Till some time back, he was a tough super cop who meant business. Now he is one among the politicians who speaks about development and poverty alleviation. The Congress MP from Aurangabad, Nikhil Kumar is a former IPS officer who has held positions of national importance like special secretary, ministry of home affairs and director general of National Security Guard. He was commissioner of police of Delhi during 1995-97. Son of the former chief minister of Bihar Satyendra Narayan Sinha and grandson of Bihar Bibhuti Dr. Anugrah Narayan Sinha, this gentleman belongs to the elite group of bureaucrats turned politicians who are sophisticated and carry a no-nonsense image.
Presented here is an exclusive interview with Kumar in which he talks about everything right from ‘Changing Bihar’, power crisis, police reforms, division in Bihar police, and his efforts to set up a branch of NIFT in the state to even the controversial Indo-US Nuclear Deal.
Do you think Bihar is showing positive signs of change as is being claimed?
Kumar: There is a general perception that Nitish Kumar means business. The perception is based on some policy statements that he has made. When he took over as Chief Minister, the first thing he did was to declare that Bihar needed a good deal of investments and to that end he strived to his level best to get investment in Bihar. But it is now two years and in two years, I have not seen any visible proof of investments being made in Bihar, visible proof in the sense that someone should say that he has chosen Bihar as an area of investment whether it is this industrialist or that but someone must make a statement. Two years have passed but no such thing has taken place. So while I concede that the intention was good and that efforts are being made but they have not yet given us any visible proof of success. So to that extent the situation remains the same. It is a status quo.
Then we come to the sphere of law and order. Again there is a perception that the law and order under the new dispensation has improved. These are only perceptions. Perceptions mean a lot. But then perceptions are only perceptions. The situation on ground has to reflect the truth. That unfortunately has not happened. I concede also that there are fast track courts which are delivering and this is a good thing. But apart from that, incidents of kidnapping for ransom, murder, lawlessness keep on taking place. To that extent and I am not going by statistics as statistics are not the best method of making a quality judgment, this is again a question of what you perceive around you and the perception is that grave crimes continue to be committed. I also agree that grave crimes in any state will be committed but the type of grave crimes and the frequency with which they are committed in Bihar remain more or less unchanged. So to that extent I don’t think that there has been a great deal of change, perceptions apart.
Then there is question of administrative temper. The best criterion of judging it is the administration’s performance in the recent floods. Now floods take place in Bihar almost as an annual feature. We all know that North Bihar is forever submerged in floods so I would have expected as an indication of good administration that the state should have drawn up a plan much in advance of the time when floods are expected. Normally floods are expected after the Monsoons break some time in July and beyond. So a plan should have been in place by March or April. Another good thing that has happened in the country is the setting up of the Disaster Management Authority which is a Central undertaking. It is also expected to mid task in states. The state government of Bihar should have foreseen that it will be necessary to take the assistance of the Disaster Management Authority. This was not done in time. It was a bit late. The Disaster Management Authority to its credit did a great deal of work and good work. It put through training courses district administration staff as well as people drawn from the general public. But at the same time the type of work that the Disaster Management Authority does takes time so it should have been given time and advance notice. But it was found lacking. The administrative temper was not what it should have been. The Government of India has a core fund from which assistance is given out to states struck by such disasters. That money was also given to the state. And this money coupled with the state’s own finances and other funds should have been used to be distributed to the flood-affected people. It was done but not satisfactorily. There also the administration seemed to be lagging behind. But I must say that whichever department of the government of Bihar is dealing with the flood control and disaster management matters, there has been no qualitative change. I would concede that the CM is well-meaning, he is knowledgeable, and he has all the right ideas. But if those ideas are implemented then only we will see change on the ground but implementation of the ideas has not been done.
Q. But don’t you agree that a lot of development work is being done by the present state government in the field of infrastructure, health, education etc.?
