‘Estimate scam’, a roadblock to Bihar’s growth story




Nitish Kumar-led government continues with disproportionate investments upto hundreds of crores on building a single park or museum in the state capital perishing in lack of basic infrastructure and sanitation

In year 2005, ahead of Nitish Kumar’s emergence in power in Bihar, among a 57-member committee of a posh colony’s residents in Patna, engineer Pradeep Thakur was entrusted with the responsibility to sketch a planfor construction of a parkin his neighbourhood.

Thakur, who now works with Rural Works Department, Bihar and has shifted to a new locality, recalls, “The 200 x 300 feet ground on SK Nagar Road number 23, which was gradually turning into a dump yard, had become a concern for many of us. With the mohallawalas’ help, I estimated a budget ranging from Rs 7-10 lakh for a park which was to have a playground, swings, pathways and wired fences over two-feet high walls.” The plan didn’t materialise, however, later in 2012 the state government built a park there at a whooping cost of Rs 90 lakh, an investment dubbed as disproportionate by Thakur.

This is not a one off case of disproportionate expenditure in the name of state-funded infrastructural development in Bihar. Three constructions in Central Patna–a world-class museum at a cost of Rs 517 crore, Samrat Ashok Convention Centre at about Rs 500 crore and Buddha Smriti Park at Rs 125 crore come across as government-backed calculative bureaucratic designs to siphon funds. In 2015, Patna High Court had asked the state government to justify huge expenses on the museum project, particularly Rs 22 crore consultancy fee given to a Canadian firm.

Buddha Park located near Patna Railway Station

A senior official in Patna Municipal Corporation (PMC), who does not want to be named, told The Morning Chronicle, “It is only left for the state officials to wonder why so much was spent on Buddha Park and the new museum and why the government could not think of building these structures in the other extended parts in the city. Why they chose to build them in Central Patna? Suggestions from various quarters to cut down on their construction cost and to utilise the money to develop Patna junction and build primary infrastructure like roads and schools were overlooked by the government representatives.”

Just Opposite the Buddha Park where Patna Municipal Corporation has no job to do

In the period before the 2010 legislative assembly elections in Bihar, Nitish Kumar entered a nexus of convenience with the bureaucrats. “It could be ascertained by observations from various quarters which saw the state chief rely largely on bureucrats for every small developmental work and the power of the latter growing untrammelled in rural Bihar in this phase. This is when Kumar started to lose touch with the commoners,” stated MN Karna, former director of AN Sinha Institute, Patna.

It was in this phase that the practice where the expenditure on construction from state fund was shown exorbitantly higher than actual became known as ‘estimate ghotala’, the connotation of which was popularly heard in Jharkhand before.

“Under Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (relaunched as Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation scheme in 2015),excessive numbers of flyovers were constructed in Patna but the scheme was not implemented for the poor. Patna had seen several initiative for the beautification of slums during the Lalu (former CM Lalu Yadav) regime. Ironically, in a phase where the newly elected government under Nitish concentrated on widescale constructions, there were hardly any houses built for the slum dwellers. The plan to build pukka houses across the slums in Vrihad Patna—comprised of Patna, Danapur, Khagaul, Bihta, Hajipur, Sonepur, Fatuha and Patna City zones—was put on the back burner. Hardly any of these residents were given land right documents,” said Basant Chaudhry, former member of Administrative Reform Commission formed by Nitish government first phase. He quit in protest to non-fulfilment of slum dwellers’ right in Nitish regime.

Primary School of East Lohanipur Slum where slum-dwellers park their vehicles and dogs defecate

There are 52 identified slums in Vrihad Patna, out of which Lohanipur, Yarpur, Adalatgunj and Bahadurpur are most populated. Most of the infrastructure in these slums—community hall, public school, PMC water supply system was built during Lalu regime. According to data gathered through survey reports of civil society groups and Bihar Economic Surveys across years, the incumbent government which had promised to build 22,000 houses in the slums, has delivered the construction of only 248 houses altogether in Sharifgunj and Mangal Talab slum areas, whereas 600 Lohanipur families were allotted land rights recently.

“The residents of Sadiq Nagar are in the lurch as their houses have been demolished and the construction of new houses for them in Sampatchak area has been stalled over a dispute,” said Kishoridas, president of Jhuggi Jhopri Shehri Gareeb Sangharsh Morcha.

