New Internationalist

Bihar At A Glance

Issue 141

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COMMUNITY ACTION [image, unknown] At a glance

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The FACTS

Bihar at a glance
As the train to Patna rattles through the countryside of Bihar,
you might feel curious about the people and the way they live
and work. Here are some basic facts and figures.

People
Population: 69.9 million (India 685 million)

Population growth rate: 2.4% per annum

Population Density: 402 persons per sq. km.
Urban
: 12%; Rural: 88%
(India: 216 persons per sq. km.)

Sex ratio (males per 1,000 females): 1,056

Religions:

Hindu 83%
Moslem 13%
Christian 1%
Others 3%

Languages: mainly Hindi; tribal languages widely spoken in southern Bihar

Sources:Cenxus of India, 1981 Government of India, Statistical Abstract, 1979


Health and Literacy
Reliable statistics on the health status of the population are not available. Figures for the neighbouring State of Uttar Pradesh and for India as a whole are:

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Birth Rate
(per 1,000 population)
Death Rate
(per 1,000 population)
Infant Mortality Rate
(per 1,000 live births)

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Uttar
-
-
-
Pradesh
40.3
20.0
183
India
33.3
14.5
132
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The health status of the population of Bihar is almost certainly closer to that of Uttar Pradesh than to the national average.

Source: Census of India, 1981

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Literacy rates (1981)

Male
Female
Total
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Bihar
38
14
26
India
47
25
36
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Bihar’s literacy rates are the lowest for any Indian State apart from Rajasthan.

Source: Census of India, 1981


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Bihar State

Ruling political Party: Congress (I)

Capital: Patna, population 773,720

Districts: 33

Villages: 77,967

Source: Census of India, 1981

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Caste and Tribe
Caste distinctions are strongly upheld. The ‘upper’ castes, traditionally feudal landlords, are still economically and politically powerful. Sections of the ‘backward’ (middle) castes, however, have greatly improved their economic position since independence in 1947. The ‘scheduled’ castes, or harijans (‘outcasts’), are mostly landless labourers or marginal farmers. In addition, a substantial ethnic minority of tribals (adivasis) – India’s original inhabitants – live in the Chotanagpur plateau region of southern Bihar.

15% ‘Upper castes’; mainly Brahmins, Bhumihars, Rajputs, Kayasthas

60% ‘Backward castes’: 128 caste groups including Jats, Yadavas, Kurmis and Koiris

15% ‘Scheduled castes’: harijans – Musahars, Kahars, Chamars, Dusadhis and other caste groups

10% ‘Scheduled tribes’: adivasis or ‘tribals’

Source: Journal of Peasant Studies April 1982


Employment

Percentage of workers by sector

 
Cultivators
Agricultural labourers
Household industry
Others
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Bihar Male
50.0
30.6
3.0
16.4
Female
25.7
62.5
3.3
8.5
Total
43.8
35.4
3.0
17.8
India Total
41.5
25.2
4.0
29.3
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Almost 80% of the workforce in Bihar is employed in agriculture. Many workers classed as ‘cultivators’ also work as agricultural labourers.

Agricultural wages are 1–2 kgs of food grains – or 3 to 6 rupees in cash – per day. Where labourers are organised, however, they have generally succeeded in enforcing payment of the minimum daily wage of 3kgs of grain. Only 1.5% of the workforce is officially employed in mining and 2% in manufacturing industries, despite the large capital investment in these two sectors. The actual figures, however, are considerably higher: many workers are hired on a ‘casual’ basis, enabling employers to avoid obligations such as paying minimum wages and providing leave and other benefits.

Workers in mines and factories are rarely paid official minimum wages. In mineral-rich Singhbhum District, for example, unskilled mineworkers receive only 2 to 5 rupees per day. Working conditions in mines and quarries are generally appalling, safety measures inadequate and job security non-existent.

The small minority or workers who are members of trade unions enjoy higher wages, better working conditions and greater job security than non-unionised workers.

Sources: Census 1981; Indian Labour Journal, July 1984; Statistical Abstract, 1979; A E Eswara Prasad, Wages and Working Conditions of Mine Workers in Singbhum District, Bihar, February 1984.


Poverty
Percentage of population below poverty line

Punjab 15.1%
Uttar Pradesh 50.1%
Bihar 57.7%
Madhya Pradesh 57.7%
Orissa 66.4%

More than half the population of Bihar falls below the official poverty line of 65 rupees (US$6.5) per person per month in rural areas or 75 rupees (US$7.5) in urban areas.

Source: Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. XVIII, No. 51, 17 December 1983.


Agriculture
Food crops: rice, wheat, barley, maize, pulses.

Foodgrain production: 10 million tonnes

Cash crops: oilseeds, jute

Irrigated land: 35% of cultivated area

Total area cultivated: 12.3 million acres, of which two thirds occupied by rice and wheat

Forests: 17%

 

Land distribution in Bihar

Type of household Sizing of
land holding
% of rural
households
% of land
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Landlords Over 25 acres less than 2% Over 20%
Middle and rich farmers 2.2 – 2.5 acres approx. 34% approx. 64%
Landless labourersand marginal farmers 0-2.19 acres approx. 64% approx 16%
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Land-holding figures are only approximate but at least one third of rural households are completely landless and in some districts the figure is as high as 70%. At the other end of the scale, less than 2% of the population owns over 20% of agricultural land, the 41 biggest landowners each possessing over 1,000 acres.

Attempts by government and voluntary agencies to redistribute land to the landless have had only limited impact. The proportion of landless households to the total rural population continues to grow.

Sources: Journal of Peasant Studies, April 1982 Time of India, Yearbook 1983.


Mining
Bihar has greater mineral resources than any other State in India. The Chotanagpur Plateau in southern Bihar accounts for 30 per cent of India’s total mineral production, including:

. 98% of copper
. 90% of apatite
. 86% of kyamite
. 54% of mica
. 50% of coal
. 50% of bauxite
. 35% of china clay
. 16% of iron ore
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Other valuable minerals found in Chotanagpur include chromite, lead, silver, manganese, asbestos, feldspar, limestone, quartz, graphite, zinc and uranium. All 21 coalfields in Bihar were nationalised in 1972.

Source: Times of India Year Book, 1983.


[image, unknown] Manufacturing
Factories and processing plants are generally situated close to the sources of minerals and other raw materials mainly in southern Bihar. The giant industrial corporation, Tata Steel, established the Tata Iron and Steel Company’s factory at Jamshedpur – in an area previously covered by jungle – in 1907.

Other major industrial ventures in Bihar include the Tata Engineering and Locomotive Company, two state-owned steel works, seven cement factories, two fertiliser plants, two wagon-making units, a copper refinery, an aluminium plant, a machine tool factory, a paper mill and a zinc production unit. There are also 13,000 small-scale industrial units in various parts of the State.

Source: Times of India, Year Book 1983.

 


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