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Inclusive Development? Migration, Governance and Social Change in Rural Bihar

Migration has been a trigger of change in rural Bihar, but despite some social progress, economic transformation remains slow. This paper examines the pattern of change over the last decade, and considers whether prospects for faster or more equitable development have improved and whether a model of development based on migration and consumption out of income transfers and remittances is sustainable.


Inclusive Development? Migration, Governance and Social Change in Rural Bihar

Gerry Rodgers, Janine Rodgers

Migration has been a trigger of change in rural Bihar, but despite some social progress, economic transformation remains slow. This paper examines the pattern of change over the last decade, and considers whether prospects for faster or more equitable development have improved and whether a model of development based on migration and consumption out of income transfers and remittances is sustainable.

Gerry Rodgers ( and Janine Rodgers ( are visiting professor and visiting researcher, respectively, with the Institute for Human Development, New Delhi.

n a series of articles published in Economic & Political Weekly since 1973, we reported on economic and social change in several villages in Purnia district of Bihar (Rodgers 1973; Rodgers and Rodgers 1984; Rodgers and Rodgers 2001). The last of these articles highlighted some striking developments in production, incomes and labour markets as the old semi-feudal relations gave ground to market forces. In 2008 and 2009, we again visited two of these villages, in Kasba block,1 to see whether there had been further developments: had the new economic and social relationships which emerged in the 1990s resulted in sustained growth and rising incomes? Had the acceleration of growth in the Indian economy as a whole had visible effects on the village economy? What was the impact of the political and governance changes of the last decade?

Bihar, despite recent indications of increased growth, has lagged behind as other parts of India have developed.2 By 2004-05 output per capita amounted to only 35% of the all-India average and the incidence of poverty was high (55.7% of the Bihar rural population was below the official poverty line against 41.8% of the all-India rural population; GoI 2009). Purnia district is, in turn, relatively backward compared with the State as a whole, with per capita output 25% lower than the Bihar average.

The two villages studied are Pokharia, a small, backward caste-dominated village,3 with 918 inhabitants in 2001; and Dubaili Biswaspur, a larger village with 4,689 inhabitants in 2001. In Dubaili Biswaspur we concentrated mainly on one tola, Mazgama West, accounting for about a quarter of the households in the village, with a backward class Muslim majority and a smaller number of scheduled caste (SC) households.4 We make no claim that these villages are representative of Bihar or even of their district. But neither is there an obvious bias in the choice of these villages.5 The patterns which we observe are reproduced elsewhere in the region, and our findings can help identify issues and impacts which merit closer attention more generally.

In the 1970s and early 1980s, these villages were backward and stagnant, and poverty was intense. Wages barely sufficed to cover basic subsistence, and real incomes were if anything declining. Mortality was high and production relations “semifeudal”, in the sense that debt bondage, tenancy and attached labour were widespread, served as mechanisms of labour control and exploitation, and were resistant to change. Communications were poor, facilities limited, education levels low. The government action was extremely weak.

From the mid-1980s, things began to change, and by 1999, the picture had altered substantially. Short-term migration to

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north-western India seemed to be an important trigger of change, undermining feudal relationships, creating new perspectives, generating additional income sources and pushing up local wages. Diets had improved, and to some extent, housing. Infrastructure had also improved – roads, irrigation, schools – and there had been a significant increase in agricultural productivity. At the same time, the transition was clearly incomplete, with various remnants of the semi-feudal labour and reward systems still present. Agricultural innovation was limited, gender inequality strong, and there was not much visible impact of government programmes.

This paper explores the impact of another decade of development. After a brief introduction to the villages it examines changes in agrarian relations, looks in more detail at migration and its impact, and considers trends in governance and in the effectiveness of state policies.

1 The Village Environment

Population densities are high in Bihar, and these villages are no exception – according to the census data for 2001, 695 persons per sq km in Pokharia and 1,379 in Dubaili Biswaspur (compared with 881 for Bihar as a whole and 312 for India). Moreover, population growth is rapid. Between 1981 and 2001 the population of Pokharia almost doubled and that of Dubaili Biswaspur increased by over 75%. Literacy rates have been rising but at a very slow pace. According to the 2001 Census, even after excluding the 0-6 age group (illiterate by definition), over 50% of men and over 80% of women were illiterate in both villages. The last decade has, however, seen a revolution in school enrolment. New schools have opened and school attendance, especially of girls, has risen rapidly.

Within the villages, occupation remains dominated by agriculture, and the proportion of agricultural labourers has been rising

– from 31% of all (main) workers in 1981 to 60% in 2001 in Pokharia, and from 50% in 1981 to 72% in 2001 in Dubaili Biswaspur according to the census. In 2001, 28% of workers were classified as cultivators in Pokharia and 22% in Dubaili Biswaspur. In Pokharia holdings are small – no household had more than five acres in 2009. In Dubaili Biswaspur some larger holdings were reported, but only six to eight households out of the 215 in Mazgama West tola were reported as having more than eight acres. Apart from traditional occupations such as basketmaking, fishing and other caste occupations, there was little nonagricultural employment in these villages.

