Today’s Bihar: Development Hype and Ground Reality

December 3, 2014

Excerpts from a comprehensive survey report prepared and released by the Bihar State Committee of the CPI(ML)


Development is the biggest buzzword of contemporary politics in India. The more official policies are dedicated to promoting privatisation and inviting FDI and the more soaring prices and all-pervasive corruption define our everyday reality, the louder becomes the cacophony of development. In Bihar the official rhetoric of development is always tempered with the slogan of justice. Lalu Prasad ruled for fifteen years ,talking of social justice; Nitish Kumar has been more specific in promising development with justice to ‘mahadalits’, ‘atipichhdas’ and ‘pasmanda’ Muslims even as he shared power with the BJP, dismantled the Amir Das commission and dumped the reports of Bandyopadhya and Muchkund Dubey commissions recommending land reforms and the common school system.

The promises are accompanied by tall claims. Bihar government has been claiming unprecedented growth rates in recent years. The growth, we are told, has not only led to improved infrastructure but also resulted in a decline in poverty and migration and increased access to education and healthcare. As long as the BJP shared power in Bihar, Sushil Modi served as the Finance Minister and chief statistical propagandist for the BJP-JDU government. Now that the BJP is out of power, it has begun disputing the claims of the JDU government. The RJD and Congress which were earlier seen to be questioning the performance of the Nitish Kumar government have now become devoted defenders of the regime.

To a people grappling with the injury of everyday deprivation and denial of rights, the high-sounding claims of government statistics only come across as an added insult. Complaints against exclusion from BPL list are rampant in every corner of Bihar. Our survey reveals that large numbers of people are also excluded from the electoral roll. The socio-economic census conducted late last year and early this year virtually made a mockery of the actual living conditions of millions of people. Perhaps for the first time we saw widespread agitation in Bihar against the irregularities of a census operation.

Against this backdrop, comrades in Bihar decided to collect some first-hand data from the people to get a better grasp of the prevailing socio-economic conditions and the administration of various welfare legislations and schemes. The survey was called ‘gaon ka sach, logon ka hak’ (the rural reality and the state of people’s rights). Between July and October 2014, data were collected in 23 districts from a total of 200,106 rural households spread over 1314 villages in 826 panchayats in 168 blocks and 6634 urban households spread over 45 wards of 9 towns on the basis of a detailed questionnaire. Hundreds of CPI(ML) activists and local youths took part in this rigorous exercise with great sincerity and enthusiasm. The data collected have been locally presented before the people through more than 500 panchayat-level and block-level public hearings.

The sample chosen for this survey has been predominantly from among the rural and urban poor. More than 60 per cent of the rural families surveyed are absolutely landless and a little more than another 30 per cent have tiny land holdings of one acre or less. In caste terms, nearly 45 per cent families belong to various dalit castes, another 25 per cent are from among extremely backward castes, and 15 per cent from other backward castes and a little more than 10 per cent are from the Muslim community. In other words, the sample has been drawn precisely from among the target groups that are supposed to benefit from the host of welfare legislations and schemes of the state and central governments.

We are now presenting this survey report to the people of Bihar. The panchayat-level public hearings have already been followed up by popular local agitations to secure some due rights of the people. We hope this report will help us develop an alternative direction and agenda for equitable development and also lay the basis for a broad-based movement to secure the basic rights of the people. For many comrades involved in this survey campaign this was the first experience of its kind. We hope it will encourage more and more activists to develop the Marxist habit of seeking truth from facts, of making a systematic study of the reality around us and waging a determined battle to transform it in the interests of the people.

– Dipankar Bhattacharya,
General Secretary, CPI(ML)

Survey: An Overall View


Total number of families surveyed 206740
Rural families 200106
Urban families 6634
Names missed out in voter list 134098 (23.09%)
Total villages 1314
Panchayats 826
Blocks 168
Districts 23
Total wards 45
Nagar Nigam areas 3
Nagar parishad 1
Nagar panchayat areas 4

Social Structure of Surveyed Families
Dalit/mahadalit/tribal 92409 (44.6%)
Very backward 50254 (24.31%)
Backward 32589 (15.76%)
Minorities 23671 (11.45%)
Others 7817 (3.78%)
Survey period – July-September 2014

This survey was conducted between July and September 2014 in 1314 villages of 826 panchayats of 168 blocks of 23 districts in Bihar. The survey was done basically among the poor, as is clear from the social structure of the surveyed families. Of the 2.106 lakh families, dalit-mahadalit-tribal families are 44.9%, extreme backward, backward, minorities and others are 24.46%, 15.89%, 10.81% and 3.82% respectively. 6634 families were also surveyed in 45 wards of 6 districts in urban areas; even this was basically amongst the urban poor.

The survey report is based primarily on data collected from rural areas, and findings from urban areas have been presented in a separate chapter. The broad picture of deprivation is however quite similar among both rural and urban poor.

