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Is Nitish AKA ‘Sushasan Babu’ Losing Track In This Power Battle?

Nitish Kumar
Bihar CM Nitish Kumar. Image Via Getty.

In 2005, people of Bihar entrusted Nitish Kumar (JD(U) allied with BJP) for CM’s position. Before the 2010 election, he gained the title of “Sushasan Babu”. The CM, “Sushashan Babu”, on 16th June 2013, ended JD(U)’s 17-year-old alliance with BJP, and quit NDA.

Mr Kumar, who got the leadership under the banner of Grand Alliance, once again broke up and moved with NDA in 2017. The track of Sushashan seems to be lost in the battle for the chair. Analyzing the aftermath of complexities of the Nitish regime can indicate whether Mr Kumar stood out in justifying his title, “Sushashan Babu”, or not.

Education: Passport For Future

The Government of Bihar increased budgetary allocations on education by 10.5% in 2017-18 and 25% in 2018-19. But a report by NITI Aayog in October 2019, confirms that merely allocating money does not guarantee the quality index. Under that report, Bihar secured 19th position by scoring 37.3%, among 20 other states in the ‘School Education Quality Index’ (SEQI).

The report further states that the enrollment ratio was only 32.7% in the 16-17 age group, about 44% transitioned from secondary to higher secondary and 84.64% from elementary to secondary. The state secured 42.9% in access to school, 41% in learning Outcomes, 57.7% in equity (treating students equally), and in infrastructure and facilities, the state got the second last position with 10.9%.

Image for representation only. Photo credits: Flickr/José Morcillo Valenciano

As per the ranking, Bihar has witnessed a sharp decline of 9.3% in access to the schools’ category. The report indicates that there has been a systematic failure in teacher-pupil ratio, teaching quality, infrastructure, dropouts at the secondary and higher secondary level, irregular classes, etc.

Another survey by Child Rights and You (CRY) and Centre for Budget and Governance Accountability (CBGA) has acknowledged that despite allocating 1/5th of the total budget, Bihar’s per-student spending is much less (₹9,583 per student) than states like Goa (which spent about ₹ 67,000), Kerala (approx ₹ 39000) and Tamil Nadu (approx ₹ 24000).

The state also reported only 52% professionally trained teachers—implying a failure to adhere to critical Right to Education parameters—resulting in classrooms attended by a handful of unqualified teachers with almost 2 lakh vacant posts. Interestingly, only 1.6% of the school budget is spent on teacher’s training.

Women Safety And Empowerment: Freedom Not Feardom

Being one among the ‘Saat Nishchay – Vikas ki Guarantee’ agenda of JD(U), women’s safety and empowerment have been a big failure. Between 2005-10, Mr Kumar offered the female electorate a taste of freedom, reserving an unprecedented 50% seats in Panchayat and local body elections for them. Another one of his flagship initiatives was the “Mukhyamantri Balika Cycle Yojana”. But the challenges are still there.

Just a year ago, Muzaffarpur shelter home rape case hit national headlines after a report by Tata Institute Of Social Sciences (TISS) went public. The abuse and sexual violation of the young inmates of the Muzaffarpur-based NGO (Sewa Sankalp Evam Vikas Samiti ) point to how the government failed; the nefarious activities of several state agencies also got highlighted. Chandeshwar Verma, Social Welfare Minister Manju Verma’s husband, was accused of frequently visiting the place and spending hours there.

About 17,472  crimes against women were recorded in Bihar during 2018-19. Image for representation only. Source: Getty

In June 2019, a 48-year-old woman and her newly married 19-year-old daughter were ‘punished’ by shaving hair and parading in Vaishali’s Bihari village to deprecate the rape bid against local ward councillor, Mohammad Khurshid. During the lockdown on 3rd April, a migrant woman was sexually abused in Gaya hospital, where she was kept in an isolation ward. Three days later, she died due to excessive bleeding.

Behind the veil of reserved seats of local bodies election, women contesting elections as ‘proxy candidates‘ appears to be the status quo across Bihar. In several villages, they contest as proxy officials on behalf of their husband, who come to be called mukhiyapatis and sarpanchpatis.

According to Bihar Gender Report Card 2019, issued by the Government of Bihar, about 17,472  crimes against women were recorded in Bihar during 2018-19. Kidnapping alone constitutes 50% of the crimes committed against women in Bihar, and about 20% of the cases are filed under Dowry Oppression. The report also highlighted 6% dowry deaths, 9% of the total crimes to be rape, and around 12% of cases were under the broad bucket of Women Atrocities.

The same report says that Bihar has the lowest labour force participation rate among women (aged 15-59) in India, just 4.4%. This is significantly lower than the male LFPR (71%) in the state. The average wage-earning among female regular workers is 27% lower than male regular workers.

Accountable Care Healthcare

Healthcare system happens to be a basic parameter for good governance. Still, the Nitish Regime did not even bother to include the healthcare facilities in its seven decision manifesto “Saat Nishchay-Vikas ki guarantee” in 2015 elections. Bihar’s fractured healthcare system came into the limelight in 2019 when Acute Encephalitis Syndrome, “chamki Bukhar”, took more than 100 innocent lives.

