Visit to my Village Narayanpur(Darbhanga, Bihar) after 8 years

I wrote this blog mainly to describe the changes I noticed in my villlage after a long gap of 8 years. I believe that these changes happening in the rural area are not being noticed by the policy makers and entrepreneurs. I feel that there are new possibilities .

My first memory of my village goes to an incident in my early childhood when I had suffered a burn when a rice pot tumbled and I also happened to fall in the hot water. It is still itched in my memory. I remember learning to walk again by holding walls. I also remember having gone through a near death experience in my mother’s native village when I was drowning in a pond while learning to swim. I used to visit my village once in 4-5 years when some family functions used to take place. 

My first long and independent experience of staying in the village was in summer of 1977. I had completed my first year at IIT Kharagpur and there was a marriage of one of my elder cousin sisters. She used to stay with us in Nawada in the late 1960s as part of a big joint family system and my father used to take care of most of the family members at that time.

This was the first family function after we became college going and I was asked to stay in the village and take care of pre marriage preparation of the house etc. House was a mud house and I spent a month trying to make it better. There were a number of family functions along with marriage all packed in 2-3 days. I hardly slept during those days and was responsible for taking care of stores. I felt so sleepy after all the events were over that I fell asleep in the open ground outside our village house at night and people started searching for me!

Starting in 1977 with this stay, we started visiting village more often. Traditionally we used to have sacrifice rituals and we brothers did not feel it was necessary and managed to convince everyone to stop this practice. My father was a big help in supporting us. Village had hardly any development and we used to walk at least 5 Kms from the nearest bus stop to reach the village. To get even basic needs, one had to go several Kms. There was no shop in the village worth mentioning. Other than agricultural activities there were no other economic activities. Few people used to work in other towns and used to support families in village.

We started discussing how to enhance non-agricultural activities in the village. We brainstormed and felt that we needed to start two things. One was to start some religious event associated with a temple in the village that may be.an annual ritual and may become popular over a number of years and flow of people may take place during that time resulting in associated economic activity. Second was to start some kind of village “Haat”, which would be a weekly market place and would attract people from outside the village. We found that there was no such Haat on Monday in nearby places and decided to promote a Monday Haat at one of the entry point of the village next to a pond and a govt school. We printed pamphlets announcing Monday Haat at that location and distributed them in nearby villages as well as other village Haats to attract attention. Please see the detailed description given in a book co-authored by my elder brother, Shri Vijoy Prakash in the scanned pages at the end of this blog.

This yielded result and both buyers and sellers started to visit the location. It started to grow year by year and the volume of economic activity grew manifold. After 3-4 years it drew the attention of govt officials and they decided to take over the Haat and auctioned it to the highest bidder every year to earn revenue. It kept on growing and resulted in farmers growing cash crops in addition to paddy etc. 

My father retired in 1990 and decided to settle in the village. Around that time a brick house was built after demolishing part of the mud house. In the meantime electricity had become available in early 80s and roads had also improved in 80s. In the early days electric supply was good but slowly it started to deteriorate. Road conditions also were not maintained properly. Bus service from the village had also started and some hired vehicles started to become available. We started visiting village at least once a year to be with our parents. A public telephone  booth was made available in the village too around 1990-91, which was operated by my family. This was connected using a microwave tower  to the nearest exchange and used to be powered by solar cells. This was the only link for residents of nearby villages. All news related to users of the booth was available at the booth. At times it would face technical problems and repair used to take months. Unfortunately we lost my grandmother and father in quick succession in 1995 and 1996. My mother became alone and started spending more time with my elder brother in Patna. Our link to the village reduced a bit.

Around 2006-07, we found mother starting to spend longer stretches in village. One of the reasons was the improvement in electrical supply. It started to become available for a few hours in a day. Availability of mobile phones was another reason that made it easy to communicate. We set up an overhead tank with a pump to supply water in the kitchen and bathroom. My mother used to be the only one in the whole courtyard and it was both inconvenient as well as unsafe to use a hand pump available in one corner of the courtyard. I also purchased a solar panel and LED lamp with battery backup. This also had a charging point to charge mobile phones in case of power failure. LED torches had also become available in the village. After Dec 2012, I did not get a chance to visit the village till recently (Dec 7, 2020). My mother also started to spend less time at the village due to her poor health.

