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Inside Nitish Kumar's Janata Darbar

Last updated on: April 16, 2013 12:38 IST

Inside Nitish Kumar's Janata Darbar


Archana Masih in Patna

A young girl wants to correct her father's name in her school certificate; a man wants his three year unpaid rent from a government doctor, an athlete wants an archery set...

Scenes from Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar's Janata Darbar, recorded by's Archana Masih.

Amidst the wide roads and big bungalows that rival Lutyens' Delhi is Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar's residence. His neighbour is his political rival Lalu Prasad Yadav; while a short walk away is the stately Governor's house, which recently become home to Governor D Y Patil.

It is a Monday morning and Nitish Kumar is holding the Janata Darbar (People's Court), a rather feudal term reminiscent of the Mughal era, referred to by the chief minister's secretariat as 'Janata ke Darbar mein mukhya mantri' -- or the chief minister inside the people's court.

In a barricaded enclosure outside, built to ensure that people don't break the queue; stand men and women in separate sections. The women's area almost deserted at 9.20 am probably because most of the ladies have already gone in.

The men wait, with green slips of paper given to each person which bears the reference number of the petition. The slips are accompanied by hand-written applications in Hindi by the petitioners who come from different parts of the state.

Some are here for the first time, while others have made two or three trips because their problems are still to be solved.

Sushma Kumari, a young Intermediate student (Class 12), has come from Bihar Sharif. In the queue with her is her younger sister Kanti, who is in Class 10. Sushma has brought her sibling because she stammers a little and knows Kanti will speak for her if she falters in front of the CM.

For two years intermittently, she says, she has been trying to change the name of her father in her school certificate which was entered incorrectly.

"I have been to the board office in my district, but haven't been able to. The file has been closed, so I have come to the CM," she says at the entrance to the darbar, guarded by police men and women of the Bihar police.

Ultimately Sushma has to go in alone because the application is in her name. In her salwar-kurta and braided hair, she joins the queue of women waiting to appraise Nitish Kumar of their problems.

The chief minister sits at a table in a white kurta-pyjama, surrounded by security staff and officials. Nitish Kumar goes through the applications as it is handed out to him by each person, says a few words and hands it to the officials standing by his table.

They in turn direct the person to the concerned departments, the officials of which are seated in long rows of tables with plaques indicating designations and names of the department.

Last week, Education, Health, Social Welfare, Science and Technology, Minorities were some of the department being represented at the darbar, which is held in an enclosure behind the CM's house, but within the same complex.

In the same compound is also an office for the chief minister. In the patch of green alongside are planted brinjals and a mango tree that will be laden with fruit in a month or so.

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Image: Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar listens to public grievances at the Janata Darbar in Patna
Photographs: Archana Masih/


Nitish Kumar started the Janata Darbar in 2006

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The darbar enclosure is spread over a large area, a structure set up on tall rods with a metal roof; two sides are covered while the other two are left open for people to access the exit gate. It is airy with fans and has separate sections for men, women and the disabled.

In 2006, a year into his first term, Nitish Kumar revived the Janata Darbar, which is held every Monday. When it is cancelled, the information is carried in newspapers a few days in advance.

Last Monday, Nitish Kumar's Janata Darbar was being held after a gap due to the Budget session of the Bihar assembly.

Similar darbars are held throughout the state by district magistrates, commissioners, divisional commissioners, superintendants of police... Deputy Chief Minister Sushil Kumar Modi holds one every Tuesday.

"When the CM started holding darbars, district officials also followed suit. How could they not when the CM was doing it?" says a senior government official.

Last week, the crowd was not very large. At one such darbar in January, a desperate physically-challenged girl had tried to commit suicide by slashing her wrist in front of Nitish Kumar because she did not have a job.

Amalesh Mahato, standing in line with a highlighted application, says he has been trying to meet the CM since November 26.

In the queue along with him are contractual paramedics with complaints of non-payment of salaries;

Then there is Bijay Kumar from Jehanabad who has come to the darbar thrice because he has not received rent for the senior government hospital staff that stay in his house.

"They are asking me for a commission if I have to get the rent that is pending for three years. This is my final attempt. If my problem is not solved I will pay the commission. Maybe I will get my money then," says the landlord.