Kumar: Development work means building up of infrastructure which includes roads, electricity, irrigation, water resources, health care and education etc. If there is attention to be focused on infrastructure then you must build roads. When you come to the subject of roads, roads have to be constructed out of funds which come out of two sources – Central government sources and state government sources. Central government provides funds under different schemes one of which is Pradhan Mantri Grameen Sadak Yojana (PMGSY). One of the other is what used to be called earlier Rashtriya Samvikash Yojana which has been replaced by a new term Backward Regions Development Fund. Now roads under these have been taken up in a big way and the Central government has given funds in a massive manner. The Central government has commissioned Central agencies to carry out the execution of the construction work, IRCON being one of them. In my constituency, for instance, it is IRCON which has been given the task of construction of PMGSY roads. The construction of these roads is according to programme and is more or less on schedule. Funds have been coming in and those who have been tasked with the construction work are doing their work. There is a very novel and unusual part to PMGSY – the link roads programme - which envisages connecting village habitation on either side of a main road which has a population of not less than 1000. I said unusual and novel because if you were to connect village A to a main road over a distance of say 2 kms then there will be villages on route which will have population of less than a thousand which automatically fall on that route. This is a very novel thing. And I only cite examples from my own constituency. We have selected 210 road stretches a total of 1473 kms. Of these detailed project reports have been made of 77. And of these 77, a technical clearance report has come from the Patna Engineering College to which these reports had been sent for cross checking in respect of 23. Now construction work is going to begin on these 23. And we expect that the same type of clearance will be given by the college in respect of the remaining 54 and when that is given, the construction work on them will also begin, I can only say that the target date of completion is sometime in 2009 as far as my district or constituency is concerned. If it is completed on schedule, I can’t say how the countryside will look like unrecognizable from what it is now. And all this emphasis on roads as the slogan used to be for last elections Sadak Bijli Pani. You take sadak, massive work is being done out of Central government funds. Now, side by side the state government has also named some of its road schemes Mukhya Mantri Grameen Sadak Yojana. This is very good. I would like the state government machinery to be equally efficient in constructing these roads. Once again I speak in respect to what I see in my own constituency. The progress is so far not what it should be. And I think, it is only a question of time…it will pick up. But when it does, I will be in a better position to compare the progress made in the completion of schemes funded by the Central government and those funded by the state government. But I can tell you if both work together and even if they don’t work together and the Central government schemes are completed, we will be able to change the face of the countryside in Bihar by 2009.
In electricity, way back in 2004 when UPA government took office, a decision was taken to speed up the Rajiv Gandhi Gramin Vidyutikaran Yojana. It has been there for quite some time. It was there during the regime of the N DA government but unfortunately no work was done. The yojana emphasises putting up an infrastructure which will enable electricity to reach every household in the villages. And the major focus is that there should be at least one electricity point in every house of a Dalit. And again I am not speaking about the entire state but my own constituency. Rs. 175 crores was sanctioned for my constituency Aurangabad and the Government of India tasked the Power Grid Corporation of India to carry out work under the scheme. The scheme envisages stringing electricity wires, putting up poles, constructing sub stations and installing new transformers. Work is being done according to schedule. And it is very satisfactory. If you go along the countryside, you will see that the central agencies tasked with this job are doing their job. The target date of completion is June, 2009. But what happens if there is not enough production of electricity. So if the state has to change then there must be an increase in the production of electricity. Today Bihar is short by nearly 600 MW against the assessed power demands. Bihar’s production units at Kanti, Barauni and Kahalgaon etc. are not producing electricity that they should produce. They are not working up to their installed capacity. During the President’s rule in 2005, the Bihar government had approached the NTPC and NHPC to examine both Kanti and Barauni so that they produce electricity according to their installed capacity. I am a little disappointed that that exercise has not yet been completed. The state government, I should suggest, should see to it through whatever means it can use to get the two central agencies to complete the work at the quickest possible time so that both Barauni and Kanti should start producing electricity according to their installed capacity. That is very important. Even if the work on Rajiv Gandhi Grameen Vidyutikaran Yojana is completed as per schedule, it will not be very meaningful unless you have the requisite power supply in position. And so the state government should pay very strict and emphatic attention on the production of electricity.
You have had a long experience in policing. Do you think that the Bihar police are competent enough to tackle the challenges of law and order in the state?
Kumar: This is a question that is asked so often that it has become more or less a cliché. I will give an answer which I have given numerous times elsewhere - Reform of the police system. The reform in the police system has to be on two counts. The first is in its attitude to the public. Unfortunately and I hold everyone in the police leadership responsible. I was in the police leadership and so were others in the police leadership right from 1948 when recruitment to the IPS began and on the basis of recruitment conducted by Central government, some of the brightest people joined the IPS. They came from extremely elite educational backgrounds. Still in 60 years almost, the police leadership has not been able to change the police systems’ approach towards the public. Why? Because there is an unfortunately an inheritance that the police has to face. This inheritance is from the pre-independence days. Police has a mindset. It considers itself not to be a part of the public system. Perhaps because of its training system. Police is instilled with the feeling that it has to rule and it has to be tough. It has to give the impression that we will use force. Unfortunately what happens is that it is this impression that controls and regulates the mindset of the police.
