Questions for Nitish led alliance in Bihar/ Gopal Krishna

Gopal Krishna is an activist with ToxicsWatch Alliance, Ban Asbestos Network of India (BANI), IMOWatch, MediaVigil & WaterWatch Alliance. He can be contacted at krishna2777[at]gmail.com. 

Roads and bridges that Nitish Kumar built has brought his alliance back to power. They made his journey safer. The mandate is clear. Caste politics too has a place for the deprived castes need ‘development’ the most. Bihar voters have rejected the self-serving dynastic politics of Lalu Yadav and Ram Vilas Paswan. The way he reached out to backward Muslims has benefitted the alliance. The restoration of government services also became quite noticeable.

Notably, prior to this victory the boycott of US President Barack Obama’s address to the Indian Parliament by Shivanand Tiwari, a veteran Socialist leader and Janata Dal (United) Rajya Sabha member was remarkable. Is it a victory of ‘complete socialism’ as has been observed by Sharad Yadav, the national President of JDU?

Not many people know that the JDU’s ally BJP was founded in 1980, it chose “Gandhian socialism” as its official ideology! The same is mentioned in the Form it submitted to the Election Commission of India at the time its registration as a political party. BJP had discarded this ideology in favour of the temple agenda in the early 1990s. Is it willing to revert back to it?

If so will Bihar now have Common School System as has been recommended by a Committee appointed by Nitish Kumar government? In 2006, he had called for the Common School System to be implemented by the central government in order to ensure quality and non-discriminatory education to all. Bihar was the first state to have constituted a commission on common school system. Since then reiterating the recommendations of Kothari Commission, the Bihar’s Common School System Commission has submitted its 313-page report in June 2007 but Nitish Kumar did not take any step to act on its recommendation that called “for a legislation underpinning the Common School System.” If it happens it would be a trendsetter beyond empty posturing.

Will he able to get Special Category Status for Bihar now? In 2006, the Bihar Assembly had passed an unanimous resolution demanding special category status to Bihar. This decision emerged after a four-hour debate in the assembly on a resolution which was adopted unanimously. Participating in the debate, Nitish had stressed the need for a heavy doze of Central assistance. He had listed grounds for making such a demand saying Bihar has international borders with Nepal and Bangladesh, it is struck by recurring floods, power scenario is critical and also there is a problem of extremism. In a rare gesture of unity and rising above the political affiliation, the members sitting on both sides rose in unison and forcefully approved the resolution calling the Centre to include Bihar in the special category of states. Bihar has been demanding at least since 1999 when Bihar Chamber of Commerce (BCC) met the then Union finance minister and the then vice-chairman of Planning Commission seeking special category state status to Bihar. In 1989, the then PM Rajiv Gandhi had announced a special package for Bihar of over Rs 5,000 crore for various projects but it was never implemented.

Will there be improvement in Bihar’s per capita energy consumption which is currently the lowest in the country given the failure of rural electrification campaign? Its per capita energy consumption, at 75 kWh (kilowatt per hour), is the lowest in India and far below the national average of 613 kWh. Only 30 percent of rural households in the state have been electrified. The Rajiv Gandhi Grameen Vidyutikaran Yojana (RGGVY), a centrally-sponsored programme started in 2005 to provide electricity in rural areas is a failure in Bihar. The RGGVY norms are inadequate in any case because it considered villages electrified if 10 percent households and some important structures like the panchayat building got electricity. In remote locations, stand-alone systems can be more cost-effective than extending a power line to the electricity grid (the cost of which can range from $15,000 to $50,000 per mile).

Will Bihar adopt small grids for electricity which have become a compelling logic because capital intensive thermal and hydro energy based households do not make any sense when transmission and distribution (T&D) losses of the state electricity boards & distribution firms are almost 55 %?. The T&D losses for the country as a whole are estimated to be in the range of 35%–45%, according to Planning Commission’s Eleventh Five Year Plan 2007-12 document. Logically, powering houses or small businesses using a small renewable energy system which is not connected to the electricity grid makes economic sense and demonstrates environmental sanity.

Will recommendations of D Bandhopadhaya Committee on land reforms be implemented?

Will drainage congestion led flood crisis in the Kosi river basin be decongested by restoring natural land scape by dismantling the politician-contractors-engineers nexus that perpetuates status quo?

Will proposals for irrational projects like Kosi High Dam and Interlinking of Bihar’s rivers be given up for it is against the cardinal principles of river basin approach underlined by the formation of Ganga River Basin Authority? Will Bihar get its share of water from Ganga river?

Will Nitish Kumar undertake a performance evaluation and cost-benefit analysis of existing embankments and come out with a White Paper on it before proceeding with the current programme?

Will Nitish government realize the disastrous consequences of pushing for biofuels in the face of food riots in 37 countries?

Will his government have the farsightedness to stop the commencement of hazardous industrial projects like asbestos cement factory in Muzaffarpur given the fact that asbestos is banned in more than 52 countries as it causes incurable lung cancer?

Will the NDA alliance have the vision to stop ecologically destructive green revolution type of intervention in agriculture which has turned Punjab into the cancer capital of the country? This has been proposed by the central agricultural ministry.

As things stand while road construction made his return to power smooth, the construction of embankments on the flood prone rivers like Kosi and Bagmati which is underway can prove to be his undoing in future. It was too much to expect a government of 5 years to undo the damage done by the programme of flood control that started in 1954 comprising of construction of embankments on both the banks of the Burhigandak , the Bagmati, the Kamla and the Kosi. But during his second term he should attempt steps to recover and restore the natural flow of rivers in Bihar. There is an emerging unanimity that structural engineering measures such as high dams, embankments, inter-basin and intra-basin transfer of water from rivers is inadvisable. What is required is opening of navigable drainage channels as an alternative to the embankments letting rivers flow without impediments. The benefits of free flowing river outweigh benefits from their damming and diversion besides that it ensures intergenerational equity.

These tasks require application of political imagination and one hopes wise ecological sense will prevail. But the million dollar question is: Isn’t the verdict of the Bihar voters also a call for mid-term Lok Sabha elections given the non-performance of the Sonia Gandhi led alliance?

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