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Business News/ Opinion / Making Bihar and UP less Bimaru states
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Making Bihar and UP less Bimaru states

India cannot develop unless Uttar Pradesh and Bihar are developed as well

Illustration: Jayachandran/MintPremium
Illustration: Jayachandran/Mint

At a political rally in Gaya on Sunday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi promised to take Bihar out of the “Bimaru" category of states if the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was voted to power. More contentiously, he said accused local political leaders—Lalu Prasad and Nitish Kumar—of “ruining" Bihar and creating a “jungle raj" in the state. Bimaru was an acronym coined by the demographer Ashish Bose for Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh (UP), states considered to be laggards in India’s development journey.

These remarks, minus their political baggage, are not far from the truth. Of the original Bimaru states, only Bihar and UP have remained impervious to positive developmental changes. On the one hand, the number of people in these states is huge and, on the other, the ability of these state governments for even basic tasks such as maintaining law and order is poor. Both issues are linked.

The sheer scale of the problem is belief-defying. If one goes by the 2011 census, one out of every four Indians hailed from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. In the decade from 2001 to 2011, Bihar had the third highest rate of population growth in the country at 25.1%. This is misleading, as the other two faster-growing states were Meghalaya and Arunachal Pradesh, states that hardly have the demographic heft of Bihar. Among non-special category states, Bihar has the highest rate of population growth in the country. UP, with an even heavier demographic drag, grew at 20% during this period. India grew at a much slower 17.6% during this decade.

The obverse of this speed of growth is the poor state of social indicators in these states, with both performing badly in the most important indicator: literacy. Literacy is a poor proxy for education—the most important ingredient in creating the right kind of social norms that permit capital accumulation and growth—but it is still useful in assessing what is going wrong. In 2011, Bihar was at the bottom of the heap of 35 states and Union territories in literacy rate ranking. UP was not far behind: it was 29th. Other indicators exemplify the divergence between these two states and the rest of India vividly. UP has a maternal mortality rate of 292 per 100,000 live births; Bihar 219. The all-India average is 178. Bihar’s fertility rate is 3.5; UP’s 3.3. The all-India figure is 2.4.

There are two approaches that have been mooted in recent times to sort out the developmental mess in these states. The approach advocated most vigorously by leaders in these states is that of demanding special packages. UP has demanded 80,000 crore in the past. Bihar under Nitish Kumar has made similar demands more recently. The other option is to fix governance in these states and attract private investment, a process that will ultimately deliver growth and yield revenue to these governments for greater social sector spending.

Ultimately, the demand for special packages comes close to applying a concentrated dose of investment in these states. However, shorn of fixing governance in these states, that is unlikely to work. That is akin to a chicken and egg situation: if money is thrown to these states, it is most likely to be frittered away—as has been happening for many decades now—but unless investments are made in human capital, in education and healthcare for example, the ability of these states to fruitfully absorb investments will be weak.

There are plenty of examples. The looting of money under the National Rural Health Mission in UP—amounting to thousands of crores—is one. Bihar’s poor experience in implementing the rural jobs guarantee scheme is well known and has been documented by the World Bank in a 2014 study. The weak abilities of these state governments is closely linked to the anomic conditions prevalent there.

The political consequences of these developments are not only negative for these states but for the entire country. If matters remain as they are, the social preferences of these states and more developed states (for example, Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra) will diverge greatly. At that stage, many of the other states may be unwilling to help these states by letting the centre transfer more resources to them. There may be other, more dangerous, political reactions.

This sounds hopeless but it needn’t be so. After all, before his turn to old-style competitive politics in the wake of the 2014 general election results, Nitish Kumar had chosen the path of fixing Bihar’s systemic problems in this way. Now Modi is promising a similar route. UP, too, badly needs such a vision and leaders. Without that, putting these states back on track will be tough.

What will it take to put UP and Bihar back on the rails? Tell us at

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Published: 10 Aug 2015, 08:40 PM IST
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