Patna: Over five years after Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced a Rs 1.25-lakh-crore economic package for Bihar, there is still no clarity on how much money has been spent on the state even as the Nitish Kumar government is now promising fresh projects ahead of the assembly elections.
ThePrint spoke to two ministers in the Nitish Kumar government, who didn’t provide figures on the funds spent so far but claimed the work on the projects is going on.
The August 2015 package had reportedly allocated Rs 54,713 crore for roads and bridges and Rs 21,476 crore for petro and gas projects, Rs 1,550 crore for skill development, among other sectors.
Deputy CM Sushil Kumar Modi said since all the money is being spent by the Centre, the state government did not have details of the money spent under the Bihar PM’s economic package.
“Like roads and bridges are being made by the National Highway Authority of India (NHAI), similarly the petro projects are under Indian Oil, and power projects under NTPC. The money is not reflected in our budget. But most of the work promised under the package has either been completed or under progress,” he said.
Bihar Road Construction Minister Nand Kishore Yadav said, “We have divided the road and bridge packages in 75 parts out of which 13 have been completed. Work is on in 49 projects while the rest are at the tendering stage.”
He conceded that there has been a delay. “Construction of roads is not a short term project. Many of these projects will be completed by 2021 or by 2022,” he said, stressing that the funds are from the Centre and do not reflect in the state government account. However, he refused to provide figures of the funds spent.
In August 2015, PM Modi had announced the special package to woo Bihar voters ahead of the assembly elections. The package was BJP-led NDA’s main poll plank. Nitish Kumar, fighting under the Grand Alliance of JD(U), Congress and RJD then, had criticised the package, describing it as “nothing new”.
After NDA lost the elections, then Union finance minister late Arun Jaitley declared that Bihar would still get the promised package, which included six mega bridges over Ganga.
In March 2017, when Nitish was still with the alliance, Lallan Singh, who was the then water resources minister, had said in the assembly that Bihar had received only Rs 28,117 crore under the package. No official statement about the package details were made after that. Jaitley had declared that the amount would come from the Union budget, but hadn’t given a time-frame.
What is visible so far is Rs 2,000-crore renovation of the Mahatma Gandhi Setu connecting Patna to Hajipur. Work on the rest, including a parallel bridge to the Mahatma Gandhi bridge and a parallel bridge to Vikramshila bridge in Bhagalpur, is yet to start.
There were hurdles in acquisition of land, which had irked Union Road Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari, according to sources. “We have overcome the land hurdles now,” Yadav told ThePrint.
However, while the PM’s economic package is all but forgotten by BJP leaders, Modi mentioned them recently.
On 13 September, he inaugurated three petroleum projects in Bihar, which were part of the 2015 package. He said Rs 21,000 crore have been spent on 10 projects in this sector.
However, schemes like supply of gas to households in Patna which was promised by the end of 2018 have still not started. The promise of a gas line to Barauni to restart a defunct fertiliser factory there has also not been fulfilled.
There are a number of other schemes that have either not started or are delayed.
The construction of a new airport in Patna and other airports in the state, for which Rs 2,700 crore was allotted, is still under progress. The thermal plant in Buxar for which Rs 16,300 crore was promised has not even started. The Rs 1,550-crore mega skill development university to be established in Patna has not happened yet. Many others are yet to get off the ground.
Now, in the run-up to this year’s assembly polls, the Nitish Kumar-led NDA government is making new promises, like road connectivity and rural and urban housing projects worth hundreds of crores, while PM Modi is on a foundation stone laying and inauguration spree.
On Friday, Modi inaugurated the Kosi Rail Mahasetu, which was initiated by late PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee, and a slew of other rail projects.
However, the opposition is quick to declare the new promises “as false as” the PM’s economic package. “The BJP tried to fool the people of Bihar in 2015 and they are trying it now. They will fail again,” RJD MLA Birendar Yadav told ThePrint.
Economists also questioned the 2015 Bihar economic package. “It was a political gimmick even though the PM announced the package. There was no separate head in the Union budget in which funds were allocated for the package. If everything is being attributed to the PM’s package what happened to funds allotted to Bihar to improve its infrastructure,” said D.M. Diwakar, an economics professor at the AN Sinha Institute for Social Studies in Patna.
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