With the announcement of the state election in three phases, Bihar is poised to have a new Vidhan Sabha (the Lower House of the provincial Legislature). According to the Election Commission of India -- the single federal authority in-charge of nation-wide elections (unlike the USA) -- the first day of the poll, 28 Oct 2020, will cover 16 districts (71 constituencies). The second round of the election will be conducted on 3 Nov 2020 covering 17 districts (94 constituencies) and the final poll on 7 Nov 2020 will wrap up the remaining 78 constituencies in 15 districts.
Here are the NINE POINTS that must be a part of the resolve and determination of all political parties, their leaders and the people who wish to lift Bihar to the status of a leading state of India.
We, the citizens of Bihar, must insist and demand of all the political parties and their leaders to have these points not only included in their platform but observe and implement them faithfully on assuming power.
I. Selection of Untainted, Incorruptible and Competent Candidates
All political parties must declare a pledge that they would nominate and field for the Vidhan Sabha seats a candidate who has NOT been involved in any criminal activities, past or present. The process of cleansing the Bihar political system of the bahubalis' presence must start with the major political parties and their leaders. However, the Election Commission representative in a district, usually a District Magistrate, can also be of decisive help. He or she must be empowered by the EC and the local civil societies to weed out criminals or anti-social elements from the electoral process.
The DM must also restrain a known criminal from taking part in the political campaign.
The voters of Bihar must also take a pledge that under no circumstances they would vote for a person who tries to capitalize on his reputation as a bahubali. A criminal, corrupt, and anti-social person would bring a bad name to the party, community, or the social group he/she claimed to be a part of. The socio-political system of Bihar has to liberate itself from the clutches of the criminals and unsavory elements.
The political parties must give tickets to bright, younger, and deserving candidates with a clean image. It’s a reality in Bihar that the party tickets would eventually be distributed on the primary consideration of caste, the nomination must go to the best candidates of a caste.
II. Fast Track Courts on Corruption and Criminal Cases
The legislature must make laws and the government constitute fast track courts to expedite cases where an offender is apprehended in corrupt and/or criminal acts. By drafting the services of the Bihar Judicial Officers under a District Judge, such courts could be constituted at every district headquarters.
In the first term of the Chief Minister, Nitish Kumar (2005-10), a lot of drumbeat was heard about the fast track courts, but nothing substantial was reported to have come out of it.
The government must also introduce a proper, consistent and generous way of rewarding its personnel who excel in their performance and present examples of honesty and integrity to the public.
III. Medical Facilities, Public and Individual Health
Medical facilities must be accessible at all the village, small and big town levels. That would mean maintenance of all existing government health and medical centers as well as addition of more where needed. There must be a strong legal punishment for dereliction of duties and for pilferage of medical supplies -- the two chronic vices in the Bihar medical sector. Health professionals (including the doctors) must not be found working at other places when they should be on duty at their assigned place of work.
The government must be cognizant and make people aware of many public health issues widely unknown to the vulnerable sections of the state’s population.
For example, according to a recent report, there has been a disturbing 44% increase in the suicide rate in Bihar making it the leading Indian state in suicides. Adequate arrangements must be made for early detection and treatment including counseling of the likely patients.
Noise pollution is another major public health issue in Bihar. The high volume of constant honking and traffic noise or unrestrained use of loudspeakers everywhere have necessitated average people to talk a lot louder. If this continues apace, people will become hard of hearing, speak in a high tone and stay agitated or distraught.
The consumption of tobacco or tobacco products and the practice of spitting around could have a dangerous impact on public health. The government must ensure administrative alertness and public education to deal with these challenges.
Consumption of contaminated water causes water-borne diseases and non-availability of pure drinking water is a source of perpetual public health hazard. The natural storage of under-surface water is threatened because of indiscriminate pumping off of this precious resource by practically every household in Bihar. It’s time now for the municipal or the Gram Panchayat authorities to levy a proportionate fee for mechanically drawing under-surface water. This will achieve two useful purposes: first, people will gradually learn to conserve water and second, it will yield some revenue to the local governments.
The small and large ponds of the villages and the cities, once the beauty of Bihar, must be restored and maintained.
IV. Environment, Pollution and Waste Management
Pollution and haphazard disposal of waste is a chronic problem in Bihar. Garbage piles or puddles of dirty water -- a common sight -- are the sources and incubators of many deadly infectious diseases. Bihar is visited by such diseases every year. Adequate and timely measures must be taken first to prevent infectious viruses from entering the communities.
Since there aren’t very many heavy industries in Bihar, it must be one of the leading states to generate and expand the green environment. Rapid plantation and afforestation with all seasonal fruit plants like those of banana, mango and lychee (and their canning) will make Bihar one of the leading export centers of fruits. The state government must offer small trees with a token financial incentive and make it mandatory for small vacant land holders to plant them. Extensive plantation will be financially profitable in the long run and saturate the environment with clean air in a densely populated land of Bihar.
