As many as 1,500 international and Indian intellectuals discussed the path of development Bihar should take — and although Deputy Chief Minister Sushil Kumar Modi clarified that it was not an investor’s meet, industrialist Kumaramangalam Birla pledged to invest Rs 500 crore in a cement plant in the eastern state. The Global Summit held over the weekend in Patna reaffirmed that for the policymaker, there is no state in India more exciting than Bihar. The summit was like a Hindi movie – it had emotion, action and even fights.
What should and should not be done in Bihar? Indian democracy was at its raucous best. Planning Commission Member Abhijeet Sen’s cautionary note – that while Bihar had every right to feel good about itself, it needed to ponder over the fact that the state’s growth was construction-linked and the lot of the poor hadn’t really improved – was rebutted strongly by Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, who urged economists and intellectuals to show the way forward and not merely find fault. Sen’s criticism was interpreted as an attack on Bihar. Kumar said the Planning Commission needed to trust the judgment of the state governments on taking financial decisions that were appropriate to the state.
Kumar said if central assistance was forthcoming, “Bihar will not need to wait for 25 years to achieve the national average per capita income”. This was in the context of several economists asserting over the three-day summit that even with its current SGDP growth, Bihar would need 25-30 years to reach that level. “Why can’t we achieve this target in 10 years? We can do this with focused planning,” Kumar asked, noting that the state had an outlay of Rs 1.50 lakh crore for agriculture over the next five years. The new road map would come into effect from April 1 next, he declared. Turning to Sen again, the CM said, “Poor people are comparatively less dishonest — and we are poor people.” The message conveyed was that central funds would not be misutilised in view of the state’s recent record of fiscal discipline.
The thrust and parry between the centre and the state was the subtext of the entire conference. Referring to the declining credit-deposit (CD) ratio in Bihar (around 33 per cent), Member of Parliament from the Rajya Sabha N K Singh asked RBI Governor D Subbarao why commercial banks were reluctant to give loans to Bihar.
Rao was obviously not expecting a frontal attack, but he said the RBI would do its bit in chivvying banks to provide credit. Securities and Exchange Board of India chairman U K Sinha (who has been both DM and Divisional Commissioner of Patna) added to the debate:
“There is a misconception prevailing here that banks are conspiring against the state with respect to improving the CDR. People should not hold such misconceptions,” he said, while answering a question on “Accelerating the growth of industries and services in Bihar”.
Many who came to the Global Summit confessed that they were attending just to hold Bihar’s hand. But it was not as if the planning for the Summit did not have a strategic aim: the chief guest was Prime Minister of Nepal, Baburam Bhattarai. Nepal and Bihar have a common border, a common river system and while Bihar is beneficiary of the silt the Bagmati and the Sone deposit making it one of the most fertile states in India, it is also the recipient of floods that cause destruction in the state with depressing regularity.
Unless Nepal manages water better upstream, Bihar’s gains – roads and bridges especially – will continue to be washed away. Nitish Kumar’s speech refered to this but playing on emotions on both sides. Bhattarai was quick to respond: he said his country would work with India on river waters. India’s Ambassador to Nepal, Jayant Prasad, himself a Bihari, could be seen beaming. The first FDI in Bihar — $ 35 m — came via US-based Molson Coors Brewing Company when it bought a 51 per cent stake in Cobra India Beer Private Limited, owned by Lord Karan Bilimoria.
Bilimoria owns what was formerly the Iceberg Distillery, just 40 km away from Patna in Bihta which had a capacity to produce 150,000 cases of beer every month but is now produces 300,000 cases. Bilimoria spoke about eight Ps - product, price, peace, promotion, finance (he pronounced it as ‘phinance’), passion, and most importantly ‘people’ for investment in a state. That Bihar is growing is also evident that Cobra India has invested in the state, he said. “The Bihari diaspora is all around the world. I am also a Bihari as my father was an ADC to the country’s first President Rajendra Prasad and later he served in 5th battalion of Bihar Regimental Centre before leaving for the UK,” he said. The future of Bihar lies in barley, he said, and more beer. Bilimoria compared Kumar to former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher. “Nitish is striving to steer the beleaguered state of Bihar on the path of development,” he said.