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From goons to boom, Bihar is coming of age

Last updated on: October 22, 2010 10:45 IST

From goons to boom, Bihar is coming of age

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Sidhartha in New Delhi

Amit Gupta was born and brought up in Bihar but like most other youngsters from prosperous families, he went to the United States for an MBA.

When he returned in 2001, he went on a Bharat darshan, trying to spot a business opportunity.

"I spent almost two years searching. I went to Bangalore, Pune, Mumbai, Delhi "
Gupta, who belongs to a prominent business family from Patna, said.

Working in Bihar was ruled out by both him and his family -- after half a dozen extortion threats (when it got out that Gupta had a US MBA) and one shootout, his parents wanted him out of his home state.

He did try his hand at small businesses in Agra and Delhi. But none of these were satisfying.

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Image: Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar.
Photographs: Reuters
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In 2005, within weeks of Nitish Kumar taking charge as chief minister, Gupta finally managed to convince his family and returned to Patna.

Within a year, he had set up a car dealership.

It was a win-win business opportunity -- global giants were waiting to make use of the window of opportunity offered by the likes of Gupta. His business has boomed since.

"Bihar is one of the fastest growing markets in India today and it's where you should be. You will not be able to get this kind of recognition anywhere else," said the 34-year-old.

He's not wrong.

Principal Secretary, Roads, Pratyay Amrit said there is a new entrepeneurial class emerging in Bihar that wants to cash in on the new infrastructure and construction activity there.

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Image: Commuters move under a flyover in Patna, the capital of Bihar.
Photographs: Desmond Boylan/Reuters
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From goons to boom, Bihar is coming of age

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"The other day a shy youngster came to my office. He was a trained engineer who had left Bihar. He returned hoping to find work, and while he had the expertise, he lacked capital.

We put him in touch with banks and encouraged banks to lend money. Now he is brimming with confidence and is convinced he can do anything in the world, sitting right here in Bihar," said Amrit.

Something is changing in the state.

According to the latest data available, registration of vehicles -- ranging from commercial vehicles, two-wheelers, taxis, tractors and cars -- has shot up by nearly four-and-a-half times from 80,363 in 2005-06, the year Kumar took charge, to around 350,000 in 2009-10.

It isn't just auto sales, there is a boom across segments from real estate to tourism as several non-residents, like Gupta, returned and economic activity picked up.

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Image: A child at a water pump in Bihar.
Photographs: Reuters
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From goons to boom, Bihar is coming of age

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For instance, between 2003 and 2008, the inflow of foreign tourists has seen a near-six fold rise from 61,000 to 346,000.

Last year, on aircraft movement, Patna airport registered a 42.8 per cent growth, the highest in the country, handling 7,456 flights compared to 5,220 in 2008-09.

Is it just the well-heeled who are finding a sea change in the public face of Bihar? Not really.

A state government official said between 2005 and 2008 kidnapping and abduction grew at an annual rate of 3.4 per cent, while the national growth rate was over 10 per cent. Between 2001 and 2004, the situation was just the opposite.

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Image: Patna city.
Photographs: Courtesy, Bihar Tourism website.
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"All that has happened that the retreat of the state, which Bihar had seen for 15 years prior to 2005, was arrested," said Saibal Gupta, founder of Asian Development Research Institute.

"This has created confidence, even among the poor, to speak up and make demands on the state."

Improvement in law and order -- the physical act of a 'bahubali' (mafia) like Pappu Yadav being locked up in jail has had a salutary effect. Investment is coming to Bihar and while it is just a trickle, industry predicts this will soon turn into a flood.


Image: A labourer works at a road construction site in Bihar.
Photographs: Desmond Boylan/Reuters
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