Floods, pandemic and reverse migration adding to the existing job crisis, Bihar—the only state to hold elections amid this pandemic—is struggling with myriad issues at the moment. The issues highlight, not just inept governance and inadequate policies, but also the dire need to demand action.
As the state grapples under the economic pressure of reverse migration due to the lockdown, the burden on the public health systems due to the virus and the floods, unemployment among the youth, it is imperative that a dialogue must be initiated to find solutions.
With Bihar gearing up for election this October, it is critical to throw light on these issues. With one of the highest youth populations, the state also needs reforms in its education system and upskill its youth to help them enter the job market. So, as various parties eye the election, who is addressing all of this? We must talk about this and more.
In recent years, the larger mainstream media debates have somehow missed on the voices of the youth. Democracy Adda is an opportunity to bridge the gap between young people and policymakers.
In this edition of #DemocracyAdda, we raised some critical issues surrounding Bihar. The debate brought together several political leaders from Bihar such as Guru Prakash, spokesperson, Bharatiya Janata Dal; Prof Manoj Jha, spokesperson Rashtriya Janata Dal; Amrish Ranjan Pandey, National Secretary, Indian Youth Congress, and Nikhil Mandal, spokesperson, Janata Dal (United). The discussion was moderated by RJ Anjali Singh.
Here are the highlights of this one-of-a-kind open dialogue, where youth raised not only their questions and concerns but also urged their decision-makers to think about, deliberate and actively address these issues.
“The decision entirely depends on the election commission. The discussions so far hint that the elections will be conducted as per the schedule with proper preventive measures,” Nikhil Mandal.
The pandemic stresses on social distancing; the floods push people together in their struggle for survival. When we talk about preventive measures, do we also take this into account?
One of the only states going into elections amid a pandemic, Bihar has its own set of problems to address before the various political parties and leaders go into the ‘election mode’. In the new normal, the campaigning has gone online with an attempt to engage with the voters through various social media platforms. But how successful are the people in voicing their concerns?
“None of us raised our voice during the entire migrant crisis. No matter who forms the government, the people’s issues must not be sidelined,” Prof Manoj Jha.
About two million people walked home to Bihar during the lockdown. With a 46.6% unemployment rate in state in April, the state’s work sector was in no shape to absorb such an influx. The state recently added the names of two lakh migrant labourers who had returned, to its electoral roll, will their issues also get the same acknowledgement?
As #COVID19 worsens employment and employability for young India, join #DemocracyAdda to talk about issues that need to take center stage ahead of the Bihar assembly elections: https://t.co/CPtyH43JLu https://t.co/xn1f14TZzq
— Youth Ki Awaaz (@YouthKiAwaaz) August 20, 2020
“Bihar is ‘labour surplus’, perhaps we need to come together and think about a concept of ‘home state’ and ‘host state’, where Bihar could constitutionally become a medium of supplying labour throughout the country,” Guru Prakash.
Further throwing light on various government schemes in place to tackle the migrant crisis Guru Prakash also said that “Pradhan Mantri Gareeb Kalyan Yojana guaranteed employment for 125 days to all those who returned. Under, Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana, about 2 crore 38 lakh women in Bihar are getting a fixed amount transferred to their bank accounts for the next three months. About 1200 crore rupees have been distributed among 60 lakh farmers so far. The government has done everything in its capacity.”
Capitalising on the state’s human resource is a great idea, but the question in front of the state is not of outsourcing its labour but of absorbing the ones who returned home. There’s a need for the government to also look at creating more jobs and strengthening its businesses and industries in the next few years. This perhaps will be the right step in the direction of strengthening its economy as well as its human resource.
“The state is not just behind in terms of industrialisation; it’s also behind in education, job creation, etc. The migrant crisis has only brought to the fore the various other issues that plague the state. The Nitish government has been in power for almost 15 years now, and what’s missing the most is the political will. The government has been unable to provide the atmosphere for industries to thrive,” Amrish Pandey.
While the government conducted skill mapping for almost 20 lakh labourers since May and promised to create jobs, the ground reality seems to be slightly different from the state narrative and official figures.
Delay in academic sessions at Bihar universities is a yearly issue faced by students. YKA user Saumya Rastogi raised this question to the panelists asking them to throw light on how the government plans to resolve this for good. Answering her question here’s what Nikhil Mandal had to say:
“In the last 15 years, several universities and colleges in the state. But there have been several major steps taken by the government and the situation is much better than what it was in 2005. Since 2005, 15,613 schools have been opened in the state. The government also provides scholarships and schemes to help students in need of financial support,” Nikhil Mandal.