My nephew got married recently at Darbhanga after his planned marriage in May 2020 had to be postponed due to pandemic. This was in Darbhanga – our home district. My village Narayanpur is about 40-50 Kms from here and me along with my elder brother and niece decided to visit the village for a couple of hours before returning to Patna to welcome the newly weds. 

My elder brother( ex IAS officer, 1981 batch) had retired as Agriculture Production Commissioner of Bihar state in 2016. He and my sister in law started to pay more attention to the village while being based at Patna. They have set up a large greenhouse of more than 2200 square meters. Some more work is remaining here before it becomes useful. There are also various trees planted. Some of them were destroyed due to flooding but replanting has been done. 

I wrote this blog mainly to describe the changes I noticed after a long gap of 8 years.

Electricity has become available almost round the clock. The Internet through cell networks and some form of broadband has become available as well. Television connected through dish TV has become commonplace in each household. Possibly due to these reasons many relatives have started staying in the village after retirement even though they have houses in metro cities. Most of them also maintain a vehicle. Four courtyards are in close proximity to each other. Each house has good quality construction with modern amenities. All the relatives were happy staying in the village with better quality of life including improvement in health. Children and grandchildren are spread across India and the globe. Internet connectivity keeps them connected. None of them were staying in the village a few years ago. 

I also noticed 15-20 permanent shops have come up near the village entrance and there is a crowd of buyers around specially on the Mondays when village Haat takes place. This has made not only life easier for residents of the village but also initiated many non agricultural activities. I also noticed that a hospital building has come up in the village too but did not get a chance to visit it. Primary school in the village had been improving day by day and even during 2012 visit it was doing quite well with more than 700 students enrolled. From outside the infrastructure looked even more developed but did not get a chance to go inside. It was also interesting to note that Amazon was able to deliver goods in the village too! What more can you ask for??? But wait, there is more – we also have a Car washing shop in village!!!

I believe that these changes happening in the rural area are not being noticed by the policy makers and entrepreneurs. I feel that there are new possibilities emerging in terms of providing services to people returning back to villages with enough money. Many of them as well as those living outside own agricultural land in the village and it is not possible for them to take care of these by themselves. If there are companies that can professionally manage these agricultural lands with better technology and financial management, it would improve the quality of life in villages even more. I also see the possibility of the “cloud manufacturing” concept, where villages can become hubs of manufacturing. This can also lead to value addition to local produce and amplify income. 

My interaction with Dr Vashishtha Narayan Singh (Vashishtha Jee) (Edited : Nov 16, 2019)

[Edited : Due to lot of wrong facts circulating on Internet, I have tried to collect factual information about Vashishtha Jee. I am sharing the data here. If any one has suggestion to correct it or improve it, please let me know.

]

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I suddenly saw a message on WhatsApp message about sad demise of Vashishtha Jee some time ago(Nov 14, 2019) and did not believe it. I tried to contact Dr Birendra Jee, his batchmate and close friend. He also confirmed the sad news. Many thoughts went through my mind and I felt that I must jot them down.

Continue reading “My interaction with Dr Vashishtha Narayan Singh (Vashishtha Jee) (Edited : Nov 16, 2019)”

Use of ICT and Sensor Network Technology in Agriculture in Bihar

Bihar Govt has rightly recognized the potential of agriculture in growth of Bihar. For this purpose a separate “Agriculture Cabinet” has been formed. Road map for agriculture for next 10 years with a massive outlay has been planned as well.

In November and December 2011, I made two visits to Bihar and interacted with Agricultural Research Institute, Farmers and some young Social Entrepreneurs focusing on agriculture. I have also noticed the fact that some of the farmers in Bihar have done world record production of paddy and this encourages me to write this brief note.