Education system has to be overhauled from the primary to the university level. For decades now teachers in the government schools haven’t been teaching, students and parents have given up hopes and, therefore, they rely on private schools, tuition or coaching.
The mid-day meal program introduced at the primary/secondary schools to ensure students’ attendance and for the advancement of education has now strayed in a completely different direction. The meal preparation and feasting of the teachers and students have become the main chore that consumes the entire time of the school staff. Most local kids are also sent by their parents just at the meal time and then they go back home.
The parents not having trust in the government schools send their kids to private schools that have mushroomed and are largely money-making enterprises.
The government teachers are hired haphazardly part-time as if they were “daily wage-earners.” The power given to the head of the village panchayat, the mukhiya, to appoint teachers -- an experiment in empowering local elected representatives -- degenerated into naked nepotism. Corruption galore everywhere.
At the university and college levels, such decades-old dysfunctions as derailment of academic sessions, non-attendance of students, truancy of instructors or flawed testing and result systems still abound.
The school drop-outs, unemployed or unemployable younger kids often seen roaming around on the streets or neighborhoods constitute the single largest subgroup that needs urgent attention, if Bihar has to surge ahead.
The overhauled education system must prioritize vocational training for the youth to become immediately employable and be productive.
VI. Raising Revenue
An alarming 76% of the total revenue spent on Bihar comes as the central aid. Bihar generates only 24% of the total expense it incurs on all its programs and projects. It must be a matter of grave concern for all self-respecting Biharis. If this dependency continues, Bihar and its governments, will always be prisoners of the federal government’s dictates. This financial paralysis or dependency has to be unacceptable.
Bihar being India’s most densely populated state, with an estimated 1,106 persons per square kilometer (as against the national average of 464, according to 2011 census report), the hope of setting up heavy industries widely is practically ruled out. Agriculture, tourism, small-scale industries, including agro-based industries, service, education and training sectors are its best bet to raise revenue and compete with other states.
Since the prohibition has shown its positive impact on the rural and urban Bihari society, it must continue as a general policy. However, regulated alcohol sales could be allowed through special permission in certain exceptional cases -- this step will modestly raise the revenue and eliminate the underground black market or smuggling of alcohol. Enforcement of prohibition policy will become easier.
VII. Provide Special Protection and Welcoming Environment to the Migrant Biharis
As the saying goes: “Biharis go out of Bihar, but Bihar never goes out of them.” Regardless of whether they labor in the brick kiln of Punjab or in the challenging conditions of the Middle East or whether they are engaged as administrators, educators, journalist or other professionals in any other part of India, or whether they have settled in a rich-economy country, all migrant Biharis are passionate about staying connected to their roots. They are a massive source of remittance to the state. Therefore, their unique attachment to their motherland must be channelized constructively and profitably.
The government must have a special ministry to supervise protection of the families and assets of the migrant or overseas Biharis. A welcoming environment must be created for them to bring in their expertise and investment in the state.
VIII. Development of Tourism Industry
In addition to its natural fauna and flora and historic spots, Bihar is a unique province to have places of religious significance to several Faiths. The Buddhists, the Sikhs, the Jains besides the Hindus and the Muslims from all around the world could be attracted to Bihar for pilgrimage and tourism. The government of Bihar must increase its effort several fold to turn Bihar into a tourism destination.
IX. Promotion of Bihari Art and Culture
The overwhelming popular (Bollywood) culture and the ubiquitous vulgar songs and music in local dialects, disseminated by the social media and smartphones, have completely dulled the artistic and cultural sensibilities of the younger generations in Bihar. They have scarce knowledge about the rich cultural heritage of their own land. Their ignorance has sadly been accelerated by the collapse of the composite- comprehensive education system. Excessive politicization and social division have also played a role in the decline of artistic or cultural pursuits.
Through curriculum, training and public relations, immediate measures must be taken for the citizenry in general and the youth in particular to develop appreciation for the art and culture of Bihar. The society must throw up more artists and cultural leaders of national and international standing.
At the advent of each general election in Bihar, the political parties perfunctorily present a manifesto to which no one pays attention. As a result, the routine cycle of candidate selection (based on caste equation) by the satraps of the parties, the campaign and the casting of ballots is completed without a public debate on policies and programs. The people’s input, their voice or their say is greatly amiss.
The NINE points outlined above must be considered as some of the most critical prerequisites demanded by “the people” for the province of Bihar to forge ahead. They are also the minimum program; people can compel the political parties and their leaders to commit to and execute.
Dr. Binoy Shanker Prasad hails from Darbhanga and currently resides with his family in Dundas, Ontario (Canada). A former UGC teacher fellow (at JNU) in India and Fulbright scholar in the USA, he has taught politics and authored conference papers, articles and chapters on Bihar in previously published books in the United States, India, and Canada.
Dr. Prasad administers a Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/OverseasBihari and has sponsored “Aware Citizenship Campaign” at a micro-level in his home-town.