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Let them eat plastic bags!

April 28, 2005

The man hailed as an 'Asian hero' by Time and the darling of partisan activists masquerading as journalists now increasingly appears to be nothing more than a swashbuckling carpetbagger. Worse, he is likely to have indulged in profiteering by exploiting the hunger, pain and misery of tens of thousands of families that lost their wherewithal in last year's devastating floods in Bihar.

The facts, as they have emerged, suggest that Gautam Goswami, district magistrate of Patna till early this year, merrily authorised payments worth Rs 17.5 crore to a bogus entity against equally bogus bills for 'relief material' that was ostensibly distributed among flood victims. Goswami has since resigned from the twice-born Indian Administrative Service to take up a lucrative assignment with a private sector enterprise.

He made payments for sending relief material by trucks to villages marooned by floodwaters. He made payments for distributing sattu -- roasted gram flour -- among starving victims who were in reality handed empty polythene bags. He paid lakhs of rupees for feeding relief workers while 800 men, women and children drowned because there was nobody to rescue them. He paid nearly half-a-crore rupees for settling hotel bills while villagers, maddened by hunger and government's apathy, rioted for food.

Bihar government to file FIR

The payments, from emergency relief funds in his custody, were seemingly made to settle bills raised by 'BSSIC', an acronym for Bihar Small Scale Industries Corporation, sole authorised supplier of relief material. It now transpires that the bills were written out on Bihar Small Scale Industries Corporation stationery but payment was credited to the account of 'Baba Satya Sai Industries', a dubious front for crooks who worked in tandem to loot the public exchequer.

And, while public funds were being looted in this amazing manner with the active connivance of Time's 'Asian hero', everybody else in authority twiddled their thumbs. For reasons that do not merit elaboration, Lalu Prasad Yadav, who then ruled Bihar through conjugal proxy, praised Goswami's enthusiasm in providing succour to flood victims.

The chief secretary, taking his cue from his political masters, first sat on the facts and the file and later brushed aside the scam as a 'side issue.' Cocky as ever, Goswami has tauntingly scoffed at the evidence of his misdeed and primly claimed that people are 'jealous' of him because of his 'star status.'

Such tales of squander and thievery emanating from Bihar, evocatively described as India's area of darkness, however, do not create ripples any more. This is the state where nearly Rs 1,000 crore of public funds have been stolen in the guise of providing fodder to cattle. After years of investigation, the CBI has put together 61 cases; in five of them, Yadav is an accused and has been charge-sheeted.

Indeed, he had to resign from the chief minister's office when he was served with an arrest warrant in the fodder scam. Yadav and his wife have also been charge-sheeted for owning what is euphemistically described as 'disproportionate assets' -- their wealth far exceeds that which they could have created with legitimate income.

But such black marks do not add up to disqualification from holding public office. Yadav is a senior member of the UPA government led by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. As minister for railways, he heads the world's largest railway enterprise, presiding over an empire that runs into hundreds of thousands of crores of rupees.

Bihar governor not averse to CBI probe

Obviously, the prime minister, who makes a fetish of honesty and honour, trusts Yadav. That he is accused of plundering Bihar's treasuries is a 'side issue.' Equally insignificant are uncomfortable facts about two members of the larger UPA family, Mohammad Shahabuddin and Pappu Yadav -- both members of Parliament; both from Rashtriya Janata Dal, Yadav's party; and, both accused of committing heinous crimes, ranging from murder to minor vices like extortion.

Those who turn their faces away from the glaring, harsh realities of Bihar are either cynical or averse to acknowledging that, in a sense, this state symbolises the other, not so bright, not so shining face of India. Development and economics are two words that have been squeezed out of Bihar's socio-political lexicon by the three 'Cs' -- crime, corruption and caste -- that have come to dominate the worst administered state in India's richly fertile Gangetic belt.

While state governments are tripping over each other to woo investors from both home and abroad and making the most of India's new reform-based policies to generate jobs, the government of Bihar, such as it exists, has not even bothered to join the race. And, as state capitals compete with each other to emerge as the favoured destination for IT-driven, new economy industries, pumping billions of rupees in physical infrastructure, there is little that distinguishes Bihar's capital, Patna, from its rural wastelands.

If information technology, manufacturing industry and agro-based industry are spinning a magic web of economic success elsewhere in India, in Bihar the biggest money-spinner is an industry run by criminals -- that of kidnapping for ransom. The administration has shown few signs of being unduly bothered. Kidnapping for ransom, extortion at gunpoint and similar crime enjoy the patronage of Bihar's politicians who are given to thumbing their noses at every law in the book with an impunity that never ceases to amaze.

The sinister alliance of crime, corruption and caste, and its insidious influence on politics, has had a devastating impact on Bihar's economy. Patna, once upon a time known as Patliputra from where Chandragupta ventured forth to create an empire in the third century of the first millennium, is now the capital of the poorest, most impoverished state in India and one of the least developed parts of the world.

Despite its rich soil, Bihar's agricultural yield is lower than that of others. The state's industrial output is less than half the national average. At Rs 3,650, Bihar's per capita income ranks at the bottom of national income indices. Similarly, per capita development expenditure, at a measly Rs 3,000, pales into insignificance when compared to that of other states.

The social fallout is only to be expected. More than 40 per cent of Bihar's population lives below the poverty line, nearly twice the national average of 26 per cent. In real terms, this is a staggering figure of nearly 40 million people. Almost half the people in this state are illiterate, although corruption has ensured the spawning of innumerable schools, colleges and universities, most of which exist on paper.

Districts in central and south Bihar are caught in a bitter agrarian strife with left-wing extremists and Maoists running a parallel administration. Elsewhere in Bihar, private caste-based armies protect the interests of the landed castes.

The deeply fragmented society of Bihar is reflected in the fractured results of this year's February assembly election. No party or alliance was able to secure a majority; nor could winners cobble together a governing arrangement. Instead of an elected government, Bihar is now saddled with President's rule.

That may have greatly upset Bihar's politicians, especially Yadav whose nephew can no longer collect protection money from Patna's daily wage earners and whose brothers-in-law have been de-fanged. But for most people in Bihar, the absence of politicians in government is a welcome departure from past practices of loot and scoot.

Like all good things, this, too, shall pass. By the time Bihar's rivers overflow this monsoon, a government could be in place with corrupt politicians and venal bureaucrats running the show. And, when hungry flood victims plead for food, they shall be asked to eat polythene bags. Such is the fate of this benighted state and its hapless people.


Kanchan Gupta


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Number of User Comments: 24




Sub: condition in bihar

if such is the condition of bihar, i believe biharis themselves are to be blamed a lot. throughout india, people who were once agriculture based ...


Posted by sudipta b





Sub: Let them eat plastic bags!

Sorry to say this I sent 3 messages for questions 1) Is Mumbai Safe for women? 2) will u support sena's stand on rape case? ...


Posted by yallappa





Sub: The acts of great HERO!

Nice article “Let them eat plastic bags” by Kanchan Gupta mentioning how the flood situation was handled. Every year particularly in month of July/August, there ...


Posted by Bharat Dandekar





Sub: Bihar and Singh

The "great sacrificer" cannot sacrifice Laloo Prasad Yadav because otherwise her remote control won't work. The present prime minister is the biggest hypocrite. Doctor, heal ...


Posted by Shri Kant





Sub: Let them eat plastic bag

Dear Editor, The job of a news paper or internet news portal is to criticize the wrong thing happening somewhere.But when you crticize be very ...


Posted by Deepak Kumar




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