Impoverished Bihar to outsource government administration

India's poorest state seeks new team of professionals to replace bureaucrats in bid to tackle endemic poverty.

Nitish Kumar, after his party won elections in Patna last year. He now plans to introduce a team of professionals to curb government corruption. AP Photo
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NEW DELHI // Bihar's chief minister, Nitish Kumar, who runs India's poorest and one of its most corrupt regions, announced a novel bid to tackle endemic poverty: taking the state's bureaucrats out of governing.

His administration placed advertisements in newspapers this week, seeking a team of professionals to manage an annual budget equivalent to Dh4.77 billion for programmes involving job creation, housing, infrastructure and microfinance.

In Bihar, a state of 103 million people in eastern India at the heart of a nationwide battle with Maoist guerrillas who draw support from impoverished peasants, a third of the population live in poverty, the World Bank says.

Santhosh Mathew, 50, the government official in charge of setting up the programme, said: "We are in the process of creating a new Bihar, and we are looking for people who want a challenge. There will be no back-seat driving" from government officials. The state government will aim to set up the agency by December, recruiting 32 people with a background in economic development. Bihar is hoping to lure talent from international bodies such as the World Bank and the United Nations, according to Mr Mathew.

Since Mr Kumar was elected in 2005, Bihar's fortunes have improved. The economy expanded 14.2 per cent in the year to March 2011, the fastest among India's states, according to government figures. Rates of robbery, kidnapping and murder have fallen, removing a stigma of lawlessness. In a state where caste and class allegiances had for more than a decade determined voting patterns, his government was returned to power in November by prioritising development.

Shaibal Gupta, the secretary of the Patna, Bihar-based Asian Development Research Institute, said: "Theoretically this is not a bad idea, taking certain schemes outside the government structure and outsourcing it to private hands." It is no guarantee of success though, he said

In India, government-run programmes seeking to alleviate poverty are ridden by corruption. About two-thirds of the subsidised food intended for the poor fails to reach its target, according a report by the World Bank in May. Bihar has the lowest annual per-capita income of India's 32 states and territories at 16,000 rupees (Dh1,240), according to a parliamentary reply in February.

Bihar was among the Indian states where people faced an "alarming level" of corruption in accessing government services, according to a 2008 study by Transparency International India and the New Delhi-based Centre for Media Studies.