Both the state government and the Central government would need to adopt more concrete measures to rectify the downtrend witnessed in Bihar’s urbanisation.
In 2019, it was estimated that the state with a population of about 125 million had demographically overtaken Maharashtra and was now the second-most populated state after Uttar Pradesh. Significantly, Bihar marked the highest population growth amongst large states between 2001 and 2011 at 25.42 percent, as against the national growth of 17.70 percent. In contrast, its urban growth was the lowest amongst the large states. It rose by a mere 0.8 percent, as against the national decadal rise in urbanisation of 3.4 percent. It is further striking that the percentage gap between the national levels of urbanisation and Bihar’s level of urbanisation has been rising. In 1961, the difference was 11.4 percent. By 2011 it had risen to 19.9 percent.
Bihar marked the highest population growth amongst large states between 2001 and 2011 at 25.42 percent, as against the national growth of 17.70 percent.
The reasons for the heightened phenomenon of out-migration are not difficult to fathom, given the overall economic problems bedevilling the state. Despite the high fertility of the land and the richness of water resources, the state provides very low agricultural output. The disproportionately high dependence on agriculture that supports almost 80 percent of the state’s workforce, the severe fragmentation of land holdings and very high landlessness amongst peasants are huge impediments to agricultural productivity. The situation has been exacerbated by high population growth leading to unbearable pressure on land inducing forced out-migration for survival. On the other hand, there is very little counterbalancing employment opportunity in the industrial sector that refuses to find roots in the state. There are few takers despite opportunities, in the background of what is perceived as an unfavourable industrial climate. Factors that have contributed to weak investment levels are large deficits in physical and social infrastructure, weak financial markets and low access to credit, low availability of skilled manpower, huge concerns regarding security and law and order, and red tapism. With meagre industrial employment, the key ingredient for urbanisation is sorely missing. While a whole host of factors have contributed to the widening development gap between Bihar and the rest of the country, it is evident that Bihar’s development in many important ways hinges on reducing the dependence of a huge percentage of the state’s workforce on agriculture and providing a large percentage of the population employment in industry and services. For this to happen, urbanisation of the state is a sine qua non. In 2021, while speaking on the floor of the assembly, the Deputy Chief Minister of the State said that urbanisation was the Bihar government’s priority. He was referring to the state government’s recent move to increase the number of urban local bodies and extend the geographical limits of some municipal corporations. He further said that increasing the size of the urban population will help the state government in taking up urbanisation measures under the jurisdictions of Nagar panchayat, Nagar Parishad, and municipal corporation, besides vesting them with powers to raise their revenue resources for investment over and above what will come to them by way of recommendations of the 15th Finance Commission. The Urban Development and Housing Minister further stated that “we have to bring more areas under urban development by notifying new Nagar panchayats to towns. It is necessary for the development of the state”.
Migration from both rural and urban Bihar is high, indicating that along with employment, migration is driven by opportunity factors such as education and business.
Based on the above-cited directive, the government of Bihar initiated changes to the old criteria for notifying a semi-urban or rural area as urban. The most important change in the policy was to recognise areas as urban if less than 50 percent of its population is engaged in agriculture. It replaced the definition of the past when an area was declared urban only if less than 25 percent of its population was involved in agriculture. Before this cabinet decision was taken, Bihar had 12 ‘Nagar Nigams’ with populations of over 200,000, 42 ‘Nagar Parishads’ with populations of 40,000 to 200,000, and 88 Nagar Panchayats. Now, the number of ‘Nagar Nigams’ is set to be 17, with 74 ‘Nagar Parishads’ and 191 Nagar Panchayats. These moves of the Bihar government may assist a healthier urbanisation percentage and may result in some marginal increase in economic activity. However, the problems of urbanisation in Bihar run much deeper and will not be resolved through such window dressing. The state needs a whole set of reforms to address its lack of industrialisation which is at the core of its low urbanisation and lack of economic development. In a study of the state, the World Bank identified a few key areas: These includeimproving Bihar’s investment climate; public administration and procedural reforms, especially in rules that impede the downward delegation of decision-making authority; strengthening the design and delivery of core social services, especially in the area of health and education, budget management, and fiscal reform; improving public law and order.
The most important change in the policy was to recognise areas as urban if less than 50 percent of its population is engaged in agriculture.
However, Bihar’s salvation cannot be achieved entirely on its own. Whatever efforts the Government of India has made in pulling the state out of its condition have not had appreciable results. Bihar continues to be at the bottom of the Human Development Index (HDI) according to UNDP and about the top of the violent crime chart according to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB). The state needs to decelerate its population growth, get out of its social caste inflexibilities and accelerate its industrial growth. In each of these, urbanisation has a role to play—in pulling the population down, in diluting caste rigidities and in economic development. Speeding up urbanisation to deliver growth and development in Bihar has to have the combined might of the central and state governments. Surely, the country does not want a repeat of the petrifying sight of thousands of Bihar migrants trudging home in anguish and despair.
The state needs a whole set of reforms to address its lack of industrialisation which is at the core of its low urbanisation and lack of economic development.
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Dr. Ramanath Jha is Distinguished Fellow at Observer Research Foundation, Mumbai. He works on urbanisation — urban sustainability, urban governance and urban planning. Dr. Jha belongs ...Read More +