The second is no organisation functions properly unless it is contented. Police is under tremendous pressure. For an organization to be contented, it should have normal facilities. It should have housing facilities, it should be well paid and its working condition should be such that it promotes happiness and a general feeling of well-being. Nowhere in the country and certainly not in Bihar, police have the required facilities to function properly.
How will you rate the police in Bihar?
Kumar: I have spoken to and know a lot of police officers from top down to the junior levels. Individually they are very competent. They know their job extremely well. They are well qualified to be in the police. But then I would go against the general saying that “A good workman does not quarrel with his tools.” These people do not quarrel with their tools but the tools that they have under their disposal are not what they should be. They need to have better tools. The force needs to be contented. Morale has to be high. This can happen only when you provide the police adequate housing, adequate living condition and adequate working condition. And a feeling that look you do your job and if you make bonafide mistakes, we are hear to back you. This is something that creates conditions conducive to high morale. Unfortunately, my interactions with the police here have given me the impression that this last thing is lacking. As to why it is lacking, I have not made any study. But this is a fact. The leadership needs to be kept on high inspirational levels all the time. If you do that, you have solved half the problems of the police. You have given them everything possible to do their work properly. It is wrong to blame them all the time. I will blame the system inclusive of all these things.
What do you have to say on the division in Bihar police? It is being said that there are two groups here one with the DGP and other with the ADG.
Kumar: I have heard that and it is extremely unfortunate that there is a division at this high level in a force that is supposed to be disciplined. I only hope that the government is aware of this and it takes steps to remove this schism. If it doesn’t, it will be doing the police a huge bit of harm. Police reform can only come if it follows a system radically different from the system it has inherited. The concept of Mai-Baap inherited from the pre-independence days has to go. This concept will go only if there is a greater public participation in the police administration. That’s why a Model Police Act was drafted after consulting senior police officers all over the country besides senior administrative officials, academicians, politicians and others holding important positions in public life like industrialists, economists and teachers. This Model Act was drafted after a wide consultation with people in different walks of life. It has three major parts - accountability, system assessment - assessment not by the department people only but by the people who are from the non-departmental side and autonomy to insulate them from political control. I say this even though I happen to be a member of parliament. I am all for this autonomy business. Assessment is linked with both the performance assessment and a policy enunciation. This has to be done by a state level body that is provided for in the Act. The third is accountability at the district level and at the state level. And the accountability bureaus at both the district level and the state level are to be headed by someone from the judiciary - at the district level, a retired district judge and at the state level, a retired judge of the High Court. We were expecting that the Bihar government will go in for a new legislation and come up with a new police act which confirms to the spirit of the Model Police Act. The Bihar police have done so and passed a new Act but it doesn’t confirm to the spirit of the Model Police Act. So it comes to Old wine in a new battle. So with this, police reform is never going to work.
As a former police chief or as an MP, Which role do you find more interesting?
Kumar: Here in my present job quite clearly the scope of doing work for the public is enormous whereas in the police that scope was only limited to police matters. Howsoever important that may have been but the scope was limited. Here the scope is enormous. It is very satisfying and it gives a very fulfilling feeling that you are in a position to do some social good on a big scale.
Being an MP from Aurangabad, have you been able to play any part in the delopment of the state?
Kumar: As far as development of the state is concerned, I would say very humbly that I am much too small a cog in the wheel. Whatever development work is being done or is to be done is basically the responsibility of the state government which is of the combination of parties to which I do not belong. So such is the system that I cannot directly contribute to development. I can contribute to the development only through Central agencies. As one of the parties to which I belong is in the coalition in the Central government so I can influence development work in Bihar. I had requested the Textiles minister that there is a Jute Mill in Katihar which is lying closed for the past 16 years. I am happy to say that the Textile minister Mr. Shankar Sinh Vaghela has taken it seriously and the matter is to be taken to the cabinet any day. I am sure it will get the cabinet’s approval and if that happens, the mill will be reopened soon. Also I had requested and he has agreed to set up a unit of National Institute of Fashion Technology. The amount of employment that NIFT has generated in other places is quite substantial. If I am able to do these two things, it will contribute to the development of the state.
