Sunday, February 17, 2008

Welcome to Bihar!


By Manuwant Choudhary

A statue of the first Mauritian Prime Minister Sir Sewoorsagur Ramgoolam has been hastily erected and decked up with flowers at a very congested Gandhi Maidan-Exhibition Road intersection the unveiling of which is a main program of the visiting current Mauritian Prime Minister Navinchandra Ramgoolam.
For the Prime Minister it is return to the land from where his ancestors came from...a land from where thousands of Bihari's were taken to Mauritius to work on sugarcane farms.
They later not only worked on the farms but won Mauritius its freedoms.
Economically Mauritius grew in strength and today Bihar welcomes its own who have been successful.
But my story is not about Mauritius...its about Bihar.
Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar visited Mauritius last monsoons when the waters from Nepal drowned half its people. When he returned to a marooned people shouting for help and politics gone all wrong...and visited Darbhanga a local journalist impishly asked the chief minister, "Tab Kya-kya kiye Mauritius mein...??" (So what all did you do in Mauritius?)
While this time Mauritius is coming to Bihar...and will perhaps enjoy the winter sun a few months from now waters from Nepal will once more flood Bihar and destroy the lives of lakhs of people.
And this chief minister already in his third year has done nothing on that front except distribute a 100 kilo of wheat to a marooned people who did not have the fuel to even cook that wheat!
The questions I am raising is not that we should not honour the Bihari but that we must focus on the more pressing needs of Bihar.
We will not rejoice over Presidential visits when Biharis are being attacked and driven out from Maharashtra.
India's President Pratibha Patil says nothing to prevent such attacks and sadly even the media prefers not to ask uncomfortable questions.
And does the chief minister Nitish Kumar have time for Biharis living within Bihar?
Bihar is without electricity and roads and corrupt to the core so why would an investor invest in this state?
Nitish Kumar has been chief minister for two-and-a-half years and for two-and-a-half years my home has been without electricity. The reason being a transformer of the state electricity department got burnt.
The corruption fee for replacing the transformer is Rs.20,000, which means in a village every electric consumer coughs up Rs.400 each. And if you live alone you pay all of Rs.20,000.
I refused to pay.
I met Bihar's minister for power Bijender Yadav four times and on my fourth visit he called up the chairman of the Bihar State Electricity department and ordered the replacement of the transformer.
That was six months ago. I went on an India tour and only last week the transformer arrived.
An electricity official said, "It has cost me Rs.1600 to transport the transformer from the district. You can pay at least that...but even if you don't its ok."
I didn't.
My home saw electricity after two-and-a-half years but the supply is for two hours daily only.
Still out of courtesy I thought I must thank the power minister only to find that the minister is in New Delhi begging the centre to increase Bihar's share of the electricity quota.
Nitish Kumar got an opportunity to change the old laws and signal private investments in a state which is crying for help. Power companies would come in and buy land from farmers directly without any government help or coercion and produce electricity, satisfy Bihar and even light up this country.
Recently, a Reuters correspondent visited Bihar and visited Hajipur industrial area.
A local enterpeneur from Treat icecream showed him a packet of Rs.500 notes which had just been returned by the electricity department.
Correspondent, "Oh, they must be honest."
Industrialist, "No, they returned it because it was not enough. They want more."
The correspondent visited my friends factory in his village and in the interview Rajesh said the only thing is Bihar is not Somalia. In Somalia you get shot!
I called up Rajesh to correct him that he is wrong you do get shot in Bihar.

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