fractured earth

Money is trickling into the banks of Bihar – but is not being distributed evenly

A month after Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the scrapping of Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes on November 8, cash availability is starkly uneven across Bihar.

In relatively affluent parts of the capital city of Patna, the long queues outside ATMs seen in the first week of notebandi, when the government invalidated 86% of the currency in circulation, creating a massive cash crunch, are history. In poorer parts of the city, however, one can still see 50-odd people lined up outside ATMs at most times. Travel outside the capital and this pattern repeats itself.

In bigger towns, residents and bank managers said the cash flow has improved. In North Bihar’s Darbhanga, Ramakant Mishra, manager of a Punjab National Bank branch in Qila Ghat, brings out cheques encashed by his customers on November 30, the day this reporter visited his branch. Most cheques ranged between Rs 10,000 to Rs 24,000…

…However, venture deeper into the Gaya district and you will find that cash is just as hard to come by as it was in the days immediately after the demonetisation was announced.

Demonetisation: In a hamlet in Bihar, income and expenditure is down, but hopes are up

The last 30 days have not been easy for the people of Bhindu Paimar.

The standard demonetisation narrative has played out in this tola (hamlet) in Karjara panchayat in Gaya, Bihar, about 20 km from Gaya city, on the road that leads to the ancient Buddhist university of Nalanda.

Earnings have fallen. Most people in the village work as daily-wage workers in Gaya, earning anywhere between Rs 225 and Rs 250 a day.

Before demonetisation, we used to get work 20 days in a month, said Bhim Kumar, a young man in the village. However, the demand for labourers has dried up in the town since November 8 when the demonetisation announcement was made. At the same time, the local grameen bank is not letting people withdraw more than Rs 2,000 a week. “We are borrowing from here and there to make ends meet,” said Kumar.

Talk to others in the village – like Lallan Paswan, who has a small shop selling household provisions right next to the highway – and you hear a similar narrative. The monthly turnover at his shop is down by half. His monthly income has dropped from Rs 5,000 to Rs 2,500.

Despite these difficulties, support for demonetisation is high in this village, which is what this reporter also saw while travelling southwards from Raxaul, on the India-Nepal border, towards South Bihar. In Raxaul, Bettiah, Gopalganj, Darbhanga, Patna and now Gaya, public opinion has split over demonetisation.

This split is not easy to understand. Not everyone hurt by demonetisation opposes it. Similarly, not everyone relatively insulated from its worst fallouts supports it. In short, there are complex reactions to demonetisation.

Paneerselvam has a major task: To reverse Tamil Nadu’s slipping development standards

O Panneerselvam has a tough task ahead of him.

Contrary to popular perception, which credits Tamil Nadu with high scores on development indices and a smoothly functioning administration, the state has lost ground over the last ten or so years.

Take education. Between 2010 and now, the number of students passing the state board exams has increased from 85% to 95%. In the same period, the number of students scoring centums (100%) has spiked as well.

However, these numbers, as Scroll reported last month, are challenged by none other than the National Council of Educational Research and Training’s National Achievement Surveys, which point to a precipitous drop in the quality of school education in the state.

Or take healthcare delivery. As a forthcoming story in Scroll will show, while Tamil Nadu continues to score high on metrics like institutional delivery, its numbers on Infant Mortality Rate and Maternal Mortality Ratio have plateaued. The state has also slipped on other metrics like immunisation coverage.

A closer study of why the state does well on some metrics while faltering on others leads to an important conclusion.

The demonetisation effect on border town Raxaul: Income loss, dependence on Nepalese currency

My second field trip in Bihar took me from Patna to Raxaul in the far north. A couple of days there, and then I began trickling southwards. Bettiah. Gopalganj and then Darbhanga. And then Patna again. I will head further south tomorrow — towards Gaya — before turning northeast towards Nalanda and then straight east for Bhagalpur. The task of trying to understand how Bihar is doing continues to flummox and bewilder. Along the way, I am also trying to understand how DeMonetisation is affecting the people of Bihar. This was the first dispatch from the north. On its impacts at Raxaul, and how public opinion is split over “notebandi”.

Cauliflower sells for Rs one a kilo in Bihar as demonetisation depresses demand

At first glance, it looks like any other day at the mandi in Bettiah.

Trucks stand next to the concrete arch that leads into the fruit and vegetable market in this small town in northern Bihar. Inside the mandi samiti, as the precinct is called, hawkers sit with baskets bursting with vegetables. The shops seem well-stocked.

But the abnormality shows up when you ask traders and hawkers about the impact of the government’s decision to demonetise Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes. Vegetable prices have collapsed, they say.

Cauliflower or phool gobhi, said Mahfooz Alam, a wholesaler at the mandi, was selling for Rs 12 a kilo just before the announcement on November 8. “It is now selling for one or two rupees.”

The prices began to fall within 2-3 days of the Prime Minister’s announcement on November 8, said Muhammad Islam, a fruit trader.

Baingan (aubergine) fell from Rs 15 per kilo to Rs 2-Rs 3. Patta gobhi (lettuce) has slumped from Rs 15 per kilo to Rs 5. And saag (spinach) has dropped from Rs 10 to Rs 2.50 per kilo.

These are jaw-dropping falls. What explains them?

Tamil Nadu tried to reform its schools – but made them much worse

the concluding part of our story on TN’s school education system.

A former official in the state examinations department traced the disarray to a handful of factors – among them the decision to do away with exams, the obduracy of matriculation schools, and rising pressure on the education department to show good results.

Tamil Nadu’s schools are in crisis (but nobody is talking about it)

How good are Tamil Nadu’s schools?

If you take a look at the exam results in the state, you would get the impression that they are in sound shape.

Between 2010 and 2016, the percentage of students passing the state’s tenth standard board exams rose from mid-eighties to mid-nineties. So did the scores and the tally of students getting a centum, or 100%.

In the same period, twelfth standard results showed a similar trend. The pass percentage increased from 85% to 91%, along with the average marks and centums.

However, these numbers clash with the findings of the National Achievement Surveys.

Conducted by the Central government’s National Council for Education, Research and Training to track learning outcomes, the survey conducts classroom tests every three years for students in the third, fifth, eighth and tenth grades in all Indian states and Union territories. Its assessment of India’s tenth standard students in 2015 placed Tamil Nadu’s students close to the bottom in every subject.

The second — and concluding — part of this story will be published tomorrow.

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