway Minister, and on the other, you have a former railway minister, Nitish Kumar, who picks up the pieces in Bihar and then turns it around the same state in just five years!

How did a state with a population of 82 million which was `first devastated by colonial policies that enshrined feudal landlords, then shunned by a succession of Indian governments, and finally riven and destroyed when seeds of caste and conflict matured into a small-scale civil war in the 1970s`, make such a transformation?

How did Nitish Kumar make a difference?

According to Jason Overdorf, the key steps taken by the new Chief Minister -

  • focused on competence over patronag;
  • broke the trend of over-centralized state powers , and delegated more financial and administrative powers to officials in the field;
  • updated archaic rules that made civil engineers seek minister-level approval to spend absurdly low amounts of money;
  • re-established cabinet meetings as a weekly event, where in years past the cabinet did not meet for months
  • redefined the basic functions of institutions, essentially requiring offices to do the world they`d been assigned;
  • ended the widespread `transfer industry`, which sold coveted bureaucratic posts to the highest bidders, and handpicked bureaucrats became known for their competence.
  • to fill vacancies in the police force, he tapped trained personnel among the state`s ex-soldiers;
  • he publicly supported the police after they made high-profile arrests of criminals. Those jailed included MPs (Md. Sahabuddin, Pappu Yadav, Munna Shukla) but also an MLA from his own party;
  • managed to redress the state courts` abysmal conviction rate by instituting fast-track courts and working with the judiciary to focus on career criminals` most easily prosecuted offenses to ensure that they swiftly found themselves behind bars. The moves resulted in 39,000 convictions between 2006 and 2009, compared to less than 10,000 in the previous decades;
  • by retooling the bureaucracy in charge of implementing state projects, Kumar has been able to boost spending on government programs. Bihar`s outlays...rose from $320 million in 2001 to $3.5b last year, significantly outpacing the growth in central government funding in for Bihar;
  • added more than 100,000 teachers added in primary schools; better oversight of doctors and staff working at rural health centers. Primary-care centers that used to see 30 patients a month now see 3,600 - because people have a reasonable expectation that the doctors have shown up for work.
 So, despite the economic crisis and three years of droughts and floods, Bihar posted 11% average economic growth over Kumar`s five years in office, making it the second fastest growing state in India (after Gujarat), and the second-hottest-growing major economy in the world after China. In what was impassable badlands, the administration laid 6,800km of roads, built 1,600 bridges and culverts and cut journey time in half in many areas. Car sales eclipsed kidnappings, as crimes by roving bandits fell steadily from 1,297 to 640 and kidnappings for ranson fell from 411 to 66 between 2004 and 2008...the number of foreign tourists shot up from 95,000 to 356,000 over the past two years.

This is nothing short of astounding!

I am now curious to know how he `retooled the bureaucracy` and from where he managed not only all the extra funds but also the right kind of people to manage it...


Reference / Links

Overdorf, Jason (2010), From Worst to the Near First - how India`a most desperate state transformed itself to become a model for the rest of the country, Newsweek, 22 Feb. 2010

Goyal, Malini (2010), Bihar Rising From the Shadows, Forbes-India, 20 March 2010 -
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