Will the private investors ever come to Bihar?
Kumar: I wish I could give you a concrete answer to that. I only hope and I only wish that they do. I have Contacted Ratan Tata. Sunil Mittal and Sunil Munjal. They have all said that they will set up something in Aurangabad. Mr. Ratan Tata went to the extent of saying that he will set up in Aurangabad a unit of the Rs. One lakh worth small car popularly known as a Lakhtakia car similar to the one he is setting up in Singur. He went to the extent of saying that he is prepared to franchisee out this unit to a Bihar person. And we put up someone from Bihar who was only too eager to become a franchisee and he agreed. But Tata said that he is now forced to give first consideration to opening this unit in Singur as It had become a kind of a prestige issue for him. Tatas are unable to open something that they have decided to and so he must get it done. I told him that if you do that the land which is currently available for your one lakh car unit may not be available. He said he will be very sorry if it goes away but as of now his prime consideration is Singur.
Then I talked with Mr. Munjal. He told me that he has got a survey done and It was a good area. But his men were not willing to come to Bihar. They are very scared as left wing extremism is rampant there. And much the same kind of thing I heard from some other people. So I went to the Home Minister and said that if this is hamstringing the development of Aurangabad and South Bihar and for that matter whole Bihar so why don’t you set up a permanent battalion headquarters of CRP there. I must compliment the Home Minister. He readily agreed. He deputed the DG CRP to go to the area, select an area and with the Bihar CM’s blessings that was allotted to us and we set up the CRPF camp there. Now unfortunately, that camp has been set up but it is there only on 20 acres of land when it should have been on 40 acres. So we are trying to get the Bihar government to give us the remaining 20 acres on an extended lease. I don’t know why the Bihar government gave us only 20 acres and not 40 when we asked for 40. Change is half way in Bihar. You ask for 40, you get 20. You ask for a lease of permanent period meaning 99 years, you get 10 year lease. So I now believe that the government is thinking of extending the lease up to 30 years. And also a proposal is in the pipeline to give us the remaining 20 acres. But when that comes through, it should instill a lot of confidence in our prospective investors. I am optimistic that investment will come.
Finally, is there any chance of revival of Congress in Bihar?
Kumar: You ask this question because after 1990, we haven’t done well. But Congress is the only party which is a cosmopolitan party. This is a party which is not bound by considerations of caste, creed or community. It appeals to every section of people. Again it is this party and as is evident from the functioning of the Government of India, it is this party which thinks in the future and draws up plans for development. Take the 10 th plan the period of which is finished just a little while ago. It was supposed to yield for us a growth rate of 8%. Till 2003-04 financial year, the growth rate was languishing at around 6 %. The UPA government of which the Congress is the leading coalition partner took office in May 2004. From 2004 to 2007 March, in three years time, the growth rate increased so much that we were able to achieve the target of growth rate of 8 % at the end of the 10 th plan period. Why didn’t the other coalitions manage this? There have been coalitions from 1996 to 2004.There was a coalition from 1989 to 91. Why didn’t they do it? I think that the people at large in the state of Bihar are aware of this? And most importantly, it is the Congress party which has reached a deal with USA over supply of nuclear fuel which is called the Nuclear Deal.
The electricity will go to village households. In my own constituency, students tell me that they cannot study during exams as there is no electricity. So it is not a question of only Metros getting the electricity, it is the villages, the suburban areas, and the Mufassil towns.
In our villages, people do not have access to LPG. They use kerosene stoves and cow dung cakes as fuel. This is the 21 st century but in the villages people are living in the 18 th and 19 th century. If power comes, the situation will improve not only in urban areas but also in villages. It will also help agriculture. How many of our agriculturists are able to take up irrigation of their fields on their own? If, let us say, government planned irrigation canals don’t reach every field, then the farmer is forced to sink his own tube well. How will the tube well work? It works with power. And if power does not come, how many farmers are there with the capacity to buy diesel to run them? If there is power then even in those areas where there is no facility of irrigation, people will be in a position to access water for irrigation purposes. So it will help the farmers also. No industry in this country works without power. There is a captive power plant in every industry.
