This is the state where more than one in every two children under the age of six is malnourished and underweight, where three out of four children are anaemic, and where as many as 261 women die for every 1,00,000 who give birth — one of the highest in the country.
Why does Bihar continue to be perennially 'Bimaru', and languish at the bottom of the human development rankings? According to the Economic Survey 2011-12, Bihar dropped two ranks in the HDI rankings since 2007-08, that is, people in the the state actually saw their quality of life — in terms of education, health and income levels — become worse.
It is all the more surprising since Bihar had the highest growth rate — 10.17% — in gross state domestic product in 2005-12, the period coinciding with the government of Nitish Kumar; its per capita income also grew the most among Indian states at 15.44%. The number of poor in the state also went down by more than 20%.
So why does the state lag behind? According to Rajan Khosla, director of Poorest Areas Civil Society, an organisation that works to reduce development inequality in India's poorest states, feudal structures and caste prejudices continue to be so deeply entrenched in Bihar that it comes in the way of effective implementation of health and education programmes. "Mid-day meals, anganwadi centres are all there, and the state has taken some measures such as the Mahadalit mission, but it has not helped. Children of the lower caste are treated so badly by upper-caste teachers that they drop out," he said. Thus, it is not surprising that gross enrollment ratio in Bihar, which indicates the number of children enrolled in schools, is consistently below all-India levels.
Rajesh Tandon, president, PRIA (Participatory Research in Asia), felt that the steps Bihar has taken to improve its education and health-care infrastructure will take more time to show results. "But in the last few years, the state has definitely lost momentum. This is partly because of the political problems, which has affected the local panchayat's ability to over development programmes," he said. Tandon also faulted the state government's model of growth, which emphasised agriculture at the expense of industrialisation. "Farm productivity has gone up but, industrialisation and urban infrastructure have lagged. Bihar also has the largest number of villages with 10,000 plus population," he added. No wonder, the state has the highest unemployment in urban areas among Indian states of 73%.
Dr Shaibal Gupta, a social scientist at the Asian Development Research Institute in Patna, blamed Bihar's "development deficit". "Even during the British reign when it was a part of the Bengal presidency, Bihar got very little funds," he said. Supporting the demand for "special category status" for Bihar, which has been gathering steam in the state of late, Gupta said, "Even at this pace of development, it will take another 20 years for the state to catch up with the rest of India."