The Government of Bihar increased budgetary allocations on education to 25% in 2018-19, the second-highest in the country. In the NITI Aayog October 2019 report, Bihar secured 19th position by scoring 37.3%, among 20 other states in the ‘School Education Quality Index’ (SEQI). Hence merely allocating money cannot guarantee quality education. The state also reported only 52% professionally trained teachers—implying a failure to adhere to critical Right to Education parameters.
Often making it to the mainstream news for all the wrong reasons, Bihar’s education system needs much more than infrastructural development. The condition of state-funded schools and colleges despite all the claims of ‘development’ requires significant changes. Many young students still migrate from the state in search of better opportunities. The system needs major overhauling in terms of providing quality education and equal access to all.
शिक्षा की नींंव पर ही किसी राज्य की बुलंद इमारत खड़ी होती है। बड़ी चुनौती इसी नींव को मजबूत करने की है।https://t.co/FWzjCnld0C#AwaazUthao #democracyadda #BiharElection2020 @TwitterIndia @YouthKiAwaaz @YKAHindi pic.twitter.com/iI3Ijl15UI
— Rachna Priyadarshini (@p_rachna) August 19, 2020
— Youth Ki Awaaz (@YouthKiAwaaz) August 20, 2020
“Our concern should not be who will win the election; it must be the much-needed transformation in the education system. Over the years, Bihar universities have only become places that conduct exams. We must look at immediate course correction. The governance in Bihar has to move beyond a spectacle, the blame-game we often enter benefits no one,” Prof Jha.
“In every index, whether it’s poverty or education, Bihar ranks last or second last. Kids die of snake bites, and our medical facilities lack such basic vaccine and treatment. The infant and maternal mortality rate are abysmal in this state. The roads are in a condition that makes a 10km journey 45-mins long. We don’t have an adequate number of classrooms or teachers either. We have to realise what exactly we mean when we talk about development. The reality of Bihar is better captured in pictures of migrant workers across the nation,” Amrish Pandey.
YKA user from Bihar, Anshu Kumar raised a critical question to the leaders during the live about the annual flood situation in the state. She asked the panelists why Bihar continues to struggle with floods every year, and what steps need to be taken to address this issue.
Bihar floods are an annual affair, the mainstream ignores the issue, the government provides relief measures, people lose lives and livelihoods, water recedes, and it’s forgotten for the rest of the year.
Talking about the present situation in the state Nikhil Mandal said, “Several regions in the state are prone to floods. The government has done a lot to provide relief measures to the people affected. Over 8 lakh people have been provided with financial relief so far along with food grains, etc.”
“The situation this year is a difficult one I agree. The government, it seems, was ill-prepared for the double whammy of floods and the pandemic. Response to either seemed inadequate. The government was either not prepared or chose not to be prepared,” Prof Manoj Jha
Every year, the rains bring massive amounts of water down from hills in Nepal to northern Bihar, flooding hence is a regular event. Then why don’t the government plan better than quick fixes such as evacuation and relief schemes? Is there no effective way to contain the destruction—at least that of property and human life? As floods become a more frequent and destructive yearly affair, perhaps there is a need to revisit the present policies?
Bihar’s young population needs to play an active role in its electoral politics and actively push for a space for young leaders from the grassroots. Youth must not just demand more accountability from those in power but also the inclusion of their interests while formulating policy.
However, is it possible without young leaders entering politics? Can someone from the grassroots really aspire to join politics in Bihar? Most importantly, how can we make that space for the youth in Bihar’s political landscape?
— pratyush prashant (@pratyushprashan) August 19, 2020
“The politics must not favor the privileged and close the space for young people to partake. It is essential that we move away from dynastic politics and encourage young youth leaders to come forward,” Guru Prakash.
A country with the highest youth population does not reflect the same demography when it comes to political representation. If we do not have adequate representation, can we expect that the system will exhibit a fair representation the issues of its youth population? We hope to raise such questions, and more in the next edition of Bihar’s #DemocracyAdda stay tuned!
You can catch the full discussion here:
— Youth Ki Awaaz (@YouthKiAwaaz) August 20, 2020
Youth Ki Awaaz would be continuing to raise issues and creating dialogue around the upcoming Bihar Elections through a series of features and interviews with leading political leaders for the State as a part of Democracy Adda Bihar. Be a part of the conversation here and follow live updates on Twitter #DemocracyAdda.