If UP succeeds, can Bihar be far behind?

Bhaskar Majumder

The state of Bihar is always in the news – Bihar is a state in difference or a differentiated state. The workers of Bihar are everywhere and most of them most of the time are not in Bihar. Bihar cannot retain them. Or, they cannot think Bihar has adequate economic space to retain them.

Bihar came into prominence again in 2020 for Rampukar Pundit and unnumbered returnee migrant workers who dared to walk on foot from Punjab and Mumbai to come back home in Bihar. Though unbelievable to many, I had reasons to believe the truth that they could do it – walking 1,000 km. on road barefoot in summer of May 2020.

Now let me come to the point. Bihar is missing – in Covid-19 or Corona 2019/2020, Bihar could not contribute much.  Eight states, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Delhi, Telangana, Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh and West Bengal contributed 85.5 per cent of the active COVID-19 caseload and 87.0 per cent of the total deaths due to the virus in India, as reported. The death toll climbed to 15,685 till 28th June, 2020.

It took 110 days for corona virus infections in the country to reach one lakh, while just 39 days more to go past five lakh on June 28, 2020, as reported. The old news was that the nationwide lockdown was first imposed on March 25 for 21 days in an effort to contain the spread of the corona virus.  It was a little more than the number of days in the War of Mahabharata. The lockdown continued like 1,2,3,4.

The lockdown started having different character by the states on the circumference till June 30. Meanwhile Unlock 1 also was launched in June. Now latest report says railways locked till August 12, 2020 for non-special trains – special Shramik trains are for migrant workers. It was from destination-locked anarchy to home-directed trekking.  

It is suspected that the migrant workers would be the super spreaders of the Corona virus. Most of the migrant workers came back to UP and Bihar. In people affected and death occurred, Bihar is missing. Where are the returnee workers – again left back to work in other states? How could they?

Among most of the least affected major states, ultimately I could locate Bihar on June 26, 2020 – it said the COVID-19 death toll reached 198 in Haryana, 170 in Karnataka, 136 in Andhra Pradesh, 120 in Punjab, 90 in Jammu and Kashmir, 57 in Bihar, 36 in Uttarakhand, 22 in Kerala and 17 in Odisha. So Bihar was lost and found at last. But Bihar cannot be lost – political election is knocking at the Bihar door.

I doubt if Bihar has the testing kits and medical facilities that once applied could have exposed the truth. Or it may be that poor people are Corona-distanced. They live for they live until they die on paddy field for lightning, bridge collapse, hunger and all that. They do not have the comfort to kill time to go to the testing centres giving up the scope to earn roti-roji.   

Of the total 16,893 deaths reported till end-June, 2020, Maharashtra accounted for the highest 7,610 followed by Delhi with 2,680, Gujarat with 1,827, Tamil Nadu with 1,141, Uttar Pradesh with 672, West Bengal with 653, Madhya Pradesh with 564, Rajasthan with 405 and Telangana with 253 deaths. The COVID-19 death toll reached 232 in Haryana, 226 in Karnataka, 180 in Andhra Pradesh, 138 in Punjab, 95 in Jammu and Kashmir, 62 in Bihar, 39 in Uttarakhand, 23 in Odisha and 22 in Kerala. However, Bihar was ahead of Jharkhand that registered 15 deaths, Chhattisgarh 13, Assam 11, Puducherry 10, Himachal Pradesh nine, Chandigarh six, Goa three and Meghalaya, Tripura, Ladakh and Arunachal Pradesh one fatality each, as reported.

The numbers are doubling at a fast rate due to the high reproduction number of the virus (the number of cases, on average, an infected person will cause during their infectious period). Also, with announcement of unlocking the lockdown, people forgot social distancing as opined by the competent authority. This means Bihar is behaving responsibly post-lockdown or their immunity is so strong as to withstand the virus. This also may mean Bihar lags in the tests required to record the number of persons affected. Bihar’s testing rate per million is less than one-third of the national average of 6,622 tests per million, as reported. It also might be that the spreaders suspected in returnee migrant workers got scattered before they were caught in state safety net.

Ultimately Bihar comes to be projected but not on the Corona-canvas. It comes to be focused for different reasons – apparently natural – lightning kills so many, flood displaces so many, and caste-violence kills so many and all that. Often Bihar is clubbed with UP so that separate identity of Bihar is lost that is of course nothing new if pre-1912 history is remembered. The latest news is of 2nd July that at least 31 people died in lightning strikes in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. I could separate out Bihar from this total death – Bihar had 26 out of 31. More than 100 people died in lightning strikes in Bihar in the last one week, as reported. They were farmers.

On June 30, 11 people were killed by lightning strikes in five districts, while 83 such deaths were reported from 23 districts within a span of 24 hours on June 25. The latest news is from UP – eight police personnel were killed and seven others injured in a gun battle in Kanpur on the night of July 02nd, 2020 as the police team raided a village to arrest an alleged criminal. UP was praised a few days back by the political master as a success story in Corona graph. It is, however, a different graph – criminal graph, not Corona graph. All Cs do not carry same connotations.

In spite of the above, Bihar remains unnoticed in Corona diagram. It may also be natural for Bihar is basically land-cum-agriculture dependent with 90.0 per cent of population rural. Bihar is flooded with recurring floods, caste-violence, inter-generational poverty, insecurity and all that. Corona-episode is more metropolitan, more elite. Bihar is metropolis-distanced and elite-distanced – so Corona-distanced, it seems. However, among the circumferential states, there is strong fraternity between UP and Bihar, though all the states stand equidistant from the Centre by the length of the radius.  UP is already praised by the political master for Corona-success. If UP is praised, can Bihar be far behind?      

Bhaskar Majumder, Professor of Economics, G. B. Pant Social Science Institute, Allahabad - 211019

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Jul 8, 2020

Prof. Bhaskar Majumder

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