The 5.6 km Mahatma Gandhi Setu over the Ganga is the only link connecting Hajipur to Bihar’s capital, Patna. On a map, Hajipur in Vaishali district might be only 10 km away from the capital but traffic jams on the bridge are legendary. Everyone in Patna issues a “statutory warning” about them.
The traffic nightmare frequently holds up trucks bound for the Hajipur industrial area and the Export Promotion Industrial Park. Just off the national highway, as one turns into “Paswan Chowk”, cartloads of bananas (Hajipur is famous for these) line the road at the entrance to the “old” industrial area.
However the Export Promotion Industrial Park (EPIP) is a misnomer. Initially envisioned as a food park-cum-export processing zone, it was meant to leverage the potential of this agricultural belt. With no takers, the dream was given up in Lalu Prasad’s time.
“The only export from here is to Nepal,” says Arun Aggarwal of coir mattress manufacturer SS Foam. The Nitish Kumar government, when it took over, scrapped the export processing scheme for Hajipur and started giving plots to all. Plastic pipe manufacturing units operate alongside biscuit factories.
Mostly the industrial area resembles a ghost town, with the shells of old farm-based export units remaining. Standing cheek by jowl are a handful of new units.
K P S Kesri of Amrapali Foods, also former president of the Bihar Industry Association, says, “The EPIP has now been allotted to general industries and only a few are harnessing the local agricultural produce: mangoes, litchi and honey.” Amrapali Foods produces mango and litchi juice during season. Apart from selling under its own label, it supplies mango pulp to leading brands.
Acknowledging that the industrial climate in the state is “far improved”, Kesri says units operating out of Hajipur are plagued not only by poor power supply. Law and order continues to be a problem and infrastructural facilities required in industrial parks are not present.
Several biscuit manufacturing units have set up units here, including Sona Biscuits, Bansal and Anmol Biscuits. A biscuit manufacturer who did not want to be identified, says, “It’s ironic that unemployment is so high in Bihar, yet we are faced with a problem finding skilled labour here and a large percentage of our labour force comes from outside the state.”
Located within the park incongruously are B.Ed colleges and the National Institute for Pharmaceutical Education and Research. With no land available elsewhere, these institutes had to be housed on plots in the industrial area.
State government officials trace Bihar’s industrial problems to the fact that Jharkhand was the undivided state’s manufacturing hub. “It will take time for the state to move from being an agricultural rural economy to a manufacturing hub,” says an official of the Bihar Industrial Area Development Authority.
For a state with rampant unemployment and where the educated unemployed are burgeoning, the youth in Hajipur are disillusioned with the failure of their government to provide jobs.
Rahul Kumar Thakur, who has just passed his Class XII boards, says, “Culturally, in Bihar there is a craze for government jobs. Private jobs have no value here. Even a peon in a sarkari daftar (government office) is considered to be better than someone working in, say, Nokia.” Kumar, who intends to set up a cellphone repairing shop, is among a handful of young people who have decided not to wait for a government job.
A few future entrepreneurs are being trained at the Rural Development and Self Employment Training Institute (RUDSET) in Hajipur. Mayank Chandra, a BCom graduate who also has a diploma in computer applications, says, “There is a great demand for computer and mobile repairs nowadays and since I have a knack for computers, I thought it best to take up computer repairing.” A staunch supporter of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s Narendra Modi, he is confident that once Modi comes to power, he will boost industry and employment across the country.
Ajit Kumar, member of the faculty at RUDSET, says many local youths opt for bee keeping to take advantage of the fruit orchards in the region and to supply honey to bigger chains like Dabur. However, attempts to harness the local banana fibre into manufacturing products like bags and slippers, with financial help from NABARD, did not quite take off.
A section of the youth especially young women, feel indebted to Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and his policies of women empowerment. “It is because of my cycle (given by the state) that I could continue my studies and explore the options available for me; that’s how I got to know of this institute,” says Nibha Kumari, training to be a beautician, another business that is gaining popularity locally.
The reserved constituency, which Lok Janshakti Party’s Ram Vilas Paswan has nurtured through several stints as Union minister, has become a zonal railway headquarter, and has an array of institutes. But these have not helped, say locals, with most institutes catering to students from outside the state.
Despite Paswan’s largesse, he lost to the Janata Dal (United’s) Ram Sundar Das, a nonagenarian former chief minister, by 37,954 votes in 2009. Pitted against Das again, Paswan is banking on his alliance with the BJP and the popularity of Narendra Modi to secure a victory.
SEEKING A REVIVAL
* GSDP of Bihar: 2012-13 estimates Rs 1,65,018 cr
* Per capital GSDP: Rs 16,537
* Vaishali district, in which lies Hajipur, is ranked 8th on a list of 38 districts in Bihar in terms of growth
CANDIDATES IN THE FRAY
* Ram Vilas Paswan, LJP
* Ram Sundar Das, JD(U)
* Dhaneshwar Ram, BSP
* Rajkumar Paswan, AAP