New Delhi: Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar stormed back to power in the recently concluded elections largely on the strength of his reputation for having pushed development in the state during his first term at its helm.
That’s borne out by one set of numbers at least. The highest expenditure on building roads in rural areas in the first six months of the fiscal year was incurred by Bihar, which held assembly elections in October and November.
Kumar was re-elected on the plank of development and improved road connectivity.
According to data released by the ministry of rural development, Bihar spent Rs970 crore under the Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana (PMGSY) in the six months to September.
The data was issued in response to a Parliament question earlier this week.
“Nitish Kumar in Bihar in the last four-five years has become well known for his development work, which included roads. This is a reflection of just that—Nitish’s larger development programme,” said Yamini Aiyar, a senior research fellow and director of the accountability initiative, Centre for Policy Research.
PMGSY, a centrally sponsored scheme, was launched in 2000 to build tarred roads connecting villages. It has been allotted around Rs.8,000 crore in the current fiscal year.
Bihar has spent 90% of the total Rs1,067 crore released to it under the scheme so far. Madhya Pradesh got Rs855 crore, around 80% of which has been utilized. In the last few fiscal years, states such as Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Orissa have spent the most on rural roads.
“The release of funds and expenditure depends on the need for connectivity in the state and has nothing to do with elections. But, perhaps, impending elections do become an added incentive for more work,” said a ministry official who did not want to be identified.
Of the total target of 4,644km of rural roads in 2010-11, Bihar constructed only around 1,000km.
“Given that it is a centrally sponsored scheme, where funds are released by the Centre, there are two possibilities of such high expenditure on roads in Bihar. One, that it is political and the Centre wanted to pump in more money this year to have a greater stake in the election. Two, the greater release could actually reflect the effort being put in by the administration in spending the funds fast and effectively,” Aiyar added.
However, the ministry data also shows that the maximum number of complaints received in the last three years on the quality of new PMGSY roads are also from Bihar. They account for 130 of the total 402 complaints.
When Mint had travelled to the Naxal-affected Gaya and Buxar districts of Bihar in October—ahead of the polls —there was enthusiasm for the improved access.
“We now have proper roads and it has made even business easier for us. Nitish in the last two years has made a lot of roads in villages,” said Anand Kumar of Imamganj assembly constituency in Gaya district.
Meghraj Ojha of Rajpur assembly constituency in Buxar district agreed. “The roads may have been built by funds from the Centre and not really by Nitish. However, he is the one to have executed it so well and given us proper rural roads, something that the previous regime failed to do.”