Bihar: High Growth Fails to Reduce Poverty

BeyondHeadlines News Desk

Nitish govt is riding on growth wave but a reality check shows not much change in the ground situation …

The word “Bihar” has always been conjured an image of poverty, backwardness, violence and failed governance. All along media has been portraying the miseries of people for last two decades. With the change of government in 2005, hopes had risen that things would change in the state and lot of people would improve in the next five to seven years. But have things fallen in line since then, it seems the time has come to evaluate the state of affairs in Bihar.

No doubt in the last seven years, the new government has shown some character and the sense of insecurity in the minds of people is now a fact of bygone era. The state has been growing with a double-digit rate for last four years. In the four successive years since 2008-09 state’s GSDP registered 14.58 percent, 10.42 percent, 14.77 percent and 13.13 percent respectively. But even after registering one of the highest growths in the country for four consecutive years, have things actually changed on the ground and improved the lot of people at large? The answer appears to be in a big no, as data release by planning commission show that half of the state still live below poverty line (BPL).

Keeping in view the alarming figures on poverty in Bihar, one of the members of planning commission Abhijit Sen had recently said, “It is a matter of serious concern that there is no decline in poverty in Bihar despite a high growth rate and development.”

Dr. Sen, also a well-known economist, said that while Bihar had been maintaining good growth rates, it had failed to reduce the rate of poverty. “Bihar has impressed many with its high growth rate. That is good. But at the same time, the state has not seen a decline in the rate of poverty. It is still at the bottom of the pile and has a lot of catching up to do,” he said.

During the 11th plan period (2007-12), Bihar has added 50 lakh people to the number of its poor, by far the largest number of any Indian state in this period. A look at Planning Commission numbers for 2009-10 and 2004-05 shows that poverty has declined at a negligible rate in Bihar, so much so that the absolute number of people living in poverty has actually increased. In 2009-10, 55.3 percent of Bihar was under the poverty line as compared to 53.5% in 2004-5.

To add to this the population of the state has also shown a decadal growth more than the national average, which also added more people under BPL in absolute number. Bihar had a decadal growth population by 28.6 percent in the 2011 census, where as the national average stood at 17.6 percent.

Therefore, now no one would be constraint to claim that in Bihar riche became richer and poor became poorer and this can be further endorsed by an empirical analysis of an event, which this author had seen during his visit to a West Champaran district village named Kesariya to attend a family function.

An elaborate puja (rituals) was performed by one of the relative families of the author. It was a 12-hour exercise and after the completion of all the rituals, there was a dinner scheduled to be served to all present in and around the area.
However, since morning, children of poor families of the village were seen flocking around the house of the author’s relative in the hope of getting something to eat. But since their presence was disturbing and obstructing the function to go on smoothly, one member of the family drove all the children surrounding the house away by threatening to beat them with a stick. Sensing the risk of being beaten up the children fled away. But the same exercise got repeated again and again throughout the day, as children used to come back to wait to get something to eat. Most of the children were necked or half necked portraying the true picture poverty in the state.

It to utmost surprise to this author that in the evening, when the rich family was to feed the poor children in the hope of earning God’s blessings, the same children were sitting in the row to get food. They were eating the normal “mid-day-meal” stuff as if they have not eaten for sometime. The scene was so appalling and pathetic that one was forced to ask if the Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS) is working in the state or not, where the state government has claimed that it has spent on the scheme Rs. 818.20 crore.

However, in the past one decade there is no doubt that the weakest sections of the society has made rapid gains in their material wellbeing, acquiring assets such as cell phones, televisions, two-wheelers and bank accounts. But almost half the population of scheduled castes in the state continue to live by the light of the humble kerosene lamp, much more than the national number of 31 per cent.

The latest data of census 2011 has also shown that asset poverty has declined substantially. In fact the decline in the number of dalits having assets is comparable to the numbers nationally.

In 2001, 42.6 per cent of SC were without any of the 13 assets specified in the houselisting survey of the Census. In 2011, this had come down to 22.6 per cent. Nationally, the percentage of households without any assets came down to 17.8 per cent from 34.5 per cent.

This means nearly 80 per cent of Dalits had one of the specified assets, which includes a bank account, radio, television, bicycle, car, telephone, mobile, computer and internet connectivity. While half the Dalit population has a bank account, 40 per cent have TV sets and another 51 per cent have telephone connectivity. In 2001, just 25 per cent had bank accounts, and 21 per cent had a television, while a phone connection was available with just 3.5 per cent.

The decline in asset poverty of Dalits has been striking in the erstwhile Bimaru states such as Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. While 67.5 per cent of SC in Bihar had no assets in 2001, this has halved to 38.9 per cent now. In UP, where 26 per cent had no assets a decade earlier, the figure has come down to 15 per cent.

In Kerala, where the figure was 47 per cent a decade before, it is now 11 per cent. In Bengal, where 38 per cent had no assets earlier, it is 28.3 per cent. Ownership of motorised vehicles has increased from 5.3 per cent to 11.9 per cent.

However, a majority of SC still have no electricity. In Uttar Pradesh, 74 per cent of SC households depended on kerosene for light. In West Bengal, it is 56.4 per cent, in Odisha, 63 per cent. In Jharkhand, 60 per cent. Nationally, the dependence on kerosene as the sole source of light was only 31 per cent. (Courtesy: Sopan Step)

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