Bihar, where poverty alleviation programmes hardly work: It’s all about picking the low hanging fruits

By Rohit Rakshit*

Imagine yourself living in a remote village for ages located inside dense forests, in the 21st century, without any basic amenities such as proper roads, health care, education facilities and safe drinking water. The nearest primary school is located at a distance of seven kilometers and you have to pass through a dense forest without proper roads and then take a boat to cross a dam in order to reach your school.

Even in the case of an emergency, you will need to take the same path and travel ten kilometers more in order to reach the nearest health centre, which still does not guarantee that you will receive treatment from a qualified doctor. Now that you have imagined, which you would certainly call a nightmare, do you think it is possible for anyone to progress in life without these basic amenities?

Such has been a reality for the people staying in several villages and hamlets in Rajauli Block of Nawada district in Bihar. The area is known for illegal mica mining, which still goes on notoriously under the carpet.

Mica is an umbrella term used for a group of minerals or silicates that are characterized by the ability of disintegrating into extremely thin and brittle sheets. The use of mica has been observed in the painting, cosmetics and personal care, printing ink and plastic manufacturing, electronics, auto-motives, construction and oil sectors.

Due to the lack of alternative livelihoods and their poor socio-economic condition, the villagers are engaged in collecting/ mining mica under dangerous and exploitative circumstances including the risk of losing their lives. Some have already lost their family members and friends, but none of it gets reported due to the fear of being heckled by the authorities as it is illegal in nature.

Selling these mica scraps is their main livelihood, for which they will hardly get Rs 8-Rs 15 for each kilogram of mica they collect depending upon its quality, while the same mica will be sold at a hefty price once it gets processed and exported out of the country. The pandemic has further worsened the situation as the supply chain was disrupted.

Child labour is rampant and hundreds of children as young as five years old are engaged in mica collection as they can easily enter these rat holes and climb down these narrow mine shafts, although at the risk of being trapped underground and losing their lives.

Nandini Kumari, a nineteen-year-old girl belonging from one of these villages, had expressed her inner desire to study long back, but after her fifth standard and at the tender age of fifteen, she was married off and at the age of seventeen she was a mother to a child, who she says is malnourished. This has been story of hundreds of girls living in these villages for ages.

Such circumstances and the condition of poor people and thousands of other Nandinis question our ongoing process of development, inclusiveness and the implementation of the programmes put forward to uplift the marginalized and vulnerable sections of the society.

Bihar, a state with the largest number of multidimensionally poor people, as per the newly released first ever Multi-dimensional Poverty Index (MPI) by NITI Aayog, and the earlier released Sustainable Development Goals Index Report 2020-21 paints a poor picture of the state and shows that poverty alleviation programmes are hardly working as is evident on the ground.

According to the data collected by the National Family Health Survey (NFHS-IV), 51.88 per cent of the population of Bihar is deprived of nutritious food, while 45.62 per cent of pregnant women do not get health benefits. It certainly has failed to strengthen and enhance the capacities of the Gram Panchayats in order to realize the gains of decentralized planning and the different government programmes which could have built bridges among the communities and development processes.

Currently the rights of the people and the children are in jeopardy and cannot be recognized due the absence of the civic amenities, vested interests of the stakeholders, lack of focus on the key sectors and all this undermines the citizens of Bihar as a human being. Development projects should not pick the low hanging fruits in order to show better results, rather it should focus at the bottom and the downtrodden and promote an attitude of tolerance and inclusiveness.

The current abysmal state of the people with basic services being alien to them also points out the reasons why ‘Biharis’ are becoming synonymous with migrants, and some of us, if not the people in power, can still clearly hear the miseries of those migrants during the lockdown.

Looking at the condition of the poor people in different parts of the state, I am reminded of the lyrics of Bob Dylan’s song – “And how many ears must one man have, before he can hear people cry? Yes, and how many deaths will it take ’til he knows that too many people have died? The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind. The answer is blowin’ in the wind.”

*Development sector professional with six years of experience having worked with reputed NGOs and INGOs, currently working as a programme coordinator with a reputed international children’s rights organization

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