In 2011, on behalf of IIT Alumni (Gujarat Chapter) I signed an MOU with Gujarat Govt to “Improve Agricultural Yield using Technology”. I feel that some of the points mentioned in that MOU are also relevant to Bihar. I am willing to work together with Bihar Govt to develop these technologies. The technologies that I am talking about are not part of standard agricultural technologies being covered but are more recent and are under development worldwide. While I would have hesitated to discuss such technologies in Bihar earlier since they would only be beneficial after farmers have started utilizing existing technologies. However now that I have noticed Bihar making fast progress in agriculture, I feel that time is ripe to take up research and development, which would take Bihar to next level and keep it ahead in Nation and World. I would mention these as follows:

Precision farming using sensor network– using the localized sensors linked with wireless communication system to provide real time feedback on various parameters which affect crop yield. As compared to the developed countries, our farm sizes are very small hence we need to develop low cost solutions based on latest advancements in MEMS sensors, micro radio transceivers and processing systems. This would allow us to monitor the spatial variation in moisture, soil properties, hardpan, nutritional status etc. on a much smaller scale.
This kind of technology would allow us to improve the quality of our fruits and vegetables as well as products being developed in green houses. While the basic concept is not new, it is critical to develop such technology at very low cost to make it economical to farmers in Bihar.

Use of Space Technology through Hyper Spectral Imaging– Using the advances in Communication and Remote sensing to create a systematic natural resources database and also to research in the advance area of Hyper Spectral remote sensing to compliment the Soil Health Card Program at ground level.
Soil health card system uses ground level periodic monitoring of soil related information(e.g. every 6 months) based on mobile soil labs to farmers in the villages. This measurement can be supplemented by Hyper Spectral Imaging already available in public domain to provide much greater spatial information and complements the information provided by “Soil Health Card”.

Low cost non-invasive sorting systems – It has now become possible to develop low cost sorting non-invasive machine based on advances in CMOS image sensors and LED light source to sort the agricultural yield based on their attributes such as their quality, size and maturity stage. This would allow farmers to get a better price in the market and would also make it easier for them to access the export market.

Traceability systems development – Traceability is a very important factor in today’s fresh produce industry. With more and more export market coming up with rules for food traceability, it is important to develop low cost technology to meet the needs of food traceability from “seed to plate”.

Traditional systems are very expensive and we need to develop low cost system so that farmers in Bihar are able to export their product in International market, which is going to be crucial for Bihar in next few years.

GIS based planning : Today it has become possible to collect information through remote sensing as well as ground survey using Mobile phones (e.g. Android based systems) regarding crop, water resources, soil condition, weather and all other parameters and add them to a Geographical Information System (GIS) to allow easy access to information and use them in planning. Some of this data can be made available on real time basis through wireless sensor network such as Agro-Weather Sensor Network. It would give a big boost to the way we manage and plan our agriculture.

Innovation Belts for Growth of Bihar – Final Version

Objective

To set up clusters of educational/research and industrial organizations at few geographically distributed locations to promote innovation as well as cater to gap in demand and supply in education within state.

Budget Allocation

I am suggesting investing Rs 1000 Crore per year under this head for next 6 years to develop this in the state at rapid rate. Rough idea about how this figure is arrived at is given in a later section.

Advantage to State

  • Reduce the gap in quality education seat demand and supply, which is very large in Bihar as of now and among the worst in India
  • Multiple institutions would support ecosystem to promote innovations cutting across disciplines Would make it easier to develop infrastructure at few of these locations and support better quality of life, needed to attract quality faculty
  • Today most couples are working and they need opportunity in close proximity – due to this they tend to prefer metro cities. Proposed clusters like this would increase such possibilities
  • Link education to Innovation in various aspects of importance to Bihar : e.g Agriculture, Healthcare, Tourism and also generate industry based on innovation – Make Bihar innovation hub of country
  • Generate skilled manpower at all levels and attract industry. In turn, industry would also help these institutions.
  • Would lead to direct and indirect job creation within state and stem the migration
  • New township and related infrastructure would develop providing economic growth to state

Background

Bihar has been land of innovation in the past and till today this signifies the glory of Bihar. Innovations were in many fields and included new thought processes through “religion” (e.g. Buddhism or Jainism), Mathematics, Astronomy, Politics, Economics etc . So Innovation was not limited to scientific or technological innovation.

In today’s context innovation is equally important if Bihar has to grow and maintain its growth and be visible not only on map of India but also of world. So this brief document looks at how to kick start growth of Bihar based on innovations.

