Saturday, April 28, 2007

Killing Bihar, steadily

It is an undeniable fact that Bihar stands at the bottom of the ladder as far as the economic indices are concerned. In the past, blame has been put on the Govt of Bihar, and rightly so. Blame has also been put on the people of Bihar. However, we have always let the central govt and its agencies get away lightly. This is rather surprising since in the federal structure of India, the status of the Govt of India is that of a “Mai-Baap” which has the power to dole out favours. Most of the taxes are collected by them and then distributed. Locations of major industries are decided by them. Major infrastructure – roads, bridges, airports, irrigation systems – are all decided by them. In this context, two recent developments show the central government in particularly poor light.

The first concerns the nascent tourism industry of Bihar. The Buddhist circuit in Bihar has been a major unutilised asset of the impoverished state. In a remarkable show of vision, the state government decided very early on its term that it would promote the Buddhist circuit. To this end, several initiatives have been taken. For example, land has been made available to the hotels; special care has been taken to maintain the law and order situation; the upkeep of the tourist destinations has been improved drastically; and the road infrastructure has been improved greatly for better connectivity.

Bodh Gaya has made good progress in the last year. Even in the face of the very basic facility at the airport, it now has international flights to Singapore, Bangkok, Paro and Colombo. There has been persistent demand to upgrade the facilities at the airport so that they can increase the frequency of their flight. The Japanese and the Koreans cannot take a direct flight to Gaya as the runway is far too short for the long haul aircraft to land. Given half a chance, Gaya can easily beat Calcutta as the premier airport of the Eastern India, but no plan is forth coming by the Airports Authority of India to take any of those steps. However, this story is not about that.

This is about the criminal neglect by the Indian Airlines to break the back of tourism at Gaya and give a bad name to Bihar and to India. In fact, it has even led to a diplomatic fracas already. Read for your self what they have done.

The passengers that they brought to Gaya on confirmed return tickets have been left stranded for over one week since the flight was cancelled in a huff. Indian Airlines, being a PSU, should have been at the forefront of promoting Gaya as an upcoming destination. That is how they justify their colossal losses and their pathetic standards. Far from it, they seek to destroy even what has been achieved.

Who gave Indian Airlines the right to cancel their flights? Is it a commercial decision or has been done with an ulterior motive to destroy the nascent tourist destination of Gaya? What are their obligations if they cancel their flights? If they have failed in their duty, what steps the Govt of India has taken to take them to task? Who are the people responsible for this mess? How are they being held accountable? What would be their punishment for this gross negligence? Unfortunately, there is only silence as an answer till now.

The second is an even bigger tragedy as it concerns the issue of universal education for the indigent. Excellent work is being done by the Govt of Bihar under the Sarva Shikhsha Abhiyaan. A very dedicated, scholarly and avuncular officer, Anjani Kumar Singh, affectionately called Anjani babu, has been put in charge of the program. He along with the Secretary, Education, Dr MM Jha, have done immense work in this area, which is both good quality and good quantity. Particular care has been taken to reach out to the girls from the most deprived sections of the society. The work has come for singular praise by several independent agencies, Pratham and the Indian Planning Commission being two of them. This rediff article captures the spirit of this monumental government work which is nothing short of a revolution.

Unfortunately, this good work would be under immense pressure in the coming financial year. Under a change of policy, the “mai baap” at Delhi, the HRD ministry, would drastically reduce the grant for this most laudable scheme since primary education is being made the responsibility of the state government. The education cess that you and I pay would be diverted to higher education so that little games may be played over issues of such national importance as power of HRD ministry over IIMs and IITs. Thus, while the poorest of the poor would be deprived of even primary education, the central govt attention would be riveted over providing better facilities to the already privileged.

Till now, Bihar was denied funds because of inadequate utilization. Now when it has shown the best utilization, in a show of real politik that would put Machiavelli to shame, the rules of the game are being changed. There is no debate on this in the parliament. The electronic media, always in the look out for issues of national importance for its innumerable debates, finds this topic unworthy of any mention.

Rashtra Kavi Ramdhari Singh Dinkar had perhaps this situation in mind when he composed this couplet in his immortal “Hunkaar”

“Swanon ko milte dugdh vastra, bhookhe balak akulate hain
Maa ki haddi se chipak thithoor. Jadon ke raat bitate hain.”

The pet dogs of the privileged get milk as food and finery as dress
The hungry children of the poor scrounge for bare necessities
They cling to the to the bare bones of their mother
They try to get some warmth on the cold winter night

The poor children in the poignant poem at least have the warmth of their mother’s emaciated body to cling on to. Where do the daughters of Bihar go when their mother, Mother India, refuses to give them even that solace?

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