Bihar Vikas Convention

[Excerpts of speech delivered at Vikas Convention (Convention on Development) in Patna. From Liberation, November 1994.]

It is not enough to say that there is only sluggishness in regard to the development in Bihar. The actual situation is that Bihar is moving backwards. This is Bihar’s special quality. The big public sector factories set up under the old economic policy are fast becoming sick. On the other hand, reinvestment of capital on the basis of NEP like in other states is not to be seen in Bihar. New or old, the results of both the economic policies haven’t been beneficial for Bihar. The state government corporations are incurring heavy losses. Bihar has the lowest per capita income in India. It also comes first in the percentage of people living below poverty line and this percentage is ever increasing.

The other thing we see here is that, be it royalty from coal, be it a grant from the centre or a World Bank aid, be it the salaries of employees and teachers, be it even their provident fund, all of this goes into running the government. In other words, there is not much internal generation of revenue.

The third speciality of this state is the nature of political leadership. The people exercising political leadership at present have no economic viewpoint for Bihar’s development. Politics is the reflection of economics, and hence, what we call as criminalisation of politics is actually the reflection of the criminalisation of the economy. The change that has occurred from Jagannath Mishra to Laloo Yadav has been reduced from the hegemony of criminal elements of the forward sections to the hegemony of the criminal elements of the backward sections. Even the tribal leaderships from Jharkhand have a pronounced mafia element in them. This process is on in all directions. And even the politicians have become a type of ‘class’ of their own. For the people of Bihar already loaded under the weight of landlords, kulaks and various types of criminals, here is another mountain load of trouble from the class of politicians. Capturing government jobs has become the focal point of all politics in Bihar.

The fourth speciality of Bihar is the complete degeneration of the democratic system, the elections are most violent and no elections for the panchayats and municipalities take place. The last one took place in 1978 and 2000 people died in it.

The fifth form of Bihar’s tragedy is the most wrathful forms of violence in the state. Killing of three-four people is no news nowadays. Only large-scale massacres make some news. This only goes to show the cheap value of human life in Bihar.

The rapid degeneration of cultural values is the sixth speciality of the state: educational anarchy, wheedling the state and the projection of political leadership as kings and demi-gods.

The cessation of growth in Bihar’s agricultural production is the root cause of all the other degenerations in the state. Even though, in Bihar, on one acre of land, compared to the national average, 70% more peasants, 120% more agricultural labourers and 65% more animal strength is put in, yet it is far behind the national average in produce. On analysing deeply we see that farming is essentially subsistence farming, i.e. production is only for domestic consumption and not for the market.

Why is it so? On a closer investigation of the institutional constraints we find that the basic problem is of land reform which even today is incomplete in Bihar. When Laloo Yadav came to power he said -- he in fact threatened — that he would take legal action against the 85 families who have land holdings above 500 acres and if need be he would nationalise the land. A circular on recording the lands of all landlords was also brought out by the state government. With the passage of time Laloo stopped saying such things and even withdrew the circular. But while Laloo was saying all this, Jagannath Mishra raised his objections to this. His first objection was that the recording process would consume thousands of crores, perhaps four thousand crore rupees. And secondly, all this would create social tension. We see that gradually Lalooji too stopped saying these things and also withdrew the circular. So, a historic agreement took place between Laloo and Jagannath Mishra, between JD and Congress. Or you can say that an agreement was reached between the kulak sections of the forwards and backward castes that we will not fight over the basic question of land: If we have to fight we will keep it restricted only to the fight over the reservation in government jobs. It is not good to fight over the basic question of land for it will cause social tension whose benefits will be reaped by the revolutionary forces.

There is a view from some intellectuals that land reform is no longer required in Bihar because whatever land reform had to take place is already over. The tenants among the a section of the forwards and a section of the backwards have all got possession of land and zamindari system has also ended. And now these intellectuals say that ‘Kisan Raj’ (in the context of the Laloo government) has arrived. And hence it would be dishonest to talk about land reform. And a view has also surfaced that the agenda of land reform can be taken up as a leftover, here-and-there, agenda but there is no need for enlarging it. There is a need for educating the masses so that a feeling of enterprising initiatives is awakened in them. Bihari youth should invest capital and set up industry instead of becoming a ‘Babu’. And they said all this was not caste-dependent but based on human qualities and it is required to nurture these human qualities. This should be done through training and education. And instead of cultivating only rice and wheat, potatoes should be cultivated and sold, fisheries should be encouraged etc. This is supposed to be the way for Bihar’s progress. I will say that such ideas, in whatever left form they come in, are all wrong. For you will see that the status-quoist forces present here, be it Congress or JD, they all in a roundabout way say that there is no need for land reform. If only we proceed with advanced farming in Bihar and if a little bit of training is given to the bureaucracy, then probably all the troubles of Bihar can be eradicated. So we understand that somewhere or the other all these arguments are all in favour of the status-quoist and government forces.

