Both blind and corrupt

In the world of Indian journalism the word corrupt is often confused with the word Bihar

Published: Tuesday 30 November 1999

Bihar is a unique state. It was the seat of learning, culture and civilisation. As far back as 326 bc , when Alexander the Great came to India, Bihar was the regional superpower. Rather than engage the united troop strength of the Magadha Empire, the Greeks preferred to station a garrison in Taxila and withdraw from the country. Bihar also gave the nation Kautilya and his Arthashastra -- in short a guidebook on good governance.

It was also Kautilya, or Chanakya as he was known, who led a successful uprising against the inefficient and corrupt governance of the Nanda dynasty. Kings and rulers have been known to be corrupt since time immemorial. They have plundered, both the natural resource and the state treasury, for their pleasure. In the process they have destroyed their own governance systems and ultimately lost the right to rule. The lesson imparted by history can be summed up very simply. The prosperity of the people is dependant on the state of the natural environment.

This natural environment has to be well-managed. This can be achieved in two ways. Firstly, the ruler or the sovereign can set up an honest and upright bureaucracy to manage the environment. In case such a bureaucracy doesn't exist, then the sovereign should consider allowing the people to take vital decisions vis--vis their local environment. Sovereignity should eventually rest with the people.

The bureaucracy is always handicapped when it comes to dealing with environmental problems. It has to take decisions from a distance. These decisions are not based on the wealth of local experience and the knowledge that a wrong decision could impose unnecessary hardships. For example, if the residents of a village take a decision to chop down a forest they know that they will be degrading their environment. They also know that until the forest regenerates, their womenfolk will have to trek further and further in search of firewood and other minor forest produce. This will mean imposing an unwanted hardship upon their womenfolk. They may, therefore, decide to sustainably harvest the forest, rather than sell it off to a contractor. In case they do bring in a contractor they may consider it proper to keep a close watch on the amount he harvests.

The bureaucracy also functions under tremendous pressure from politicians. Since it is not accountable to the local people it can be easily corrupted if politicians are corrupt. What we find today in Bihar is rampant corruption and environmental degradation. It was politicians who introduced corruption into the system to benefit from certain controversial flood control measures. This was initially done in the hope of diverting money to fund political activity. In the process the bureaucracy also became corrupt and began to push more such projects. Today it is not surprising that the state has been reduced to penury.

The erosion of the environment has also led to the erosion of values. A corrupt bureaucracy ceased to govern and began to exploit instead. The rivers of Bihar are known to meander through the diara region of the state. They frequently change course. Under the Riparian law, if a farmer's land was submerged the bureaucracy had to give him alternative land to cultivate. But corrupt officials took money from rich upper caste landholders, made fictitious entries in their books and granted them the land vacated by the river, instead of providing it to those who had lost their farms to the water.

As the lower castes were slowly displaced from the area, some of them had no alternative but to take to a life of crime. They ended up in city jails. Some ended up being blinded by the Bhagalpur police. Others decided to hit back and raised private armies to do so. Some joined the growing Naxalite movement in the state. The diara soon became a battleground for upper and lower caste private armies. But this did not remain confined to the diara for long. Caste hatred has become firmly entrenched in the entire state today. Even in parts of the state that are prosperous, we find that both Naxalites and upper caste private armies are firmly estalished. The writ of criminals and outlaws now runs in the state.

Some of Bihar's leading politicians also stand accused in major scams. All this provides fodder for thought. These politicians have long ceased to represent the people. Therefore, to make democracy work in Bihar, the nation will have to give the local people more control over the local environment. Traditionally, the people welcomed floods. Both the rivers and the people were unfettered in the state. Floods brought prosperity with them.

Today corruption in the management of the environment has brought disaster for the people of Bihar. The floods still remain unfettered.

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