Encephalitis has been killing children since 1995. In fact, according to ‘National Vector Borne Disease Control Programme’, between 2008 and 2014 AES epidemic resulted in 44, 000 unknown cases and 6,000 deaths across India, mainly in UP and Bihar. That crisis again showed the failure of government agencies. Unsurprisingly, in the NITI Aayog health index titled “Healthy States Progressive India” in 2017- 2018, Bihar secured the second-lowest position.

MUZAFFARPUR, INDIA – JUNE 18: Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar visits Shri Krishna Medical College and Hospital (SKMCH) to review the situation prevailing due to Acute Encephalitis Syndrome (AES) on June 18, 2019 in Muzaffarpur, India. (Photo by Santosh Kumar/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

That was not all; it also marked as having ‘Deteriorated’ with the highest number of indicators falling in the category of “deteriorated” and “most deteriorated”. An official agency of Health Ministry in 2018-19 revealed that 98 Primary Health centres could not even meet the basic requirements of one medical officer, two nurse – midwives, and not even a labour room. The district hospitals did not even qualify the minimum criteria in the state’s healthcare apparatus.

The cleanliness survey undertaken by the Clean India Campaign listed Bihar as least hygienic in the country. Despite receiving dubious distinction after the report and an additional 300 crore under PM-JAY/ Ayushman Bharat, no efforts have been made to change the health system. With such a horrible healthcare system, how the state is dealing with the coronavirus outbreak is a question of apprehension.

Space to Social Harmony

Mr Kumar has followed a policy of zero tolerance towards communal forces in the past. But the collapse of Grand Alliance in July 2017 and the homecoming of Kumar to NDA, gave the BJP higher control. Nitish did succeed in penalising the rioters of the Bhagalpur massacre (1989-1990), but now, it is rarely possible. His ally, now a dominant one, cannot allow him to do so because the Hindutva card is being played by his ally as an electoral saviour.

A report by The Indian Express, in early 2018, claimed that since July 2017, after Mr Kumar quit the grand alliance, the state has seen a flow of communal tensions. The report states that more than 200 cases of communal tensions have been recorded by the police, including 64 in 2018— with 270 cases in 2017, the highest number of communal incidents in recent times.

According to the NCRB report, of the 723 incidents (India) of communal/religious riots in 2017, 163 (highest in all) are from Bihar. This number was marginally increased to 167 in 2018. Union Minister Ashwini Choubey reportedly rubbished the involvement and subsequent FIR against his son Arjit Shahswat in Bhagalpur violence on 17th March 2018, which led to tensions in nine other districts. This does not sit well with the promise of zero tolerance towards communal forces, does it?

Same domination was seen in Patna in September 2018, when district administration issued an order calling for the immersion of all the idols of Durga Puja within the stipulated time as Muharram was to follow a day later. None other than Union minister of state Giriraj Singh publicly flayed the Nitish Kumar government. As a result, the administration withdrew its order, indicating dilution in the ‘sushashan’ and promises of Mr Kumar.

Still Sick: BIMARU And Bihar

From 2004-05 to 2014-15, Bihar emerged as the fastest-growing state in India with 10% annual growth and remained in double-digits in 2016-17 with 10.3%. But, the economist, Kaushik Basu’s remarks, “Bihar’s high growth did not translate into a significant reduction in Poverty”, draws everyone’s attention to the fact that between 2004-05 and 2009-10, the percentage of poor people hardly declined and has even increased in past 5 years.

In the 2018 “Multidimensional poverty index ”, 50 districts in the country came in BIMARU states, and from 1998-99 to 2015-16, Bihar remained a multidimensional poorest state. The state massively lacks industrialization and several other factors, such as apathy towards family planning, corruption, illiteracy have contributed to poverty. Bihar’s policies need to centre around bringing qualitative strategies and new vision that can alleviate poverty and not just focused on annual growth.

Weak Lumps: Flowing Liquor

Bihar Prohibition and Excise Act came into effect on April 1st, 2016. It prohibits manufacturing, bottling, distribution, collection, storage, possession, purchase, selling or consumption of liquor. Later in 2018, this law was amended by the Bihar government due to huge pressure from critics, watering down its stringency. The implementation of the law barely impacted the availability of liquor, rather, cross border smuggling or ferrying defied prohibition imposed by the government.

Due to liquor being sold abundantly in the black market statewide at high prices, episodes of death owing to country-made liquor have also been reported from across the state. The ban also led to the emergence of gangs of local bootleggers and increased corruption in the Bihar police force.

This liquor ban card was played by the government to safeguard the votes from women suffering from alcoholism of men in the family. Instead of stopping, this ban acted as a catalyst for crime and a reasonable surge by 46% from 14, 279 in April 2016 to 20,915 in May 2020 (as per Bihar police crime data) was seen.

All these points raise questions on Nitish’s Sushashan’s tag. But Bihar’s Sushashan Raj can be revived and retrieved by allocating adequate resources, along with a pledged team for execution. With the loftiest youth population in India, just a resolute personality is needed to kick start the pace of development. For the state to overcome its rouge attitude, people of Bihar need to redeem their ignorant behaviour of glorifying the past and neglecting present real issues.

The above article was first published here.

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Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

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