In my own constituency, if I need to set up a power plant, I won’t be able to do it because the person whom I will approach will say that here there is no power what will I do? There was, till very recently, a cottage industry. It is dying because not many people feel that it gives them the required dividend and the amount of physical exertion that it entails is too much. Just imagine if they are all replaced by power looms, you are free to do anything else. Whether it is industry, whether it is agriculture whether it is your own household, power is important. Students are using petromax, lantern and generators to study. This is hardly a situation which is conducive to development. If today we have struck a deal for generation of power for civilian use why should anyone object to it?
This Nuclear deal is in the interest of the country and this interest is being protected without impinging on its sovereignty. I want to make it very clear. There is no impinging on India’s sovereignty because of this deal. If anything, the Americans have bent backwards to sack a deal with us. And the type of deal the Americans have struck with us is different from the agreement that the Americans have reached with even China. The amount of humiliating conditions and references made in that agreement are such that we would never have accepted them but China has accepted them because China is pragmatic. It knows what is good for it. It has accepted it. We have negotiated the deal which is the envy of the whole world. There is a common misapprehension that we have sacrificed our sovereignty. How? It is their Act. If tomorrow the Parliament passes a law requiring President Bush to come to Delhi every third month and pay obeisance to, let us say, our own president and take a round of Connaught Place and go back or it passes a law asking any other country’s head of state to come here and pay obeisance to a place of religious worship, do you think that will be applicable to them. It will not. It is our law. If we have done it for our purposes, they have done it for whatever their purposes. What is binding on us is the agreement that we will sign under section 123 of the US Atomic Energy Act and we have to see whether that agreement impinges on our sovereignty. There is nothing absolutely like that. So it is a misimpression. And I don’t think that our friends who are opposing it realize the enormous damage that they are causing to our programme of national development. It is something that they will regret if they continue with this kind of opposition. This deal will straight away, without using any cliché, strike at the roots of poverty and you will see that in due course, poverty will be eliminated. I make this statement knowing fully well that it is a sweeping statement. But this is a fact. Poverty is basically in our countryside and it is from the countryside that the people who are poor migrate to the cities in search of employment. And if you are to strike at the roots of poverty then you will be able to reduce it and in due course eliminate it and join the ranks of super powers. For this you need power for civilian use. And the amount of negotiation that we have done with the Americans to sign this Nuclear Deal, the separation plan which envisages use of nuclear energy for strategic purposes and use of nuclear energy for civilian purposes. There is a regular separation plan which has been accepted by the Americans which they have not done for any one who is not a signatory to the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty. They have done it as a very special case for India. I am proud of our negotiators and therefore I personally feel that it is this party, the Congress Party which has been in the forefront of doing what it should be doing for securing development of this country and therefore of this state. People will realize it. They are realizing it and this party will bounce back. It is just a question of time.
What about the party’s future in the state?
Kumar: It will bounce back. There is no question about it. The question of development has an appeal that cuts across caste lines, community lines and creed lines.
Is anything being done to rejuvenate the Congress party in the state?
Kumar: I will not mention names but there have been efforts by other parties to rejuvenate and re-energize their party cadres by organizing various activities, conferences, conventions, meetings and rallies. We are doing our work and in each of the 39 districts of Bihar, we have an organization that is alive and kicking and is moving around in the countryside. We are preparing for the future and the future is ours and it will be on the basis of our party workers, our party structure and our organization because we are clear of what we want. We want development. In our own way, we have told our party cadres. We are in touch with them. The AICC session is meeting in Delhi on 16 th November the amount of response that this AICC session is going to have will be noteworthy. This session will have an all India impact and that will include Bihar. This party is not dead.
In February, March and April, the Congress party launched an agitation for the scrapping of the BPL list of people. The government had to accept it and the government is now redrawing the list. It should have by now been published. I don’t know why it is not being published. If it means that we should launch another agitation, we shall do so if it is going to secure for us the new list. Again on the question of the distribution of food grains under the two very important schemes launched by the Government of India – the Antyodaya Anna Yojana and Annapurna Anna Yojana, it is we who are in the forefront. We have also flooded the DMs with applications duly filled in on the prescribed forms and have asked them to pay the poor people the required amount under pension schemes. No other party is doing it and everybody knows it. It is we who have identified people who have to be given houses under Indira Avas Yojana. These are social security schemes which are funded by the Government of India. Do you think that people in Bihar will not know that it is this party that is actually the sincerest sympathizer of those who are really the poor?