There are few pucca houses, and most houses are made of traditional materials, mud and thatch (though, often now, with a corrugated iron roof), while many of the poorer households still live in simple constructions of bamboo and thatch. Access to drinking water has improved since 1999 with an increase in the number of handpumps, though some problems of water quality subsist, especially in Pokharia, where one-third of households do not have their own supply, and in the SC locality of Mazgama. Village roads and paths and drainage show little sign of improvement, and sanitation facilities are still virtually non-existent.

The most striking and visible change concerns communications. Hard to reach in the 1980s, today the villages are only 6 km, along a good pucca road, from a four-lane dual carriageway.6

44 This means that they are within easy reach of the local block headquarters throughout the year, and also only 40 minutes by autorickshaw from the main district market which is in turn only a few kilometres from the district headquarters.

There were many more electricity connections in 2009 than in 1999, both legal and illegal, although electricity is available only four to five hours per day and is not used for agriculture because of its unreliability. A few solar street lights have been installed, mainly outside the houses of influential villagers. There is a mobile phone in the majority of households, even among the poorest groups. There has been some growth in the number of shops, with seven in Pokharia and three in Mazgama and several more on the road nearby, in addition to a weekly market.

2 Changes in Agrarian Relations

The key change observed in 1999 was the shift towards market relationships, especially in the labour market. Since earlier research had connected agricultural backwardness with semifeudal social and economic relationships, there was reason to expect that market forces, combined with improved communications, would unleash the unfulfilled agricultural possibilities of a region with abundant groundwater and reasonable soils, and a considerable potential for triple cropping.

2.1 Agricultural Production

Between 1981 and 1999, agricultural production rose substantially as a result of both increased yields and increased cropping intensity (Rodgers and Rodgers 2001). This rise has continued over the last decade. Estimating trends in agricultural output is perilous, because of variation between cultivators and seasons, but the levels of “normal year” agricultural output7 in these villages, in volume terms, seemed to have increased by at least 20% in the decade. Normal wheat yields were generally reported at about 2,400 kg/ha in 2008-09, compared with an average around 2,000 kg in 1999. Aghani paddy yields were more variable, but mostly over 3,000 kg/ha compared with 2,000 to 3,000 kg in 1999.8

The main source of this increase seems to lie in a continued spread of tube well irrigation, combined with the almost universal use of high-yielding varieties and fertiliser. Some farmers also use pesticides, and a few new composting methods. The spread of improved techniques may have been encouraged by migration. Migrants returning from Punjab are aware of the more advanced agricultural methods used there, and this may facilitate adoption locally.

By 2009, there were sufficient numbers of borings and pumpsets for virtually all the cropped area to be irrigated. Overall cropping intensity has increased as a consequence, but the cropping pattern has not changed much, with the exception of a decline in jute, to some extent, replaced by maize, and some increase in the garma (summer) crop (maize and paddy), connected with the spread of irrigation. The growth in output has no doubt come more from higher yield than from increase in the area sown. Pulses continued their long-term decline, and there were small areas of vegetables and fruit. It is noteworthy that there was little development of new, higher value commercial crops. Paddy, wheat and maize still accounted for 88% of the

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entire cropped area in Dubaili Biswaspur and 68% in Pokharia according to official data; and these figures are probably underestimates, since local respondents reported even higher proportions of sown areas under cereals.

Increased yields need to be set against higher input costs (high-yielding seeds, irrigation, fertiliser, pesticides and labour), which can be substantial. Labour costs in particular have increased, while the price of foodgrains declined relative to the price of all goods up to the beginning of 2008, compared with 1999 (although it recovered in 2009).9 Nevertheless, detailed estimates of production costs still suggest that cereal production can be highly profitable.10

There have been some changes in livestock, notably a precipitous decline in the number of bullocks, because of their replacement by tractors, but on the other hand, some growth in the number of milch animals, notably among smaller cultivators and agricultural labourers. However, these are mostly local rather than cross-bred varieties and milk production is exclusively for local and domestic consumption. There also seems to have been some increase in the numbers of goats and poultry.

There is evidence here of the spread of improved techniques and growth in agricultural output. But despite improved communications, increased yields have not led to much increase in the marketing of agricultural products. This is a sign that increased output has, to a large extent, been absorbed by a growing population. Only 10% of the most important crop, Aghani paddy, is marketed in Pokharia, and 20% in Mazgama (but higher proportions, 40 to 50% of the garma crop). About half of wheat produced is commercialised; jute and maize are essentially commercial crops, but they are grown on a much smaller area than paddy and wheat.

