Laggards' leap

Most people were pleasantly surprised by the figures of GDP growth in some of the country’s most backward states, provided by the Central Statistical Organisation. They showed remarkable economic growth in the last five years and the pack of fast-movers was led by Bihar which rarely escape being called hopeless and benighted. All the traditional laggards — Bihar, Orissa, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, UP and Rajasthan — clocked growth ranging from 6.25 per cent to 11.05 per cent.

Bihar’s 11.03 per cent was next only to Gujarat’s 11.05 per cent. There was even some skepticism about the authenticity of the figures but it now seems that they are credible. It is indeed difficult to manipulate the figures for all the states. Only Madhya Pradesh lags behind others, but there is a view that this is because of reasons beyond its control like the vagaries of nature.

Bihar’s performance has attracted most attention. Many reasons have been cited: the good governance provided by the Nitish Kumar government with emphasis on better law and order which is a condition for economic growth, construction activities and building of infrastructure like rural roads, the spread of telephony, the growth of the service sector, increased public spending under social programmes, social changes brought about by the Mandalisation of the state in the 90s and the bandwagon effect created by the growth in other parts of the country are some of the explanations. None of them on its own could have produced such a near miracle. A combination all these and other factors could have contributed to the progress of the state. Bihar’s performance is all the more creditable because it is predominantly agriculture-dependent and is not resource-rich like Orissa or Jharkhand.

The growth of both Bihar and UP will have a major impact at the national level because these two are big and populous states. It has been observed that the growth recorded by them has largely excluded the poorest sections of the society. This has generally been the case in many other parts of the country too but would be more so in the hitherto most socially backward states. If the momentum of development in these states is maintained the country will soon start growing at an annual rate of more than 10 per cent of the GDP. While the prospect is good, the challenge is how to sustain the growth and make it more socially inclusive and less divisive.

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