Patna: When Nitish Kumar broke away from the Mahagathbandhan and rejoined the NDA in 2017, JD(U) and BJP leaders hailed it as a “double-engined” government. They said the same parties running the central and state governments would smooth things for Bihar, in terms of finance and project clearance.
But now, more than two years down the line, Nitish is finding out that ‘double-engined’ governments don’t always have the desired effect. Speaking to a group of journalists last Wednesday, the Bihar CM told a group of journalists that he did not know what was happening about the second AIIMS that has been announced in the state.
“I had a series of talks on this issue with former Union Health Minister J.P. Nadda, and Nadda ji even announced that Darbhanga Medical College and Hospital would be upgraded to an AIIMS. I even offered that doctors and other staff who do not meet the parameters of AIIMS will be adjusted in other places,” Nitish said.
“However, when Nadda ji was replaced, a health ministry official said it could not be done because there is no provision for upgrading old medical colleges to AIIMS,” he added, stressing that he had taken up the matter with Nadda’s successor Dr Harsh Vardhan, but there had been no progress.
Why Bihar’s 2nd AIIMS is stuck
In the Union Budget speech for 2015-16, then-finance minister Arun Jaitley had announced the establishment of a second AIIMS in the state, after the one in Patna.
“Jaitley ji had informed me about this development at a dinner before his budget announcement. I had expressed happiness, saying it would have to cater to the needs of north Bihar,” Nitish said, recalling his meeting with the late BJP leader.
However, one of the pre-conditions for an AIIMS is the availability of 500 acres of land, and land acquisition is proving to be an uphill talk in Bihar. The state government has refused to give even 5 acres of land for establishing central schools.
Nitish then asked the central government to upgrade the Darbhanga Medical College, but the health ministry regularly comes out with statements saying that Bihar’s second AIIMS is delayed because the state government has failed to make 500 acres of land.
JD(U) leaders claim the delay could be due to the fact that the Union Minister of State for Health, Ashwini Choubey, wants the second AIIMS to be set up in his hometown Bhagalpur.
Series of issues
The second AIIMS is not the only issue that has cropped up between the allies. In October 2017, during his first official visit to the state after the installation of the NDA government, PM Narendra Modi ignored Nitish’s public request to give Patna University the status of a central university.
In the last three years, Nitish has repeatedly asked for special status for Bihar to promote investment, but the Modi government has ignored it.
In 2015, Modi had announced a Rs 1.25 lakh crore economic package for Bihar. More than four years later, no figures are forthcoming on how much the central government has invested.
Infrastructure announcements like the Vikramshila Central University at Bhagalpur are non-starters due to the unavailability of land.
‘Partnership working for Bihar’
Deputy CM Sushil Kumar Modi of the BJP said work had started on 80 per cent of the infrastructure projects in the package, though he didn’t give out figures either.
“There may be a few hiccups, but under the NDA government in Bihar, we were able to acquire railway land in Patna for a new road. It was under this government we were able to get Patna Metro work cleared,” he told ThePrint, giving examples of why the ‘double-engined’ government had worked.
He insisted that it’s easier to work with the same political configuration in power in New Delhi, but added that it was not all about funds.
Meanwhile, JD(U) minister Neeraj Kumar said Nitish Kumar was committed to the development of Bihar, and had put his demands forcefully and logically before the central government.
“When he joined the NDA in 2017, he said development would be his sole agenda. There are cases when there is a delay in conceding to the demands by the central government. But the hope that it will concede to the demands persists,” Kumar told ThePrint.
But two JD(U) ministers who did not wish to be identified said the central government was reluctant to give any credit to Nitish Kumar for any central project.