Overall, it appears that growth is not based on structural change in the production system, but rather on the intensification of an existing model. Elsewhere in Bihar, investment in the production of vegetables, fruit, flowers and medicinal plants has contributed to growing incomes, but there is no sign of such developments in these villages. And some basic disadvantages, notably vulnerability to drought and flood, have not been resolved. Improved irrigation has made agriculture more resistant to drought, but some crops, and in general, the Aghani season, remain mainly rainfed. Flood is even more problematic. While these villages were not affected by the devastating 2008 Kosi floods, in another year it can easily be their turn; a river passes through Dubaili Biswaspur which has frequently flooded in the past. Low lying areas often remain waterlogged. These risks still discourage high levels of investment in agriculture, and call for improved infrastructure.

2.2 Labour Relations and Wages

The market for labour has continued to tighten in these villages, and wages have risen sharply. In 1999, local wages were found to have doubled, in real terms, since 1981. Between 1999 and 2009, they rose by another 50%. In 1999, casual wages (full time, male) were mainly in the Rs 25 to Rs 35 per day range. In 2009, the main range for agricultural work was Rs 67 to Rs 95.11 The Bihar consumer price index for agricultural/rural labourers rose by

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76.4% from April 1999 to November 2009, the relevant dates for our investigation, so in 1999 prices the wages observed in 2009 were in the range of Rs 38 to Rs 54, i e, a 50% real increase at both bottom and top of the range. Almost half of this rise came in the last one year between the two visits in December 2008 and November 2009.

Women’s wages had risen more than men’s. Typically Rs 20 per day in 1999, normal wages were reported as Rs 57 to Rs 74 in 2009, a rise in real terms of 58% to 105%. There was still a wage differential between men and women, but it was of the order of 15% to 30%, rather than the 20% to 50% observed in 1999. However, there seemed to be more variability in women’s wages, with the lowest slack season wage reported as only Rs 37.12

These rises in wages were accompanied by increased variability in the labour market. There was much greater diversity than in 1999 in wage rates between villages and crop operations. For instance, jute harvesting and retting was paid more because it was hard work, and there was some growth in contract work, weeding a specified area for instance, where the remuneration was negotiable depending on the area and the abundance of weeds. There was also a substantial seasonal variation.

The most likely cause of these increases in wages is the withdrawal of labour from the local labour market through largescale temporary migration to other parts of India (which we discuss later). Increased output could, in principle, be a factor, but agricultural growth has only been of the same order as population growth, and non-agricultural output, other than construction, remains small.

The immediate consequence of the tightening labour market has been to raise the cost of cultivation, and to increase competition for labour among cultivators. It should also have increased the incentives for mechanisation. But apart from tube wells, only two types of mechanisation are widespread: tractors for ploughing and threshers. Transplanting, weeding and harvesting remain labour-intensive, and labour use for weeding and harvesting rises with yield. It is, therefore not surprising that cultivators complain of labour shortage, notably during the monsoon months of Asarh, Sawan and Bhado. The labour-intensity of jute cultivation is said to be one reason for its decline; harvesting and retting of jute coincide with the paddy harvest in Punjab and Haryana, so there is a direct competition between local and distant employers.13

There have been differential effects across different sizes of landholding. For many small cultivators, opportunities for migration are more attractive than own cultivation. Some rent out their land, while they migrate for work, while in others women and children replace migrant male labour. Middle peasants, who were previously hiring in labour, are squeezed by the tight labour market, and may see a fall in net income. Larger cultivators, on the other hand, may have enough market power to assure a supply of casual labour at peak times, and are so better placed to take full advantage of the potential of improved seeds and cultivation practices.

Interestingly, some of the mechanisms of the semi-feudal system are still present in this new economic environment, but they function in a different way. The main exception is attached labour, which has disappeared – the labour market functions essentially on a casual, daily basis. Tenancy, on the other hand, is if anything more widespread than before, especially in Mazgama. It remains dominated by sharecropping where both inputs (fertiliser and irrigation) and outputs are shared 50:50 between landowner and tenant. Some new practices have also developed, such as fixed payment in kind for the whole year, or a smaller share for the landowner (noted in particular for the garma season). But tenancy, which is renewed annually, no longer plays a central role in economic control. Indeed, in a reversal of previous practices, it now seems that larger landowners rent in land from small landowners.

Indebtedness too appears to be as widespread as ever, much of it to traditional moneylenders at high interest rates. But the inflow of money from migration means that debts can be repaid, and indebtedness seems to be much less important as a mechanism of social control. In addition, access to institutional loans may have improved. One small cultivator-cum-agricultural labourer was able to borrow Rs 50,000 (used for his daughter’s marriage) from a bank because he owned some land.

The practice of remunerating harvest labour with a share of the crop has survived the strengthening of market forces, but like daily wages, the shares have become more variable, depending on the yield and the quality of the grain – with a larger share being paid to labour where the crop is poor. The range was between one-eighth and one-twelfth for paddy and wheat, although oneeighth was the most common for paddy, as against one-ninth in 1999, suggesting some increase in the equivalent daily wage. However, given the rise in the casual daily wage for other operations, harvest shares no longer supply a bonus as they did in the past; it is likely that real wages are not very different from those in other agricultural operations.

