Tales of a neglected hinterland

PREETI MEHRA | Updated on March 09, 2018


Inclusive growth has bypassed UP and Bihar. Poor school attendance and electricity connections bear this out.

Pastel green paddy fields, bullock carts, orange-hued skies and heavily-laden mango trees — these are picture postcard scenes of our rural landscape.

But the romanticism ends right there as you travel through parts of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh and take a peek behind the veneer.

It is clear that not much of ‘liberalisation', ‘globalisation' or even plain ‘development' — the jargon we are all so used to — has touched these parts. In Bihar, the squalor stares you in the face as do feudal and caste prejudices.

If this is how it is under Chief Minster Nitish Kumar, who is said to have brought progress to the State, what must it have been during Lalu Prasad Yadav's regime?

You speak to the children in the villages of West Champaran district — no, they do not go to school regularly, whatever the Bihar Government may claim.

Children who do, mostly one or two in a family, complain of the masterji just coming in for two to three hours.

No food, education

When you stop at a Harijan basti and shake hands with the children around, women rush to tell you the caste status of the village. Here, no one raises their hand when asked if they go to school. They are clearly perplexed by such a question.

On the Bihar government Web site, West Champaran district's literacy rate is 39.6 per cent. It has 1,340 primary schools, 284 middle schools and 68 high schools, but, then, what are so many of the children doing out of them? And why have the teenagers dropped out in Class VIII?

The adults, however, are not too bothered how the children are faring. They are much more concerned about the here and now — the price they have to pay for food. “Prices keep climbing and our earnings are not enough,” says Shravan, who is happy about saving half of what he used to spend on kerosene, thanks to CFL light, but not about the price of pulses, meat and milk (which is hardly available).

Prices for specific commodities here are not very different from what they are in the cities. Besides, unlike the cities, people here spend a majority of their income on food.

In Budaun district of Uttar Pradesh, the situation is not very different. Milk may be cheaper than in the Capital by Rs 3 a kg, but pulses that cost Rs 50 per kg in Delhi cost the same here. “It grows in our region, near our village, but the vyapari (traders) hoards it, making us pay such heavy prices,” explains Hirday Pal. The middleman's social profile may have undergone a change, but he is present in one way or the other.

It is also obvious in both States that despite the depravation, families were not growing any smaller. Rekha in Tamkuha village, Bihar, was still struggling to feed six daughters and the youngest, a son. Only two of them were going to school. Shanta in Ujhanni, Uttar Pradesh, had a brood of five, despite the fact that the eldest was a son.

Where have we gone wrong? Does developmental neglect feed population explosion — theories that were not taken seriously enough?

Electricity deficit

The neglect in the two States is too obvious to ignore. When compared with Kerala, Andhra Pradesh and Gujarat, as was done in the India Human Development Survey of households, published in 2010, the question arises as to how “inclusive growth” can be a national goal when even the basics are missing in some states.

Take electricity, for instance. It is estimated some 1,25,000 villages in the country are out of the grid and have no electricity. The Human Development Survey corroborates what you find when travelling in the two States.

The chart culled from the report shows that, by far, the two Hindi heartland States are among the worst off in terms of electricity. While 42 per cent village homes in Uttar Pradesh receive power, in Bihar, it is 23 per cent.

No wonder then that a CFL bulb and a mobile connection means so much to the villagers. The interesting observation is that though a lot of villages in the country have ‘electric connections', these fail to translate into electricity access for households — a phenomenon that needs to be further researched.

Another question it throws up is why some States manage to perform better than the others in providing the basics of electricity, water, roads, education, health and employment.

Besides being a mixture of geographical location, connectivity, demography and caste and religious variations, is it not ultimately the quality of governance that matters?

Published on July 29, 2011

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