Of the 200,106 rural families surveyed, 60.74% are landless families. This landlessness is on the basis of agricultural land; i.e. these families do not own any land for farming. If the number of families owning up to 1 acre of farming land is added, then this percentage goes up to 92.2%. These families come under the direct ambit of land reforms, but the families benefiting from land reforms are a mere 5.58%. Of these beneficiary families, 24.9% have not yet got possession on the parcha lands. This picture exposes the pro-landlord character of the governments from the time of the Congress governments to the Lalu-Rabdi and JDU-BJP regimes. The JDU-BJP government betrayed the poor in the worst possible way by abandoning the land reform agenda even as the land reforms commission set up by the government came up with a set of minimum recommendations for land and tenancy reforms.

This survey shows that of the 72391 families associated with agriculture 47841 families are sharecroppers. This means that farming is done through sharecropping on a large scale in Bihar. With the growing unprofitability of agriculture and opening of new avenues of livelihood the rate of direct farming has dropped quite low. With the rise in sharecropping, the old pattern of crop-sharing has become weak and it is mainly prevalent in areas which are agriculturally backward. In areas of comparatively better irrigation facilities and higher agricultural development, fixed rent tenancy whether on cash or crop basis is more in vogue. 56.31% tenants in this survey have to pay arbitrarily fixed cash or crop rents. As it is, the government has waved goodbye to the old tenancy act which promised to transfer ownership of land to the tenant on completion of a certain period of tenancy, but there is no law to regulate the lease rent or assist the lessee either. In other words, there is neither the old law, nor a new law to replace it; the government treats the whims and demands of the landlords as the law of the land. A new tenancy legislation is a crying need of the hour, as the Bandopadhyay Commission clearly pointed out.

Even today the biggest chunk of population in Bihar is engaged in agriculture and allied activities but the attitude of the government towards this sector is full of apathy and neglect. Bihar has large numbers of agricultural labourers but till date there is no law for their welfare. Animal husbandry is an important part of the income generated by a large portion of the agricultural population. The governmental measures in relation to development, protection, and market availability of animal husbandry are extremely weak. All farmers including sharecroppers should get the benefit of Kisan Credit Card, but the survey shows that not even 10% families are actually getting this benefit. Crop damage compensation and diesel grant have become reduced to empty rhetoric. For families engaged in agriculture and allied sectors, easy access to affordable and adequate agricultural credit is a far cry. Merely 2.49% families have been able to obtain agricultural loans.

The survey confirms the fact that a large population of Bihar is seeking livelihood outside agriculture. A large number of non-agricultural labourers are working in construction and other unorganized sectors. Governmental efforts for their promotion, safety and welfare are abysmally poor and relevant laws are not being implemented on the ground. The formula of employing people on contract/honorarium basis which the government has borrowed from the World Bank gives neither employment guarantee nor provisions for implementation of minimum wages. The government itself has become the agency which flouts the minimum wages law. As a result, the private sector is exploiting the working capacity and skills of employees without bothering about minimum wages or any other safeguard. Women engaged in midday meal scheme in schools are paid only Rs 10,000 per annum, whereas their work is of a permanent nature and the period of service is also the same as those of teachers. The condition of ASHA and Anganwadi workers and other honorarium- or incentive-based workers is more or less the same. Hospitals, nursing homes, schools and sundry private institutions openly flout the minimum wages law.

Out of 200,106 families 92.19% families live in a state of landlessness and abject poverty, yet only 81,092 have got job cards. In other words, only 40.52% have got job cards whereas the MNREGA states that all needy families must come within its ambit. 27.23% of job card holders do not have their cards in their own possession, their cards are kept illegally by the concerned mukhiya or rozgar sewak. 64.38% of job card holding families have not got even a single day’s work this year. 15.21% families have got 1-7 days’ work and 11.08% families have got 8-15 days’ work. These figures show that the governments of Delhi and Patna are conniving to choke the MNREGA to death. Abysmally low wages, extremely lax and apathetic administration and endemic corruption have eroded much of the initial enthusiasm about MNREGA. The survey also makes it clear that MNREGA has failed to make any dent into the phenomenon of migration. Contrary to official claims of declining migration, the survey shows that members from 40.07% families have been forced to migrate for survival or remunerative livelihood. Paucity of gainful employment within the State leaves no option except migration outside the State.

Facts and figures obtained from the survey present a frightening picture of the crisis of housing and homestead land. The survey brings to light the fact that 29.74% of rural poor families are even today deprived of ownership papers for homestead land. They have neither got homestead land record under the PP Act 1948, nor have they benefited from the 3 decimal homestead land scheme promised to Mahadalit families. Only 5.07% families have got homestead land paper and 26.16% families out of these parcha holders are still far from actual possession. 67.15% families have to subsist on an area of 1 to 2 cent homestead land. 51.01% families have no more than bare one-room houses. We have even come across cases where 19 members of a joint family are compelled to live in a single-room house with whatever belongings and cattle they have. After 30 years not even half of the BPL families have got Indira Awas. Of those families who have got Indira Awas, 51.19 of the houses are still in a partially constructed state. There is a dire drinking water crisis. The Swachh Bharat Abhiyan or its previous avatar Nirmal Gram Yojana has not reached the tolas of the poor and the grants offered are not sufficient for the construction of permanent toilets. Amidst a flurry of propaganda, electricity has reached only 15.04 % families but strong shocks are given by false electricity bills. The government is bent on closing the Kutir Jyoti Yojana meant for BPL families.