All in all, the picture is one of increasingly atomised and diversified labour relations. There is effectively no organisation of labour within the villages, except the organisation of groups of migrants, and wage relationships appear to be individualised and short-term.

The disappearance or redefinition of the old “semi-feudal” mechanisms has not necessarily changed the economic and social hierarchy. In some of the old “semi-feudal” families, it seems that a new generation of cultivators has adapted to the market, and their market power may permit them to invest in a more productive agriculture.

3 Migration and the Labour Market

Migration has become a way of life in these two villages, as it has in many parts of Bihar. In 1999, there were already migrants to north-western India from the majority of households, especially poorer households. Migration was almost exclusively male, short-term and seasonal, mostly between one and six months at a time. Since then migration has if anything increased further (respondents uniformly reported this), with a greater diversity of migration destinations and durations, and some move towards longer-term migration, especially to urban areas. But there is still very little permanent migration, in the sense of definitive departure of households from the village. The original reason for the growth of migration was lack of employment in the village. This reason continues to be cited by respondents, but nowadays

46 cultivators in the village complain of labour shortage, so lack of local employment may no longer be the main factor.

The increases in local wages seen above have narrowed the gap with other parts of India. In 1999, wages for casual daily labour in north-western India, both urban and rural, were reported as Rs 60 to Rs 65 per day, about double the wages in these Bihar villages. In 2009, migrants were reported to be getting Rs 100-Rs 150 per day in agriculture in Punjab and Haryana; compared with the wages observed in the villages of Rs 67-Rs 95 per day, the gap is down to about 50% on average. In urban areas migrants were said to be able to earn Rs 4,000-Rs 6,000 per month in a variety of casual jobs, though observations in Delhi suggest that these numbers are on the high side. All of these figures are for adult males. Very few women migrate for economic reasons.

Agricultural work (transplanting of paddy, harvesting of paddy, wheat or sugarcane) in Punjab, Haryana and nearby still seems to account for at least half of all migration. One important change has been the elimination of the middle man. Since virtually all migrants have or have access to mobile phones, it has become common for farmers in Punjab to call villagers in Bihar directly when they need labour for harvesting – this contact, of course, being carried over from year to year. Groups of villagers then migrate together, and at the place of destination they live and work together. This migration is typically for two to four months at a time, depending on the availability of seasonal work. In addition, there has been a considerable increase in migration to Delhi and other urban locations, where employment includes construction, commerce and factory work. Durations are longer; a common pattern is for the migrant to stay away for four to six months, return for a month or two, and then leave again. Married migrants leave their wives and children in the village. Only one case was recorded in Pokharia of a woman migrant, engaged in domestic service in Delhi, and none in Mazgama.

Migration, as noted above, is surely the primary reason for the rise in local wages. It is often argued that the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS) has a similar impact, because it both creates demand for labour and (in principle at least) pays legal daily minimum wages (Rs 89 in 2008, Rs 97 in 2009), which are higher than prevailing agricultural wages. However, in these villages there are few NREGS projects, and the volume of employment created is at least an order of magnitude less than that obtained through migration. At most, NREGS is a supplementary factor. A similar comment can be made about the recent growth in public sector construction, notably of roads, which is also sometimes identified as a source of increased labour demand, but which is again only a secondary factor in these villages. Migration, therefore, continues to be the primary driving force for rising incomes among the poor. As noted in 1999, taking into account both the additional employment of migrants and the higher wages in the village labour market, migration probably raises the incomes of labour households by a factor of two to three.

Among the better-off households, there are frequent reports of children (mainly sons) getting secondary or vocational education outside the village. At this level, family and community networks are important. The Muslim community of Mazgama has connections with a business network both in local towns and spread across

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India, extending to west Asia, which provides opportunities for the second generation members of well-off families.

A form of migration that has developed recently concerns young boys aged 10 to 14, migrating to Moradabad, Delhi or Ferozabad to work in factories making bangles, toys, carpets or steel pots and dishes. This concerned some 25 to 50 households in Mazgama (out of 250). In Pokharia south tola, about 15 boys were migrating for work. The phenomenon had grown in the last two or three years. In Mazgama it was reported that children migrate in small groups. A contractor from outside the village advances their travel expenses and gets back a percentage of the children’s wages (10% was mentioned). The boys concerned basically lived at the worksite, where they were given food, clothing and lodging, and a wage of Rs 600 to Rs 1,000 per month for the first year, and Rs 1,000 to Rs 2,000 thereafter. They would come back to the village from time to time (especially for major festivals), but would be spending 8 to 10 months in the year away. One respondent had a 12-year old son who was doing this in a bangle factory near Delhi, and who was also studying – there are perhaps some elements of apprenticeship in this process. The son called home regularly – the mobile phone again! – and was reported to be “happy”.

