The survey reveals the scale of acute mass deprivation in Bihar. But if we take a closer look, it also reflects the intensity of the people’s quest for a life of dignity and fulfilment of basic needs and aspirations. The key to Bihar’s development lies in resolving the contradiction between the aspirations and efforts of the people on one hand and the systematic suppression and denial of people’s rights on the other.
We can see this contradiction in every sphere of social life and economic development – be it the agrarian economy, non-agricultural employment, housing, education, healthcare or various other basic amenities. More than 90 per cent of the households surveyed are effectively landless. Yet decades of land reforms have hardly touched them and governments today are busy evicting the poor from whatever meagre land they have managed to secure through their struggles. But when it comes to agriculture, it is the poor who are willing to commit all their energies and whatever limited resources they can marshal to agricultural activities while the more resourceful who have alternative livelihood options or sources of income increasingly prefer to avoid agriculture.
Bihar’s agriculture today rests primarily on poor and middle peasants whether they till their own land or pay high rents to lease in some land for their subsistence. But the so-called agricultural road maps or assistance programmes of the government offer little help to these sections. The question of agricultural development in Bihar therefore presupposes a serious implementation of land and agrarian reforms and much bigger public investment in agriculture with assured adequate assistance to the actual tillers.
With agriculture remaining stagnant, the present survey clearly shows a growing quest for non-farm employment. As the mining and big industrial sector in erstwhile Bihar has gone mostly to Jharkhand, there is little industrial absorption of this growing non-agricultural workforce in Bihar. The construction sector does absorb a good section of rural labour but in extremely hazardous and chaotic unregulated conditions. The service sector offers only insecure contractual employment with very low wages or token honorarium. Migration to ever newer areas outside of Bihar therefore keeps growing. This presents us with the challenge of envisioning a suitable pattern of industrial development for Bihar with adequate emphasis on agro-based industries, small and medium enterprises and handicrafts and secure job opportunities and proper recognition and remuneration for those employed in the service sector.
Whether one talks of development of agriculture, small industries, skills and meaningful self-employment, Bihar needs a much greater inflow of credit. The credit-deposit ratio of banks in Bihar has steadily declined over the years and is currently among the lowest in the country. Easier access to adequate and affordable bank credit is a common demand among men and women cutting across occupations.
Our survey has also revealed wide social and regional disparity in the development pattern in Bihar. The landless poor get at best token benefits while the socially and economically powerful grab maximum gains, often exercising exclusive control over welfare schemes and benefits and opportunities provided by the government. Much of the gains of development are also concentrated in a few high-profile districts, while backward areas always lag behind. Even the distribution of public goods like roads and power are heavily skewed with backward regions and the residential areas of socially weaker and deprived sections losing out even in terms of access to roads and power.
In today’s world knowledge is widely recognised as a key source and component of capital and power. Education thus should serve as a major instrument or weapon of upward social mobility. Indeed, the poor today are hungry not only for land and jobs but also education, and our survey has shown an improved enrolment ratio thanks to an increased determination among parents to send their children to schools defying all difficulties. Yet education has become a tool of social inequality. Education in government schools is facing a major crisis while private schools that supposedly offer ‘quality education’ charge high fees thereby excluding children from socially or economically weaker or disadvantaged families. The Bihar government has not only dumped the report of the Muchkund Dubey commission which had recommended common school system in the state but also failed miserably to either improve the quality of education in government schools or enforce the provision of 25% reservation for children from disadvantaged background in private schools mushrooming across the state.
It is also true that the economic policies of the central government have much to do with Bihar’s persistent economic backwardness and mass deprivation. If this was the case in the earlier era of public sector and economic planning, it is even more of an obstacle in the present phase of liberalisation, privatisation and globalisation. The fight for economic development of the deprived people of Bihar must therefore be organically integrated with the fight against pro-corporate pro-imperialist policies and for saving the country’s natural and financial resources from corporate plunder.
Economic policies and factors apart, social and political environment also plays a decisive role in promoting economic development. In Bihar, social oppression and institutionalised injustice still remains a bitter fact of life, thanks to the political patronage extended by dominant political parties. The rise of the BJP in recent years has further buttressed this trend. Along with caste and gender oppression, the Sangh brigade is also working overtime to advance its agenda of communal polarisation. The battle for development and people’s rights in Bihar must therefore also uphold the banner of people’s unity and communal harmony and abolition of caste discrimination and oppression.