Education in Bihar

Education has been the lifeline of Bihar so I feel that any such effort has to start around education. In spite of this, Bihar has severe shortage of educational opportunity. As per statistics in table below, Bihar having nearly 8.6% of population in country has less than 0.4% of Engineering seats(Which may have worsened since I do not have latest data). Compared to states like Tamil Nadu and Andhra, Bihar seems clearly at severe disadvantage. While some efforts have been made in last few years to improve situation, it is clearly no where close to the kind of effort needed. We still have a huge gap in demand and supply. Bihar students go all over the country and flood colleges around the country. According to one data, nearly 1 Lakh students go out of Bihar every year for engineering education alone with an outflow of Rs 2000 Crores. Even a far off place like Kota having coaching facilities, 60% of students out of 50,000 are from Bihar. This figure would go up substantially (may be several times), if we add all education groups including schools.

So do we go ahead and build educational institutes in all districts or we plan it according to certain state level plan? It should be understood that just increasing number of educational seats without caring for quality is not going to help.

So a very critical issue is about increasing number of quality seats (in various educational segments). A second aspect is to make sure that the system promotes innovation through education so that state can become hub of innovation. This would lead to improving not only various aspects of state through innovation but also make sure that industry would develop by promoting entrepreneurship around these innovations.

With very scares resources, it would not be foolish to let these institutes be made at random and scattered geographically. What this paper suggests is to organize such institutes in clusters, which I am referring to as “Innovation Belt” at about 6 locations in Bihar.

Innovation Belt

These “Innovation Belts” are clusters of educational organizations of various kinds ( I have given examples of Engineering colleges but these clusters would cover all kind of educational organizations including schools, ITIs, Diploma institutes etc) along with research institutes and facility for setting up industry along with relevant industry itself.

These “belts” can be setup in a 5-6 geographical regions spread over Bihar. For example, these could be : (1) Motihari (2) Darbhanga (3) Kishanganj (4) Bhagalpur (5) Gaya and (6) Siwan. This is shown in the map to show the spread (green dots indicate new areas to be developed where as red dots indicate already existing organizations need to be brought under this concept).

How I have arrived at these locations?

Most of these belts would need some kind of “nucleus” organization to kick start the process of development around it. Some of these could be a new upcoming organization or some due to certain historical significance. I have also kept in mind geographical distribution of such belts to spread them across state. Let me give some reasons:

Gaya: This belt would extend from Gaya to Nalanda of about 70 kms. It is most suited for early development due to easier availability of land, airport at Gaya, good rail link, Magadh University (with very large campus), International tourist circuit, Nalanda International University(upcoming) etc.

Motihari : this belt extends from Motihari to Bettiah of about 50 kms. Due to significance of this place in Independence movement, Chief Minister announced development of Central University or something similar at this place. So this can become the nucleus around which rest of the cluster can develop. In addition Medical colleges are being setup as well. This area is rich in sugarcane, forest resource, wildlife etc. Proximity to Nepal bring another dimension too. Innovation belt in this region can take advantage of these to have its unique character.

Darbhanga: This belt extends from Darbhanga to Madhubani of about 35 kms. It already has well known medical college (DMCH) and Mithila University along with other institutes.

Kishanganj: Bihar govt has already provided land to set up Aligarh Muslim University here. This can be nucleus around which innovation belt can be setup. This can extend towards Purnea side. This area is quite underdeveloped but has good connectivity by rail and road. Airport at Bagdogra has regular flights and is about 90 kms from here.

Bhagalpur: This belt could extend from Bhagalpur to Bikramshila about 40 kms away. Bikramshila being ancient seat of learning would provide appropriate historical background for “Innovation Belt”. Some of the very big power projects are coming up here.

Siwan: Siwan is the birth place of Dr Rajendra Prasad and it is befitting that Siwan should be one of the innovation belts. This can cover the region between Siwan and Gopalganj of about 35 kms. This area has high inflow of remittance from abroad. According to some estimate Rs 2600 Crore inflow per year is there, which does not find proper investment possibilities. So this region is ripe for private investment in such a venture. This area has lot of possibilities in the area of Agriculture and related industry.

Cost of development of such belts

If we try to achieve 50% of all India average in engineering seats through these belts, we would need to add additional 40000 seats. Rough cost of development of these would be about Rs 3,000 Crores. If we add additional capacity for all other types of institutes, we can roughly estimate this to be Rs 20,000 Crores. Out of this, if state govt spends about 30%, we can target 70% of funds to come from other sources (Central govt, Private funds and International sources). So state govt needs to spend about Rs 6000 Crores and Rs 14000 Crores would need to come from other sources.