The overall impact of migration on the local labour market is considerable. First, there is the impact on women’s work and responsibilities, which we consider below. Second, cultivators widely complain of both labour shortages and of the high cost of labour. Migrant workers do, however, tend to return for the local paddy and wheat harvests,14 and to a lesser extent at other peak times. Third, migration also generates new skills, and there was at least one example of a person working as a tailor in Jaipur who did tailoring work in the village during spells between migrations. Skills developed in construction, in carpentry and certain other occupations may also have an outlet in the village.

The decline in wage differentials between Purnia and northwest India is striking. It suggests that migration is contributing to wage equalisation across India, and so bringing incomes in Bihar up towards the Indian mean. In fact, these labour markets are now interconnected. Unskilled wages are rising less fast than other incomes in Delhi and surrounding areas, and the inflow of migrants is surely part of the reason. The long-term dynamics of the process are unclear, but the male labour reserve in these two Bihar villages seems to be close to exhausted. That might explain the shift towards child labour. There is, of course, a female labour reserve that has hardly been tapped.

Migration generates a considerable volume of resources, both in the form of remittances and savings. Bihar has become one of the main destinations for remittances within India. If what is observed in these villages is repeated across rural Bihar, the order of magnitude of the resource flow into the State could amount to 4%-7% of net state domestic product.15 From the point of view of the dynamics of development, these resources could be an important new source of investment. On the whole, however, this is not the case. Most respondents indicated that the primary use of remittances was for food, clothing, health and house repairs

– i e, meeting basic needs – and education. However, in some cultivating households savings of migrants were used for current agricultural inputs – seeds, fertilisers – and one respondent had

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purchased a cow while others had purchased calves. Some had improved their houses, bought consumer durables (TV, radio, mobile phone) or repaid loans. Increase in dowry was also mentioned (although this may be a transfer between households rather than final consumption).

There were some isolated reports of land purchase or purchase of agricultural equipment. However, it was clear that relatively little of the resources generated by migration was going into production; perhaps this is not surprising, given that migrants came mainly from lower income groups.

4 Impact of Male Migration on Gender Relations

The migration of men has had some impact on the workload of women, on their responsibilities within the household and on their mobility. In 1981, women were seldom going outside the village, except to visit relatives or for severe health problems. Men went to the market and made all the household purchases. In 2009, women had more frequent contacts with the outside world. They went to the market (as a small group of women or with a male relative but also alone if need be), and in Pokharia some women mentioned going to the temple, to fairs and to bathe in the Ganga. However, mobility restrictions still affected young married women who had not borne children.

De facto head of household when men migrate, women have more responsibilities regarding the children’s schooling, taking family members to the doctor and house repair. They are also more involved in the management of money. When in need they borrow from relatives or the local moneylender. However, they keep regular contact with their husband thanks to the spread of mobile phones.

While women have always played a role in agricultural production, their importance has been growing. The increase in cropping intensity, higher yields and the absence of men has increased the demand for female and child labour. In 1999, they were mainly involved in harvesting; in 2009, more women reported also doing transplanting and weeding, while women from landowning families would oversee cultivation. There has been a substantial increase in milch animals in particular among smaller cultivators and agricultural labourers. Women assume multiple roles ranging from animal care, grazing, fodder collection and cleaning of animal sheds to processing of milk and livestock products.

This increased involvement of women in agriculture includes both work on own farm and wage labour. While above a certain level in the social hierarchy women still do not work for wages, it appears that the threshold has been rising, so that, for instance, women in small peasant households who previously would not undertake wage work are increasingly reporting that they do some agricultural labour outside their own farms. The reduction in the wage differential against women also increases the incentive for women to enter the labour market.

5 The Role of the State and the Institutions of Governance

Since 1999, there have been important changes in the political environment of the state. The Janata Dal (United)-Bharatiya Janata Party (JDU-BJP) government led by Nitish Kumar, which came to power in 2005, was widely seen as more effective than its predecessors. In the block office in Kasba, the block development officer reeled off an impressive list of programmes which were in operation. This was not just on paper; activities and impacts of many of these programmes could be observed in the villages. This is in sharp contrast to the situation in 1999, when state presence was weak. It may be too simplistic to attribute this only to a change of political regime, for other factors such as improved communications and awareness levels presumably also played a role. But the political change was certainly an important factor.

While we did not attempt a systematic survey of government programmes at the village level, we asked questions about awareness, impact and functioning of a variety of programmes to respondents from different social groups.

First, as noted above, there have been marked improvements in communications as a result of public investment in roads, noted by many respondents as a major dimension of progress.

There has also been a substantial increase in school enrolment and attendance.16 This is the result of policies on both supplyand demand-sides – on the supply-side through the three new schools that have opened in and around these villages and the hiring of additional teachers; on the demand-side, through scholarships for girls and a midday meal programme, which had started shortly before our visit, although it was far from running smoothly in Pokharia.

