So far so good…

Media focus on Bihar continues with regular coverage of the new govt. activities and newly discovered interest in the changing face of Bihar . Aditi Phadnis has given an impressive first hand account of Nitish Kumar’s initiatives in Bihar. The report has details about the Junta Darbar which Nitish has initiated and impact it has on the mindset of the state’s citizenry and administration functioning on day to day basis.

But the Bihar government has hit on a unique scheme that the President of India commended when he visited the state. It has already recruited 5,000 retired soldiers who have been banded as the Special Auxiliary Police for constabulary and cordon and search operations. Therefore, when you have an incident like the Jehanabad jailbreak case, or where the local police is suspected to be either involved or frightened of acting (and this happens a lot in Bihar), this force will be used.

The Bihar government is also, for the first time in many years, actually spending the money given to it for modernisation — buildings, secure communication, and brand new computer systems to replace the aged 486 and Pentium II systems they had earlier. Under another novel initiative, 50 officers have been headhunted in the CBI for vigilance functions. Beginning November, these officials will be tasked with handling cases relating to disproportionate assets, and entrapment.

It is not just on the law and order front that the state government has moved. A Single Window Act, 2006 seeks to cut red tape for industry wanting to invest in the state.

There are new rules for infrastructure development, the Rent Control Act has been abolished, stamp duty has been cut for better compliance, the Agricultural Produce Marketing Control Act used to force farmers to sell only at designated mandis has been abolished, the power sector has been unbundled into eight new entities, Bihar has a new sugarcane policy…

“Bihar is going to spend Rs 17,000 crore over three years just on roads. Apart from unbundling the power sector, we are going to franchise distribution,” says N K Singh, newly appointed vice chairman of the state’s Investment Board. A 180-acre tourism complex has been envisaged in Bodh Gaya-Rajgir-Nalanda that will combine spa and health tourism. A golf course-multiplex-shopping mall-luxury hotel complex is to be set up here.

The project cost will be anywhere between Rs 850-1,000 crore. At the invitation of the Bihar government, a representative of the World Tourism Organisation and UN expert on regional planning, James Esserman is currently touring this area. “The Nalanda University was world famous. We want to develop it into a modern world-class educational centre,” Nitish Kumar says. Singapore senior state minister for external affairs Balaji Sadashivan was in Patna earlier this week and he has promised Singapore’s support for the project.

Seductive as all this sounds, Kumar and his colleagues are acutely conscious that they need to have their feet firmly planted on the ground. Health is a formidable challenge with immunisation figures at a mere 11 per cent — against a national average of 54 per cent.

In January 2006, average patients per primary health centre (PHC) was 39 with 85 per cent or more patients going to doctors in the private sector. In the last eight months, Rs 222 crore has already been spent on the health sector and the outlay in next year’s budget could be Rs 400 crore (it used to be Rs 100 crore before 2005).

She reviews how this has allowed the common man to approach the new govt. and the change in perception of people towards a responsive govt. and improving law and order situation in the state.

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