All surveys on the poor and estimates of poverty in Bihar have been surrounded by controversy. The recently conducted socio-economic census engendered great chaos and unrest in village after village thanks to large-scale discrepancies. Our survey shows that 45.69% deserving families are outside the BPL list even today and hence deprived of all benefits meant for BPL families. Over 80% families in Bihar are meant to be covered under the Food Security Act but a good number of them are still deprived of it. 50.54% families in our survey have not yet got ration cards under this scheme. Among the card-holding families, 32.05% have not got any ration while only 3.76% families got 4 months’ ration, 1.57% got 5 months’ ration and 0.26% got 6 months’ ration.

Contrary to official claims of 100% enrolment, our survey showed 83.83% enrolment. The rate is significantly lower in musahar/mahadalit hamlets. Even today 16.16% children do not cross the threshold of a school. A large number of children enrolled in primary classes are forced to leave school due to poverty. The survey also shows that toilets made in most schools are in abandoned and derelict condition because there are no arrangements for their maintenance. There is no provision in the schools for Class IV employees, sanitation workers, or night watchmen. These essential arrangements can provide employment to lakhs of young men and women. The rising cost of education is becoming unbearable for the poor. In this situation the provision of universal scholarships is very essential, but our survey shows 53.96% children do not receive scholarships. Even in the case of the children who do get scholarships, there are no regular arrangements. Attendance scams are going on in all the schools in the name of midday meals. At the same time children are being deprived of scholarships in the name of poor attendance. The RTE Act stipulation of 25% reservation for students from socially disadvantaged background is conspicuously violated in Bihar. The survey found only 28 out of 27086 enrolments in private schools under RTE reservation which is a shocking 0.1% of the total.

The survey strongly underlines the fact that Bihar is once again getting caught in the trap of usury. 73239 families holding negligible assets are indebted to private moneylenders and there is an average debt of Rs 34346 on them. Usury is flourishing in the villages at interest rates ranging from 60% to 120%. Those migrating outside the state often have to pay double the principal amount within one year, failing which their family members back home have to render unpaid labour service for the usurer. Among the surveyed families moneylenders’ debts were 6 times more than bank loans. Clearly usury is flourishing in the absence of access to banks and easy, affordable, institutional loans. The Prime Minister’s Jan Dhan Yojana will become meaningless in the absence of easy and affordable loans. Bihar has the lowest credit-deposit ratio in the whole country and the poor bear the brunt of this.

Another fact coming to light through the survey is extremely shocking. Even today there are many temples in Bihar where entry is barred for dalits and mahadalits. The dominant sections have control over pasture lands and water bodies like ponds. Names of the poor are deleted even from voters’ list and they are not given voter ID cards. The survey revealed that about 23.09% adult members are not on the voters’ list. Having overcome the threat of forcible disenfranchisement through booth-grabbing the poor are now faced with fresh challenge of political exclusion through planned, systematic, mischievous omission from the electoral roll.

The survey also reveals acute regional disparity. Rural outskirts of Patna, for example, have a significantly higher concentration of sanctioned Indira Awas houses (24841 in a sample of 49380) compared to far-flung backward districts like Araria (632 out of 3708), Purnea (627 out of 3516) and Jamui (38 out of 662). But Patna also has the highest reported cases of semi-finished houses – as many as 15574 out of 24841.

The picture which emerges from the survey of 6634 urban families is similar to the picture from the villages. Bihar is already one of the country’s most backward States in the matter of urbanization. In recent years the trend of urbanization has increased but there has been no matching increase in public investment in towns/cities and civic amenities; secondly, the model of urbanization which is being adopted is based on grave neglect and exclusion of the urban poor. As a result, the poor and working class settled in towns and cities face an increasingly disastrous situation. The biggest problem for the urban population is housing: 62.07% of the surveyed families subsist in single room houses and 47.01% families do not possess any papers for the land. They also lack other civic amenities. In spite of being inside the town only 46.35% families have electricity connection and 39.65% families have toilet facilities. They do not appear to get any benefits from public welfare projects. Only 39.72% families figure in the BPL list and only 40.96% families have got ration cards. The towns and cities of Bihar are unable to become significant centres of industrial and commercial activity. Dignified employment opportunities are also much reduced because of the shrinking service sector and implementation of the contract-honorarium system. Even in the limited ambit of private and construction sectors 30.13% of Bihar’s urban population is left with no option but migration, due to absence of laws to guarantee workers’ safety, convenience, and rights.

Resolve for Change

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.