The improvements in public health are more modest. There are anganwadi centres for child development in both villages, but they do not serve all segments of the community. The continued demand for medical treatment from local quacks is also indirect evidence that the public health system is not meeting local needs, and it was reported that visits by block level medical staff were infrequent. However, vaccination campaigns seem to have been effective and the Janani Suraksha Yojana (JSY) promoting institutional child delivery has scored some successes.

There are many beneficiaries of programmes for income transfers of various sorts. The housing scheme for backward classes and SCs (Indira Awas Yojana, IAY) reported an increasing number of beneficiaries. In Mazgama 20 out of 30 households in the harijan tola had received some benefits from the programme. In Pokharia the impact was quite visible since the IAY programme is essentially the only source of pucca (brick) houses, of which several had been built or were under construction. The scheme has been in operation for many years, so the cumulative number of beneficiaries is a significant fraction of the village population – said to be 29 households (out of 163) over 10 years.

The public food distribution system is more problematic. In 2009 villagers below the poverty line were entitled to 15 kg of rice, 10 kg of wheat and three litres of oil per month at subsidised prices. The identification of households below the poverty line raises many problems which we will not go into here. But in these villages, a voucher system was in operation which made it easy to verify the distribution. This showed that in the SC tola of Mazgama, oil was regularly available but grains were distributed only about one month in two in the five months preceding our visit. According to the manager of the shop, in the other months, there was no delivery. When grain was available, however, the full quota was distributed.

Employment under the NREGS was, as noted above, of secondary importance because of migration. While there were several projects under NREGS elsewhere in the panchayats within which Pokharia and Mazgama fell, there was little activity within these two locations – there had been only two projects in the previous two years, of which one was reported as generating 30 to 45 days of work for 25 men and 15 women. But no women from these two villages reported work under NREGS. Some 70 to 80 households had job cards in Mazgama, but in the absence of local projects they did not seem to be used.

A number of other income transfer programmes report fairly large numbers of beneficiaries, the largest being the (national) oldage pension scheme, reaching, according to official data, individuals in about 15% of households below the poverty line in the panchayats concerned – and new applications which had recently been submitted would, it was stated by panchayat officials, double that number. According to official records there was also a substantial number of recipients of widow’s pensions, and small (single figure) numbers receiving other benefits. Respondents made little reference to receipt of income from such programmes, but their impact can only be verified at the household level.17

Disappointing Development Programmes

In contrast to these “social” programmes involving cash transfers and employment creation, state policies concerned with promoting economic development seemed to be much weaker. In principle, a variety of agricultural extension programmes exist involving loans and subsidies for investment, provision of inputs and training. But there was little impact of these programmes. A small number of loans for investment in irrigation was reported in Mazgama. Larger farmers were aware of the programmes for the distribution of new seeds and fertilisers, but complained that distribution was less than promised or of poor quality. There were demands for state borings to reduce the cost of irrigation. Many government programmes operate only on a pilot basis in a small number of blocks or panchayats, and there seem to be large opportunities which are not being exploited, e g, to support the development of milk production, or fruit and vegetables. There was little or no government support for the development of nonagricultural activities.

There was a general assumption, among village respondents, that a substantial proportion of government funds in most of these programmes was diverted into private pockets. One local official said that in the IAY housing programme, the beneficiary receives Rs 24,000 out of the Rs 35,000 allocated, with the difference taken by a middle man and public officials. Government schemes such as NREGS were diverted towards the interests of more influential sections of the village. Problems with the midday meal programme were reportedly, partly, because a local official was demanding a percentage. What was striking was less the examples of corruption which were cited than the lack of concern among respondents, who appeared to accept this as normal practice.

In order to ensure that these various programmes reach their intended beneficiaries, there are issues of governance at all levels – state, district, block and panchayat. Both of the villages studied are part of much larger panchayats, and respondents

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tended to portray their villages as relatively disadvantaged within that framework. This is perhaps not surprising in Pokharia, with a backward caste majority and no influential leaders or large landowners. There was little participation in the meetings of the gram sabha, the assembly of the panchayat, and little reference to its deliberations. Mazgama, on the other hand, is a significant tola of a larger village, and the location of a substantial mosque and market. Nevertheless, respondents in Mazgama believed that activities under government programmes such as NREGS were biased towards the village where the mukhya of the panchayat lived. However, there was much more participation in the gram sabha than in Pokharia (it was reported that there were 200 participants in the last meeting, although this refers to the panchayat as a whole (eight villages) and not only to Mazgama).

Conversations about the functioning of the panchayat revealed a distinct conservative bias, for instance, with respect to the effective participation of women, which did not seem to be particularly welcome. The 50% reservation of seats for women in panchayati raj institutions has led to the election as mukhya of a woman from a better-off household in Dubaili Biswaspur in 2005. But her role is only nominal and her husband assumes her responsibilities; it was said that real power lay with the panchayat secretary. She had not attended any meeting prior to her election and since then she attends with her husband. Her lack of experience is obviously a drawback. A learning process is therefore necessary but will it lead to more effective empowerment?

