New Delhi: The new roads and flyovers that have sprung up in Patna in recent years are part of the economic turnaround of Bihar during the term of chief minister Nitish Kumar. However, official data released this month show that there are deep disparities between the capital city and other districts, both in terms of average incomes and government spending on key social programmes such as education, health and sanitation.
According to the State Economic Survey for 2009-10, Bihar suffers from “considerable regional disparities within” the state. The survey says the average income in Patna district is Rs37,737, followed by Munger, a district in south-east Bihar, which is far behind at Rs12,370, and Begusarai at Rs10,409. These are the three most “economically advantaged” districts in the state. At the other end of the spectrum are Jamui (Rs5,516), Araria (Rs5,245) and Sheohar (Rs4,398).
Patna district has only 3.4% of Bihar’s area and 5.7% of its population, but gets nearly 44% of the money spent by the state government on 38 districts. The district, which includes the capital city, also has the largest per capita expenditure— Rs29,390—while the average per capita expenditure in the state is Rs3,821.
Graphic: Paras Jain/Mint
“What Nitish Kumar has been doing in the last four years was just running a campaign. He has just constructed some roads and flyovers in Patna, that too of poor quality. No development has taken place at the ground level. He has not even opened a cycle-tyre factory, could not reopen a single sugar mill, power cut has increased, agriculture has deteriorated... Where is the development then,” said Sabir Ali, an opposition Lok Janshakti Party member of Parliament.
Since Nitish Kumar became chief minister in 2005, Bihar’s economy has grown at an average rate of 11.35%, compared with sluggish 3.5% in the 1990s.
Patna district also receives an overwhelming part of the state’s budget for crucial social expenditures such as education, health, sanitation and welfare of backward communities. The per capita expenditure on primary education in the district is Rs3,867, against the state average of Rs425, while the figures for medical facilities are Rs752 (state average Rs106.92), Rs55.4 for sanitation in Patna (Rs6.4 in the entire state) and for welfare of scheduled castes, scheduled tribes and other backward classes Rs87.46, more than three times the state average of Rs23.32.
The disparity becomes even more stark when the statistics reveal that while Patna received Rs410 crore for medical facilities, the poorest district, Sheohar, received only Rs2.9 crore. For drinking water, this impoverished district received no funds from the state share. The story is similar for districts Arwal, Nawada and Lakhisarai. For sewerage and sanitation, at least six of the 38 districts received no money. All figures are for the 2008-09 fiscal year.
However, in an interview with Mint earlier this month, Kumar said the welfare measures introduced by his government were universal. “We are providing Rs700 to each and every girl from class VI for getting school uniform, one pair of shoes and school bag. That has increased the enrolment of girls in schools. We are also providing bicycles for the girls in high schools. The number of girls going to high school was 150,000 in 2006, and now it is over 450,000,” he said, adding that the welfare schemes in the health sector also touch all sections of society.
A Patna-based social scientist, who was involved with preparing the Economic Survey but did not want to be identified, attributed the delay in equal distribution of funds to the state’s backwardness. “As Bihar is a backward state, only the capital city and the district had the absorbing capacity for funds... The state government is trying to strengthen the districts also and they will get the funds in next couple of years.”