Patna: About 10 months ahead of the next assembly elections, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar is embarking on a ‘yatra’, ‘Jal, Jeevan, Haryali’, aimed at highlighting the issues of water, life and the environment in the context of climate change — a first for a chief minister.
Nitish hit the road Tuesday. While centred around climate change and environment, the four-day yatra is also about the rejuvenation of a political image that has taken a beating after floods submerged Patna in September-end.
Ever since he undertook the Nyay Yatra back in 2005, to protest against the dissolution of a fractured Bihar assembly, Nitish has a tendency to undertake such journeys to set an agenda. The chief minister has gone on such roadshows to promise vikas (development), protest dowry, preserve Bihar’s heritage and on several such issues in an attempt to reinvent himself.
His latest target is the state’s agriculture sector.
“Agriculture contributes only 20 per cent of Bihar’s GDP but for around 90 per cent of the population it is an occupation,” said economist P.P. Ghose of the Asian Development Research Institute (ADRI).
And the sector has felt the impact of climate change as delayed or scant rains and droughts have been frequent. “The impact has been huge,” said Saravana Kumar N, Principal Secretary, Agriculture. “This year, we saw floods in 15 districts in June and deficient rainfall of up to 50 per cent during the Kharif season right up to June. Then there were heavy rains again in October. As a result, 5 lakh hectares have remained unsown.”
The Jal, Jeevan, Haryali Yatra
The chief minister appears to have factored in these recent issues. With a focus on combating the effects of climate change, his ‘Jal, Jeevan, Haryali Yatra has several components. As part of the yatra, Nitish has selected five villages each from eight of the state’s 37 districts to ensure changes in crop patterns such as alternatives to paddy that heavily depend on rains.
“The cropping pattern is being sought to be changed to bring in farming that is attuned to climate change,” the chief minister said. He will also launch efforts to rejuvenate water sources such as ponds, tubewells and small streams so that farmers will not have to rely on rains.
Nitish will also promote afforestation efforts and micro irrigation. All four agriculture institutes in Bihar have been made a part of the yatra.
The opposition, though, is not impressed. “It’s another of his political stunts. Nitishji‘s past record is that many of the projects he has laid foundation stones for are yet to be started,” said RJD MLA Alok Kumar Mehta. “It is basically an attempt to hide his failures on failing law and order, rampant corruption and even administration. Nitish’s initial slogan — susashan (good governance) — has become to feel hollow for the common masses.”
Nitish and farmers
The chief minister has never made the interests of the farming community the central issue of his politics. In 2009, for instance, he put in cold storage land reforms that would have given land tillers an upper hand over land owners.
At regular intervals, he has announced plans related to farming and has been careful not to antagonise farmers. Last year, the Nitish-led JD(U)-BJP government launched the organic farming corridor plan. It includes 12 districts of the state located along the Ganga river.
The government handed Rs 6,000 each to farmers along this stretch to encourage them to grow agriculture produce without the use of chemical fertilisers and pesticides.