With this overall understanding and vision, we propose the following 15-point charter to carry forwards the movement for people’s rights and Bihar’s development:
1. Land and Agrarian Reforms
Ensure implementation of Bandyopadhyay Commission recommendations with special emphasis on (a) rationalisation of land ceiling and redistribution of all ceiling surplus and other redistributable land among the landless, (b) homestead land for all, (c) registration of tenancy in all forms, regulation of rent and assistance for tenant-farmers
2. Agricultural Development
Expand and modernise irrigation facilities, ensure water conservation and flood control, ensure adequate and timely availability of inputs, improve credit coverage for peasants and storage facilities for agricultural produce, ensure remunerative prices and assured procurement of food grains
3. End Indiscriminate and Forcible Acquisition of Agricultural Land
Ensure a rational land use policy, curb blind and indiscriminate use of agricultural land for non-agricultural purposes, end acquisition of agricultural land without farmers’ consent, appropriate compensation, and arrangements for resettlement, guarantee of compensation and employment for agricultural workers and other rural sections dependent on agriculture.
4. Dignified Employment, Livelihood and Social Security for All:
Ensure creation of a massive network of agro-based industries and small and medium enterprises, promotion of handicrafts with assured credit and marketing facilities, adequate infrastructure to promote skill development and self-employment, regularisation of all contract and honorarium-based employees, fulfilment of all pending vacancies, strict enforcement of minimum wages and safety and dignity of the workforce in all occupations, social security and guarantee of old age/widow/physically handicapped pensions, proper compensation and rehabilitation for accident and disaster victims.
5. Right to Shelter for All
Ensure house pattas in the name of people settled in villages and towns/cities, stop eviction in the name of development and beautification without making alternative arrangements, enact a housing gurantee legislation and ensure 3 cent homestead land to all landless persons in both rural and urban areas, time-bound guarantee of Indira Awas for all landless-poor within 5 years, arrangements for implementing respectable model of Indira Awas with a minimum of 2 rooms, veranda, kitchen, toilet and drinking water facility, proper arrangements on the lines of Indira Awas for all urban poor, easy and affordable housing loans for the common people.
6. Right to Food for all
Universalise the Food Security Act, ensuring daily needs and essential food commodities and nutrition and guranteed suply of 50 kg food grains per family per month through the Public Distribution System, ending all irregularities and corruption in the PDS.
7. Right to Education for all
Implement Muchkund Dubey Commission recommendations for an effective common school system and universal right to education, establishment of schools within 1 km for primary education and 3 km for secondary education, degree college in every block and medical, engineering colleges and industrial training institutes in every district, guarantee of common and quality education for all children, special arrangements for girls’ education, infrastructural development in schools, end to contractual appointment of teachers, end to use of teachers for non-educational work, guarantee of student-teacher ratio of 30:1 in all classes, guarantee of equal opportunity, scholarships and educational loans to all.
8. Right to Health for All
Ensure right to health as a fundamental right, guarantee health smart cards to all, availability of basic medical aid and care in every village, primary health centres in all panchayats equipped with mandatory appointment of specialist doctors for women and children, effective arrangements at block level for prevention of brain fever, dengue, plague, malaria and other such diseases, arrangements for pathological laboratories at block hospitals and more advanced tests and investigations at district hospitals, sufficient supplies of essential medicines at all health centres, strict regulation of private hospitals and nursing homes.
9. Healthy and Clean Environment
Guarantee of clean and pure drinking water, freedom from pollution and water-logging, guarantee of cleanliness and sanitation in villages and towns, protection of environment and curb on asbestos and other industries dangerous to health, end to social discrimination against sanitation workers, guarantee of proper wages and dignified status to their work.
10. Freedom from Usury
Cancellation of usurious debts to moneylenders, complete ban on the system of usury and strict action against usurers, ensuring access to banks for all with easy and affordable loans up to 1 lakh, waiver of old BPL and agricultural loans, raising the credit-deposit ratio in banks to the national average.
11. Electricity for All
Ensuring electricity connection to all homes, cancellation of all fake bills, installation of proper meters and regularising the billing system on the basis of correct meter-reading, 100 units free electricity to rural and urban poor, appointment of electricians and meter readers for maintenance and meter reading in every village and every mohalla, free electricity for agriculture to all marginal and crisis-ridden farmers.
12. All Weather Rural Roads and Public Transport
Connect all villages, especially poor tolas, with all weather roads, extend public transport system to all villages, expand the reach and operation of effective public transport system with reasonable fare, strict regulation of private transport business
13. Equal Opportunity and Dignity
Ensure education, dignified employment and development of women, mahadalits, minorities, and other vulnerable sections, end all kinds of discrimination, ensure equal access and opportunity in all spheres of life for women and all weaker sections and disadvantaged groups, protection of women’s dignity and freedom.
14. Justice for All
Curb rising violence against women, mahadalits, minorities, and other vulnerable sections, holding SP and DM of concerned districts accountable for all such incidents, ensure mandatory registration of cases in every crime against vulnerable sections and guaranteed delivery of justice within 6 months, curb rampant corruption in courts.
15. Equitable Development
Stop urban-centric concentration of development to ensure development of backward and peripheral areas, address the needs and aspirations of educated youth, women, working people and middle classes with top priority, end the stranglehold of middlemen and landlords on rural development and welfare projects.