Bimaru, an acronym coined by an economist in 1980 with the first letters of four northern Indian states — Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh — literally means sick. It was meant to indicate that financially, socially and demographically, these four states are unhealthy compared to others.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi now claims Rajasthan and MP are no longer Bimaru; but Bihar still is. Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar aka Sushashan Babu takes umbrage at the PM’s attack on the pride of his state, arguing Bihar is no longer sick. Since the UP elections are a few months away, the Bimaru debate hasn’t yet reached Lucknow.
Once you look at the figures, it becomes clear that Bihar should consider itself lucky, and the other Bimaru states should sulk for being ignored by Modi. Key indicators suggest there isn’t much to separate Bihar from the Maru states.
One of the reliable indicators of progress is the gross state domestic product (GSDP). According to Central Statistical Organisation figures for 2013-14, MP was the top performer with 9.64 percent growth among the bigger states. Bihar was next with a GSDP growth rate of 8.97 percent. Both these states, incidentally, recorded higher growth rate than the national average of 6.9 percent (revised base year 2011-12).
Bihar has done consistently well on the GSDP front. In 2012-13, it was the best performer among bigger states with a rate of 9.23%, followed by MP (8.6%). Rajasthan and UP were not in the top ten performers in 2013-14.
How did the Bimaru states perform during the last decade? According to an Assocham study, the compounded annual growth rate (CAGR) of Bihar was the highest between 2004-05 and 20012-13. Bihar recorded a CAGR of 9.3 percent, followed by MP (8.8% percent), Rajasthan (8.2 percent) and UP at 6.9 percent. Among the Bimaru states, the first three were above the national CAGR of 8 percent. What is clear from the GSDP data is that Bihar and MP have been the top performers not just among the Bimaru states, but they have done better than the national average.
The study also revealed that Bihar registered the highest growth rate of 13.9 percent in the industry sector, followed by MP and Rajasthan, at 9.2 percent and 8.5 percent respectively. MP was the top performer in the agriculture sector, followed by Rajasthan and Bihar.
Bihar’s progress has been a result of faster industrial growth. This is a reflection of the improvement in the law and order situation in the state, and the end of jungle raj that had become the defining feature of Bihar under Lalu Yadav.
Madhya Pradesh has benefitted from the growth in the agriculture sector. One of the reasons for the BJP’s continued success in the state could be attributed to the fact that people in the rural areas have become prosperous under Shivraj Chouhan. This has added a solid base of committed rural voters to the urban base of the BJP.
Much of Rajasthan’s gains in the past decade have come from the discovery of crude reserves in the Thar basin, in villages around Barmer. The royalties from the oil basins have wiped out Rajasthan’s deficits and left more money in the hands of the chief minister. Unfortunately, a lot of this windfall was wasted on doles and populist schemes.
Though Bihar and MP beat other Indian states, including Gujarat, by a comfortable margin on the GSDP scale, there are many other indicators of the quality of life of people in a state. These however, do not look healthy.
How fast is the population growing? According to the 2011 Census, every fourth Indian is either from UP or Bihar. In the last decade, the rate of population growth in Bihar at 25.42 percent was the third highest in India, behind only two northeastern states. Many infants die before the age of one. All the Bimaru states — Rajasthan at 21.31 percent, MP at 20.35 percent and UP at 20.23 percent — grew at rates higher than the national average of 17.6 percent.
The Bimaru states continue to have low literacy rates; all of them were among the bottom 10. Bihar was at the bottom of the heap with a literacy rate of 61.80 percent. But, to its credit, it recorded a growth of nearly 15 percent compared to the previous decade. The corresponding growth rate for UP, Rajasthan and MP was 11 percent, 6 percent and 6 percent respectively.
So, Bihar is still the state with highest number of illiterate people. But if it continues to grow at the existing rate, Bihar will soon beat its rivals.
In a paper published in the Economic and Political Weekly (May 2015), Vinita Sharma asks: Are Bimaru states still Bimaru? She goes on to argue that all of them are still behind on key national indicators in spite of progress in certain areas. Her conclusion is that it’s too early to call the states healthy.
Finally, on an index of backwardness devised by Raghuram Rajan three years ago, Bihar, UP, Rajasthan and UP were grouped together among the least developed states. The index was based on several factors, including per capita income, consumption expenditure, education, health and connectivity.
Incidentally, when Bihar was ranked among the most backward states on Rajan’s scale, its chief minister had used it as a pretext for seeking special status for the state.
In retrospect, Bihar is lucky that it is in the middle of an election that has forced PM Modi to woo its voters with a special package. The other Bimaru states should consider themselves unlucky. Going by the available data, Rajasthan, MP and UP deserve every paisa of the help promised to Bihar for being almost at par on the social and economic ladder.
Source: First Post