Bihar evolves new growth paradigm

Nitish defies neoliberal prescriptions to develop more inclusive economy


Ajay Singh | August 28, 2012

Cynicism often creates blind spots which distort vision. Of late Indian political scenario seems to be hugely afflicted by this malady which is going undiagnosed. Heart-warming developments emerging from various parts of the country are being clouded by the dust of allegations of corruption and malfeasance of gargantuan proportions in governance.

One such positive development comes from Bihar. Mangala Rai is an internationally celebrated agriculture scientist. In his current assignment as adviser to Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar, Rai has been focusing on growth of agriculture in the state. And he has an interesting story to tell. Despite being hit by drought, the state is all set to post a growth of about 30 percent in agriculture sector this year. By all yardsticks, this is not only unprecedented but phenomenal too.

How has this miracle become possible? Rai explains it very succinctly, “Perseverance and desire at the top.” Nitish Kumar in his speeches has been consistent in his approach to double the agriculture production sooner than later. His objective is simple: every dining table in India must have vegetables from Bihar.

Only five years back, it looked like a dream which would fade away with the dawn. But this was not to be. Nitish Kumar worked overtime to improve the nearly stagnant agriculture of the state. He created model seed centres in certain pockets and ensured that farmers got quality seeds. At the same time, there has been a consistent effort to educate farmers about the high-yield agriculture practices without disturbing the soil nutrients.

This endeavour, carried out silently, is about to bear fruits now. All indications are that Bihar’s rural economy has been buoyant. And the spill-over effect is evident in the urban centres in a state which has the lowest rate of urbanisation at around 13 percent. Patna’s real estate prices can outstrip Delhi’s NCR region hands down and even easily match those of Mumbai. Even in cities like Muzaffarpur, Siwan, Darbhanga and Madhubani, which are an apology in the name of urbanization, real estate has been spiralling out of control.

In fact, Bihar has been uniquely placed in India’s context. Given its high population density, pressure on land is intense. Agriculture is the major source of livelihood in absence of industrialisation. Perhaps Bihar stands out as a paradox in the India Shining story. Still the state has been consistently growing at the rate of over 16 percent, the highest in the country. There is no doubt that much of this growth comes from the state spending on social welfare schemes and building up of infrastructure. Unlike the country’s developed regions, the industry and service sectors of Bihar are lagging far behind to make a meaningful contribution in the state’s growth.

By economic standards, Bihar virtually offers an inverted model of growth inconsistent with the overall growth narrative. Nitish Kumar has been making all-out efforts to inject buoyancy in rural market by improving agriculture. Perhaps he seems to be aware of his handicap that the land is too scarce and priced to be given for industrial growth. That is why he has been insisting on shifting the proposed international mega airport for the state to areas like Gaya where barren land could be used for making an international airport. Similarly he turns to be an environmentalist when it comes to allotment of mining rights in and around hills in Gaya and adjoining regions of central and south Bihar. “No mining can be allowed in Bihar,” he told the planning commission tersely when some officials requested him to open mining to give fillip to growth.

On the face of it, Bihar appears to be posting a growth which is not sustainable if one believes in prescriptions of neoliberal economists. But there are enough straws in the wind to suggest that Bihar is on the cusp of defying this theory and evolve a new model which may be far more inclusive and environment-friendly than the existing models. If the agriculture growth story proves to be true, this innovative model is bound to fuel an intense political and economic debate in the country.



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