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Image: Bijay Kumar has come thrice to the darbar, his problem remains unsolved
Photographs: Archana Masih/

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'He says Bihar is a model of development, is this a model state?'

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Anjali Kumari, an archer from Chhapra, had come to request for a dhanush-baan (bow and arrow set) because the one that was donated to her by the Guru Nanak University in Amritsar had broken.

"I did not do well in the World Cup trials because mine broke. A new one will cost Rs 2.5 lakhs (Rs 250,000)," says the athlete wearing a Sahara games t-shirt who has come with the same request twice to the darbar.

The women get to meet the CM first, next are the physically-challenged and then comes the turn of the men.

"Please put your walking sticks straight on the floor, under your chairs," the security staff tell the disabled supplicants as Nitish Kumar is about to finish meeting the women.

The physically-challenged are seated at one end and the CM walks to meet them, stopping to read their applications.

"Joh sarkar ki yojana hai wohi milegi na? (You will get from whatever existing government schemes we have, right?" he tells a vocal disabled athlete who says the Bihar government is far behind what the Haryana government gives his counterparts.

"They say Bihar is a model of development. Is this a model state where disabled athletes are not given their due?" he says as the chief minister walks ahead while a government staff reprimands him.

"For every little thing we have to go to government babus who sit on the 2nd or 3rd floor with no ramps for disabled access," says another athlete, wearing a games jersey and is part of a group of disabled athletes.

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Image: Women meet the CM first, who sits at a table with a phone and mike
Photographs: Archana Masih/

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'My brother-in-law is trying to take control of my father's fields'

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Surrounded by more than a dozen security and secretariat personnel, Nitish Kumar makes his way through the disabled enclosure, several of whom have complaints that they are not receiving the Rs 300 disability pension.

He then takes his seat at the table, which has a telephone and a mike, as men queue up to meet the CM next.

Some of those representing the state government and the administration at the darbar are the state's Education Minister P K Sahi, Minority Welfare Minister and IT Minister Sahid Ali Khan, Social Welfare Secretary Praveen Amanullah, Health Secretary Vyas Ji, Director of the Integrated Child Development Scheme Bandana Preyashi, Patna's new Superintendent of Police Manu Maharaj among others.

A large posse of secretariat staff man the darbar, and get a packed lunch. A staff informs litti, the popular Bihari dish, is in the lunch pack. The aam aadmi at the darbar also gets lunch, I am told.

Sushma Kumari, the girl who had come to get her father's name changed, has had her hearing with the chief minister and is directed to an official in the education section.

She hands over her application and just as she begins to tell him her problem the official is summoned by a senior official to a neighbouring desk.

Sushma sits quietly as another official asks her why she wants to change the name. Just then the other official returns and hears out Sushma. He writes the name of a person at the board office in her district on her green slip and asks her to contact him.

Sushma takes the slip, gets up and then asks the official to write his phone number also on that slip.

"I will go to the board office. Now I know who to contact there," she says, walking out of the darbar to meet her sister and a relative who accompanied the girls.

She explains that the reason she wants to correct her father's name is because he has passed away. "I don't have a brother and my brother-in-law is trying to take control of my father's fields and property," she adds.

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Image: People are directed to different desks manned by government officials
Photographs: Archana Masih/

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'It is back to square one, but many cases do get solved'

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At the desk, officials are discussing that it wasn't the school's fault that the family had given the wrong name at the time of filling the examination form for Class 10.

Sushma says she did not get a chance to speak to the CM because before she could, the officials took her application and handed it to Nitish Kumar.

She was relieved after meeting the officials and said she was rushing back to Bihar Sharif so that she could reach the board office in time -- once again back to that very same office she has frequented so many times.

"Mostly, all cases are referred back to the district level because that is where they have to be fixed. It is back to square one, but there are many cases that do get solved," says a senior state official.

Sushma did reach the board office in her home town the same day and has been told to bring the proof in a month's time.

"Kaam ho jayega," 'the work will be done', is what she has been told and she seems hopeful.

Sent back after making her appeal at the chief minister's Janata Darbar, arguably the highest court of the people in the state, maybe Sushma will have a better hearing now.

At least she hopes she will.

Image: Archer Archana Kumari. Sushma Kumari's sister is in the background
Photographs: Archana Masih/

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