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The Rediff Special/B G Verghese

Why Should Bihar Remain Backward?

Bihar For most Indians, Bihar is a scourge, a state trapped in the dark ages, a place where time has stood still.

Little, in fact, has changed in Bihar for many years. Despite the state's rich mineral resources, most of its people live in some of the worst conditions imaginable on earth.

Why should Bihar remain so backward? Why should its people be so poor? Why should its people be constantly terrorised by feudalism and the burden of the past? Why should politics and byzantine intrigue take precedence over development and progress?

B G Verghese, the celebrated journalist, tries to answer some of those questions in this fine article.

Since I am here, I make a bold claim to a long-standing Bihar connection. I spent part of my childhood in Hazaribagh. I can still recall the 1934 Bihar earthquake, my first sight of the majestic Ganga and the Sonepur Fair. I was very briefly at school in Ranchi. Some years later I came back to Bihar with a batch of students for Kosi flood relief in the winter of 1944.

As a young newspaper reporter I travelled around the country writing on the progress of planned development. I reported on the construction of the DVC, visited Sindri, the Kosi project, the coalfields, the Ranchi HEC complex, the Agriculture University at Pusa and much else besides.

I was with the Government of India when I took leave in 1967 to spend time with the Bihar Relief Committee and Jayaprakash Narayan. That experience was recorded in Beyond The Famine. A stint with the Gandhi Peace Foundation and Association of Voluntary Agencies for Rural Development from 1977 to 1982 brought me in close touch with Gandhian groups and other voluntary agencies in Bihar, leading on to involvement in agrarian reform and adult literacy in the state.

Bihar My more recent work at the Centre for Policy Research in Delhi has been on the optimal development of the land and water resources of the eastern Himalayan rivers which has repeatedly brought me back to Bihar both physically and intellectually. I have warm recollections of and an abiding faith in Bihar. And this is why I propose to speak to you today with brutal frankness.

Mr Verghese's comments form part of the Kedar Nath Singh Memorial Lecture which he delivered in Chhapra, Bihar, recently.

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B G Verghese, continued

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