The significance of civic amenities in a state’s capital are not a few basic ones only for its citizens, amenities include research institutes, healthcare and super speciality institutions, education centres, platform for debates and protest grounds for everyone who visits. A city is not known by the cars which run on its streets and traffic lights. While developing Patna, like the essential facilities to be provided to everyone, what was also overlooked was the shrinking space for pedestrians, open grounds.

Parth Sarkar, a Patna-based leftist activist said, “The development plan under the incumbent for Patna has cornered the pedestrians, slum dwellers, has lost spaces for dissent and rallies have been marginalised. Adalatgunj Maidan, Congress Maidan, Station Chowk, Kargil Chowk and Gandhi Maidan were the known grounds where thousands and lakhs of people would assemble, now these gatherings have been restricted to a narrow road in Gardanibagh.”

A house built for slum dwellers in Lalu Prasad regime
The house that was built for slum dwellers by Lalu Prasad Yadav

Patna also ranks very low on the sanitation scorecard. On my way to the city’s Lohanipur slum, I could see piles of garbage and dung stashed across the main road and cattle grazing on them in the posh localities of SK Puri, Patliputra Colony and Rajendra Nagar. While washing her filth covered feet, Rampyari Devi said, “Nitish babu thoda jameen diye hain haal mein yahan Lohanipur mein par saaf safai ya sudhar karya kuch hota nahi hai yahan/ Patna toh itna ganda ho gaya hai hee aur humara basti uske samne narak ho gaya hai—(Nitish government has allotted some land to us residents but sanitation is not maintained in our area. If you compare our basti to the rest of Patna, which is becoming dirtier with each passing day, our basti’s living conditions are like hell).”

In a city which has been labelled as “country’s dirtiest city” and “dead city” by its top judicial and civic body, the living conditions of slum dwellers could be imagined, comment activist groups. Five days after Patna High Court dubbed the state capital as India’s dirtiest city on July 3, PMC Executive Head Anupam Suman expressed his disappointment about poor sanitation in a board meeting of the corporation stating “Patna is dead so is its civic body.”

The road that was inaugurated by local BJP MLA is still not complete after more than one year

When asked for his response, PMC Chief Engineer Ashok Kumar said, “There are 4,000 PMC workers entrusted with the task of maintaining sanitation in Vrihad Patna. I believe they don’t perform their duties throughout and the lack in management of our workforce is why the state of sanitation is not up to mark here. Another plan whose success could have made a big difference was the plan proposed by former Urban Development Minister Ashvini Kumar Chaube in 2006, to generate fuel from waste.”

However, the plan didn’t materialise even after repetitive announcements, the last of which was heard last month where Patna Mayor Sita Sahu announced that a US-based agency has given a proposal of producing 6,500 MW electricity, 200 million litre bio diesel using 1,500 metric tonnes of solid waste and 600 million metric tonnes of wet waste.” Speaking to The Morning Chronicle, civic officials in Patna regard these plans as fables.

Strikingly, under the SC/ST Sub Plan, various categories for investment of the scheme fund allotted by Bihar government include Road construction with Rs 945 crore disbursement, North and South Bihar power distribution at Rs 401 crore and Rs 300 crore consecutively. Such funds meant for the welfare of the downtrodden being disbursed for large scale infrastructure and claimed to be utilised as“development includes the former also” is an eyewash.

“Components of urban reforms which would have benefited the poor were virtual non-starters in Bihar. Though Nitish Kumar had sloganised the development agenda with justice but he clearly indicated his elitist approach from the very beginning. His initial move to scrap the Urban Land Ceiling Act reflected this,” Anindo Banerjee of NGO Praxis – Institute for Participatory Practices said.

It is amusing that there are discrepancies even between the published data of Bihar Economic Surveys of different years prepared by the Finance Department in the state. For example, the Economic Survey of year 2016-17 shows the growth rate in the construction sector within primary sector between 2011-12 and 2015-16 as 8.6 per cent whereas Economic Survey of year 2017-18 has published the growth rate for the same as 5.8 per cent.

In 2005-2006, Nitish Kumar had sloganised his mission for Bihar as ‘Development with Justice’and‘Development for empowerment of the people’. But after the 2015 legislative assembly elections which marked his third phase in governance, the bugle of justice and empowerment diluted into civic concerns with the slogan transforming into“saat nishchay (seven determinations)”.