Diary of an Election Observer from the Kingdom of Bihar-1
I am part of a yahoo group, which has the privilege of having Mr.C.Umashankar as its member. Mr. C. Umashankar a Tamil Nadu cadre IAS officer. He is currently posted as Election Observer (General) in East Champaran district - Motihari town of Bihar.
He has been posting a lucid and fascinating diary of his observations during the current assignment, which I am sure will be of interest to most visitors to this website. I am posting this diary as a news item and also for discussion in the forum. Each new dispatch by Mr.Umashankar will appear in both places and a discussion is invited.
Valentine’s Day, 2005:
I am in Bihar, at last, as Election Observer. I have been longing to see this place. I wanted to learn about this State and its people. There can be no better opportunity than coming here and watching the place and its people for a period of nearly a month.
I am in Motihari, headquarters for East Champaran district. One Block in my (allotted) constituency is supposed to be affected by Naxal influence (MCC). Now I know that without appreciating the conditions in Bihar one cannot and should not plan for India's development.
In the earlier e-gov conferences when people raised questions about power supply problems I did not realise the importance of it. Because the State I come from (TamilNadu) has no power problem at all. Way back in 1975 TamilNadu had electrified all its villages. There is no power cut there, be it in towns or villages.
First I had the experience in MP where the villages and towns were in the dark and the Dhaba wallas were drawing 'free power' for pollution free cooking by drawing direct lines from the State electricity Board's lines.
Bihar had beaten every other record. There are electric lines/poles everywhere but alas there is no electricity. The district headquarters gets roughly one hour electricity every day. One can imagine the plight of the villages. The District Collector's residence, all guest houses including the circuit house and the Customs department guest house in which I have been put up are all supported by 24/7 generators.
I asked a villager today "Do you get drinking water?" His answer was rather sarcastic. Well, without electricity how one can expect drinking water in villages.
Adamantly my mind makes a comparison with Tamilnadu. During my Collectorship (1999-2001), the then TamilNadu Government decided to carry out 100% inspection of drinking water facilities such as power pumps, hand borewells and overhead tanks (OHTs). This was accompanied by another inspection to ensure 100% burning of streetlights. A zonal officer (IAS) was sent from Chennai to each district to do the random inspection. Prior to the Zonal Officer’s visit, the Collectors used to carry out test checks in certain villages to ensure 100 % burning of streetlights and functioning of drinking water facilities. Defaulting Village Panchayats were punished. No doubt the officers in charge were suspended if there was any slackness in this regard.
It was a rather interesting period in life. The villages used to gleam with the streetlights. Not a single streetlight would remain out of order for more than 24 hours. Repairs and replacements were carried out swiftly. During that period, they introduced a new scheme to cover all habitats with more than 50 families to provide them with an over head tank (25000 litres and above) with power pump facility.
When I make a comparison with Bihar, I find there is no role for street lights here and there is no over head tank either. The thermal power stations located nearby have been shut down as no one was paying electricity in Bihar. I also see a defunct sugar mill in Motihari town.
The cascading effect is that there can be no industry, no street light, no lighting for houses and there can be nothing for development.
And one has to travel on the Bihar roads to realize how comfortable one is outside Bihar. It takes one hour to cross 27 kms. People here talk in terms of minutes and not in terms of KMs when it comes to travel. There is hardly any difference between the NH, District roads and village roads. In fact road users look for outside the road, including NH to look for a comfortable ride. Potholes and craters are more a rule than exception.
Well, my mind adamantly makes a comparison with TamilNadu. Last month I travelled to Nagapattinam and back in connection with Tsunami relief work. The last lap of 150 km was covered at an average speed of 115 kmph!
It is impossible to visualize anyone coming here (Bihar) to invest. Without investment there can be no development. After 6 p.m there is no life in Bihar in the village side. By 9 p.m everything is dark in the district headquarters. Officers are afraid to travel after the dark. I made an exception today by travelling upto 8 p.m. I had sufficient gun wielding policemen to protect me!
The people in Bihar are more concerned with their caste politics. Caste is one single factor that keeps Bihar where it is today. Unfortunately people here are not ready to look outside the State to draw examples. They look rather inwards, within their street or across the street and try to bring their fellow citizens down.
Naxalism cannot be avoided as long as the state of affairs is like this. Dacoits and criminals thrive because that is the only profession, which is supported by the state of being in Bihar.
Unfortunate indeed. My heart goes for the younger generation which is forced to live behind other states by as good as 100 years!
I just make a comparison with my e-governance experience in Tiruvarur. For TamilNadu standards, Tiruvarur is the most inappropriate place for e-governance due to its distance from Chennai (350 km) and due to its poor infrastructure. A comparison with Bihar shows that Tiruvarur was rather well equipped to go for high speed e-governance!
Now in all my plans/visions I cannot omit Bihar. May be we need to give a special status to Bihar – Republic of Bihar. Things are completely different here, except poverty and deprivation with the rest of India.
When we make a special plan for the Republic of Bihar, we need to mention like the way the Government of India makes an exception for J & K.
Let us better draft a special constitution for Bihar. The Constitution shall be in tune with the status on ground in Bihar.