If we look at history we see that, in 1973, in Bihar, a seminar on land reform had taken place where Jai Prakash Narayan, was present along with many well-known intellectuals and many others. Various things were discussed and suggestions were given for what is to be done, especially by the Bihar government. The first suggestion that came up was that land records were not proper and that they needed correction, specially the recordings of the tenants was required. Secondly, there should be reform in tenancy whose ultimate goal should be making the tenants the owners of their own land. For this, if need be, the tenants should be provided with adequate funds to pay for the compensation. For the compensation, the government should provide loans to the tenants, which should be recovered gradually in instalments. These tenants should be able to do farming in a better way and their outstanding debts to the landlords should be cleared off with the help of low-interest loans from banks and financial institutions. The third recommendation that came up was that ceiling laws should be modified and properly implemented. Fourthly, special land tribunals should be formed and the cases should be transferred from the courts and speedily settled in these tribunals.

And recently, in 1991, a workshop on land reform took place in the same Patna where too various intellectuals participated among whom were some who had participated in the 1973 seminar. This workshop discussed what happened to the suggestions of the 1973 seminar in the last twenty years. They concluded that in Bihar the process of agricultural reform has not progressed at all. There was no progress on bringing in laws for limiting land ceiling and on distribution of the acquired land. In fact what happened was that the agenda of land reform was always pushed to the background by calling it irrelevant. This workshop again sent some new proposals to the state government hoping they would be implemented. The special recommendation was to set limits to land holding in a new way in which the presently followed classification of land into six types should be changed to three types. One, cultivated land which has a ceiling of 15 acres; uncultivated land with a ceiling of 22 acres and barren and waste land with a ceiling of 30 acres. Secondly, all concessions related to ceiling given to people holding land under private trusts and land possessed in the name of sugar mills, should be withdrawn. The third proposal was that land tribunals should be formed which the government had attempted but was stopped by the High Court. So it was suggested that permission be taken from the Supreme Court in its favour. The fourth point was that an ‘Operation Batai’ should be undertaken in Bihar similar to ‘Operation Barga’ in West Bengal. Even these proposals sent by well-known intellectuals were not implemented by the Bihar government.

So this position is not only ours. Well-known intellectuals of the country, all established intellectuals who want the betterment of Bihar, agree on this point that the process of land reform in Bihar is incomplete and completing it holds the key to Bihar’s development. Only forces like Jagannath Mishra and Laloo Yadav or broker-intellectual types say that there is no need for land reform in Bihar and newer technology in agriculture is the only panacea for Bihar.

The first and foremost thing is the question of agricultural labourers and they should receive their minimum wages. For this, before the farming season, local farmers, peasants, labourers, Kisan Sabha-like organisations of the masses and the officials of the administrative machinery should sit and decide the wages for the season. This should become a regular system because every year conditions change and new rates of wages are to be decided and their implementation should be guaranteed because they don’t get work throughout the year. So a guarantee for their work should be made and land provided for their housing. This should be the first programme. Secondly, fresh surveys should be carried out to record land and then not only should the land be distributed but collectivisation is also required so that farming can be done scientifically. Apart from this the rights of the tenants should be secured and they should be provided low-interest loans from the government institutions so that they can do farming in a better way and eventually be the owners of their own land. This should be our second programme.

The third programme is to strengthen the infrastructure of agriculture in Bihar like augmenting irrigation, renovating old canals and improving land for better productivity. The fourth agenda is the diversification of agriculture. Poultry farming should be started. The fifth point is that the traditional industries of Bihar like the jute mills, sugar mills or handloom units of North Bihar should be revived. The sixth point is that we must revive all democratic institutions like panchayats. And the seventh point I would like to make is that democratic organisations like Kisan Sabha are to participate in this whole process.

So I think that this programme is essential for the development of Bihar. But implementing it is not an easy task. For this we have to traverse a long path of struggle. In the first place, struggle has to be waged against the owners of land, or the rich Kulaks, and those who are associated with multiple businesses, and those who manipulate politics and run regional politics from behind. These three qualities were present in the notorious landlord of Bhojpur, Jwala Singh. On the one hand, he was the owner of a sizeable amount of land, on the other, he ran his various business ventures with black money from his underworld activities and coordinated the entire politics of that region. Such forces are present in all corners of Bihar and the first thing is to wage a struggle against them. Secondly, an extensive struggle should be waged against the corrupt bureaucracy. Thirdly, we have to wage a struggle against the class of politicians I mentioned earlier.

And the last thing I would like to say is that there is a need to end the educational anarchy rampant in Bihar. Instead of wasting time on ‘Charwaha Schools’, agricultural training institutes should be opened. In line with the needs of technology, in Bihar, unnecessary private high schools like those of Ramlakhan Singh Yadav and Tapeshwar Singh should be closed and converted into technical institutes instead. And in this context I would like to add that education should be secular and we should change these casteist educational institutions. Reservations should be made for the dalits excluding the creamy layer. This could be increased to 60-70% and in this a minimum of 10% reservation should be made for women because if the process of breaking the backwardness of Bihar has to be accelerated then women have to be put in the forefront of social development.