BIHAR: New data on poverty released by the Planning Commission has yet again taken the shine off the Nitish Kumar fable. Five million people have been added to the state’s official poor despite the double-digit growth rate that has been tom-tommed across the media.
The state recorded a marginal decline in the percentage of population below the poverty line, from 54.4 per cent in 2004-05 to 53.5 per cent in 2009-10. At the national level, a 7.3 per cent reduction was recorded in poverty between 2004-05 and 2009-10. It is this stagnancy in poverty reduction that has added five million more to Bihar’s poor. With this, Bihar is now once again the poorest state in the country now that poverty-stricken Orissa has reduced the proportion of the poor from 57 per cent to 37 per cent.
At 56.5 per cent, the poverty ratio—the percentage of total population below the poverty line— for Muslims in urban Bihar is the highest in the country whereas in rural Bihar and Chhattisgarh, nearly two-thirds of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes are officially considered poor.
Why then is the great Bihar turnaround not reflected in the poverty figures? “The development in the state is largely construction-centric, fuelled by the public investment that didn’t have much impact on rural poverty,” explains economist and general secretary of the Asian Development Research Institute Shaibal Gupta. That is reflected in the urban poverty figures for Bihar, which at 41 per cent are better than those for the rural population. Nitish’s slogans of good governance and reforms seem to have failed to contain poverty in urban centres despite a construction boom, particularly in the state capital Patna, where real estate prices are beginning to match those in Mumbai and New Delhi.