Beyond the political institutions, there was little effective organisation within the village. A cooperative existed on paper, but was not functioning in reality. There were no self-help groups despite the existence of a long-standing government programme to promote them. Of course, religious organisations were present and active.

6 Conclusion

Brief visits to individual villages raise questions more than they provide answers, but they do help to identify some important issues for further research concerning the pattern of development, the distribution of the benefits, the nature of social change and the role of the state.

In Pokharia and Dubaili Biswaspur there is change. The primary force is migration and other forms of communication with the outside world, but this is not the only factor. There is some shift in agricultural practices under way, universal education is likely to create new social conditions, gender relations are changing, the state is starting to look like a benefactor rather than an exploiter, the physical environment is improving, rising incomes are leading to new patterns of behaviour and expenditure, and income inequality may be falling, if only because it is among poorer groups that the gains from migration are the greatest. At the same time, local production systems are still very narrowly based, agricultural innovation is concentrated among richer farmers, pressure on land continues to rise and the sustainability of a migration-based development path has to be questioned. Social change has not greatly modified the local hierarchy, there are question marks about the functioning of

Economic & Political Weekly

june 4, 2011 vol xlvi no 23

local political institutions, and advances in the status of women have yet to be consolidated.

In many of these areas, knowledge of the process of change is limited. Large-scale national surveys give a very partial picture, and many issues can only be understood on the basis of in-depth, local research.18

Some key issues, then, emerge from this study and which need to be explored further.

  • (i) The Sustainability and Long-Term Impact of a Development Model Built on Migration: In addition to the immediate effect on incomes, migration appears to have some developmental impacts, but less than one might expect – resources from migration go mainly into consumption rather than investment. Nevertheless, there are indirect impacts through the flow of knowledge and the secondary effects of changed consumption patterns, through improved communication with the outside and through changes in the structure and functioning of village labour markets. One possible negative impact concerns the implications for local agriculture of labour shortages due to migration.
  • (ii) The Changes in Gender Relations within the Household, in the Labour Market and in the Public Sphere: Migration is just one of a number of factors, which also include targeted policy interventions and the revolution in education, which are radically changing the role and participation of women. Women’s workload has increased but their participation in the decision-making process in the domestic sphere has also increased. Women are more visible and have more frequent contacts outside the village but in the public sphere their role remains more nominal than real.
  • (iii) The Relative Effectiveness of Different State Policies for Economic and Social Development: These can be broadly divided into conditional or unconditional income transfers, aimed at redistribution or at changing social behaviour; policies which create jobs through public sector action, notably NREGA; and efforts to support the improvement of the production system by providing incentives and subsidies for investment and growth. The striking feature of recent state action in these villages has been the relative success of the first group of policies, while there are questions about the effectiveness of the second and third. The central research issue is to identify the combination of state policies of different types which would most effectively promote both economic and social transformation.

  • (iv) The Distributional Implications of a Changing Agrarian System: In these villages, there is some reason to believe that the top and bottom of the income hierarchy are doing better than the middle, but this needs to be explored further, especially since some groups among the poor may be excluded from new opportunities. New class relations are emerging, and capitalist agriculture is likely to lead to new patterns of inequality, exclusion and adverse incorporation. Thanks to higher income and better infrastructure everyday life has become easier: food security, health, education and housing have improved, but not to the same extent for all segments of the population. A new distributional architecture may well be emerging.
  • (v) The Weakness of Non-agricultural Development: It is a striking feature of Bihar’s growth as a whole that there is little industrial development; yet the potential for small-scale industry
  • in the villages, notably in processing of primary products, is sub-(vii) Undesirable Side Effects of the Pattern of Development: One stantial. Higher income also brings increased demand for con-which was identified concerned the growth of new forms of mistruction and services. It would be extremely valuable to identify grant child labour for factory work. These phenomena may just the conditions under which a broader economic base for develop-be the tip of the iceberg; migration creates a variety of new forms ment can emerge within the villages, or as part of a network in-of vulnerability and exploitation, and many other adverse effects volving local towns. may be hidden within an apparently positive development.

    (vi) The Changing Pattern of Governance: Strong political pres-Forty years of visits to these villages leaves one moderately opsure for developmental interventions, combined with the intelli-timistic. Levels of living, health, education and infrastructure gent design of many new policies, seems to have had an impact. have improved to an extent which would have seemed quite im-But there is widespread corruption, local elites control panchayat plausible in the 1970s and 1980s. But development brings new isinstitutions, and the capacity and capability of district and block sues and new aspirations. Despite progress, these villages are far level institutions is uneven. A plethora of programmes, often from benefiting fully from the opportunities generated by rapid short-lived, or which function mainly on paper after an initial growth in the Indian economy as a whole. And through improved burst of activity, does not help to generate a coherent framework. communications, villagers are well aware of the possibilities. The The issues of governance are complex, and embedded in local basic research issue remains to understand how these villages, social relationships, but understanding them better is a precondi-and all sections and communities within them, can participate tion for effective state action. fully in the new Indian development path.

    Notes 15 The lower estimate would amount to Rs 5,000 crore, Promoting Livelihoods in Bihar, Overseas Devebased on one worker in every three rural house-lopment Institute (London: ODI).

    1 The villages were visited in December 2008 and holds, migrating for four months and transferring

    GoI (various years): Consumer Price Index for Agricul-Rs 2,500 per month. The higher estimate is based on

    November 2009.

    tural and Rural Workers, Government of India,

    2 Recent reports of double digit rates of growth in an ODI study suggesting Rs 9,000 crore of within-

    Labour Bureau (Simla). country remittances (Deshingkar et al 2006).

    Bihar are probably exaggerated, but there is no

    doubt that growth has increased over the last decade, – (1981, 1991, 2001): Census of India 1981, 1991,

    16 In 1999, school enrolment of girls was minimal

    fuelled by a construction boom. 2001, Government of India, New Delhi.

    and of boys very low among agricultural labour

    3 Out of 163 households recorded in 2009, 94 were – (2009): Report of the Expert Group to Review the

    households. In 2009, enrolment rates in primary

    Kewat, 41 Tatma and 20 Mahaldar (all OBC-I), with Methodology for Estimation of Poverty, Govern

    school were high and attendance moderately good.

    small numbers of other backward and SC households. ment of India, Planning Commission, New Delhi.

    17 Results from a representative survey of rural

    4 215 households out of 250 in this tola were – (2009): Statewise List of Minimum Wages to Agri-

    Bihar (see next note) suggest that the old-age

    Kulhaiya, a Muslim backward class, and most of cultural Labourers, Press Release, Government of

    pension is reaching about 20% of households with

    the remainder Hadi, a Hindu SC. India, New Delhi, 20 July.

    an eligible member.

    5 They were originally chosen for their proximity to Rodgers, G (1973): “Effects of Public Works on Rural

    18 A research programme to explore patterns of

    public works projects which had in practice little Poverty: Some Case Studies from the Kosi Area of

    change in Bihar as a whole on the basis of a repre

    impact on the villages concerned.

    Bihar”, Economic & Political Weekly, Vol VIII, 6 Part of the east-west corridor, this road appears to Nos 4-6, Annual Number, February.

    sentative sample of villages is being carried out

    by the Institute for Human Development, New

    be a spectacular misallocation of resources, since

    Delhi: “Aiming at Inclusive Development in Bihar, Rodgers, G and J Rodgers (1984): “Incomes and Work it does not connect major centres and is built to

    a Research Programme” (2009). among the Poor of Rural Bihar, 1971-1981”, motorway specifications when more modest im-

    Economic & Political Weekly, Vol XIX, No 13,

    provements to a larger number of roads would Review of Agriculture, March.

    certainly have been of greater benefit. References – (2001): “A Leap Across Time: When Semi-feudalism

    7 “Normal” is understood to refer to years with normal

    Deshingkar, P, S Kumar, H Kumar Chobey and D Kumar Met the Market in Rural Purnea”, Economic & rainfall, without flood or major crop infestations.

    (2006): The Role of Migration and Remittances in Political Weekly, Vol XXXVI, No 22, June.

    8 Farmers quoted a wide range of yields for paddy, from

    8 to 25 md/bigha (approximately 2,000 to 5,900 kg/ha). Generally, larger farmers considered that 15-20 md/bigha (3,500-4,700 kg/ha) was attainable in a normal year in the aghani season, and 20-25 md (4,700-5,900 kg/ha) in garma, given adequate fertiliser, pest control and irrigation; but smaller farmers reported 3,000 kg or less in practice.

    9 All-India wholesale price indices. Source: Office of the Economic Adviser to the Government of India (, consulted on 18 October 2010).

    10 One detailed estimate of the production costs involved in reaching a yield of 5,000 kg per hectare for garma paddy gave a total of Rs 15-25,000 per hectare to set against the market value of the output of about Rs 40,000 (or Rs 35,000 after paying a one-eighth share to labour for harvesting).

    11 Including both cash and kind components. These estimates make assumptions about the values of a breakfast (Rs 7 in 2009) and a meal (Rs 10), often included in the wage, and of other kind payments (a kilo of rice was estimated at Rs 14).

    12 Some of these differences reflected different types and durations of work, so the comparisons are not always strictly accurate.

    13 In addition, jute retting is an unpleasant job, shunned by workers if there are alternatives.

    14 The paddy harvest falls mainly from mid-October to mid-November in Punjab, but usually peaks in the second half of November in Purnia, permitting migrants to work in both.

    +056+676' 1( '8'.12/'06 567+'5 -1.-#6#



    june 4, 2011 vol xlvi no 23

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