Simultaneous planning should be done to connect these belts to each other through high speed communication link. For example some of the belts may be close to proposed “Eastern Economy Corridoor”. We can provide high speed linkage to this. At other places, we can strengthen the communication link.

How Innovation can be promoted through education ?

Our education system by and large promotes rote learning at both school level and college level. This does not promote culture of innovation. To change this we need to focus in a different way of learning. This can be done through modern methods based on “Project based learning”, Team Work, Development of Self Learning etc.

Examples of such clusters

Such education needs to be imparted at both school level as well as college level. At school level School of Creative Learning, Patna (operating for last 15 years) has already been working along these lines. We need to identify if anything more needs to be added to this system and if one can replicate similar systems to promote creativity and innovation at school level.

At college level, Olin College in USA is a model. It was set up about 10 years back and has focused on promoting innovation. It has worked on “Project based learning” model. Another good example of innovation is through “extreme affordability” course of Stanford Design School through Interdisciplinary research.

Within India, we have many examples of educational clusters. One good example is Vallabh Vidyanagar near to Anand. In about 50 years from scratch, it has now 92 educational institutes catering to nearly 1 Lakh student along with industry. However they have not really focused on innovation as a goal education.

References:

  • Bihar Grand Total: Diploma Courses (5,125) + Post Diploma Courses (30) + Part-Time Diploma Courses (180) = 5,335. ( http://www.sbtebihar.gov.in/Intake/IntakeCap13.htm )
  • Engineering Degree College : 3779 (http://dst.bih.nic.in/EngineeringColleges.aspx )
  • http://www.careers360.com/news/4134-One-million-engineering-seats-in-India
  • http://www.indianexpress.com/news/why-engineering-seats-find-few-takers/816041/0

Concept of “Innovation Belt” for Bihar

– Prof Prabhat Ranjan (prof.prabhat.ranjan@gmail.com)

Objective
To set up clusters of educational/research and industrial organizations at few geographically distributed locations to promote innovation as well as to cater to the gap in demand and supply in education system within the state.

Background
Bihar has been land of innovation in the past and till today this signifies the glory of Bihar. Innovations were in many fields and included new thought processes through “religion” (e.g. Buddhism or Jainism), Mathematics, Astronomy, Politics, Economics etc .. So Innovation was not limited to scientific or technological innovation.

In today’s context innovation is equally important if Bihar has to grow and maintain its growth and be visible not only on map of India but also of world. So this brief document looks at how to kick start growth of Bihar based on innovations.

Education in Bihar

Education has been the lifeline of Bihar so I feel that any such effort has to start around education. In spite of this Bihar has severe shortage of educational opportunity. As per 2007 statistics, Bihar had 1.82 engineering seats per lakh of population compared to a figure of 189 in Tamilnadu. A difference of 100 times! (Which may have changed a bit since I do not have latest data). India average is about 59 seats. So there is a huge gap in demand and supply. Bihar students go all over the country and flood colleges around the country. According to one data, nearly 1 Lakh students go out of Bihar every year for engineering education alone with an outflow of Rs 2000 Crores. Even a far off place like Kota having coaching facilities, 60% of students out of 50,000 are from Bihar. This figure would go up substantially (may be several times), if we add all education groups including schools.

Innovation Belt

So there is no doubt that Bihar would need to build a huge educational infrastructure to meet the aspirations of young people of state. This would need investment from Govt as well as Private Sector. What we are suggesting in this brief note is to organize a fraction of such development in a cluster in the form of “Innovation Belt”. This can be setup in a 5-6 geographical regions spread over Bihar. For example, these could be : (1) Motihari (2) Darbhanga (3) Kishanganj (4) Bhagalpur (5) Gaya and (6) Siwan. This is shown in the map below to show the spread (green dots indicate new areas to be developed where as red dots indicate already existing organizations need to be brought under this concept):

Change in Education System for Innovation

Our education system by and large promotes rote learning at both school level and college level. This does not promote culture of innovation. To change this we need to focus in a different way of learning. This can be done through modern methods based on “Project based learning”, Team Work, Development of Self Learning etc.

Examples of such clusters

Such education needs to be imparted at both school level as well as college level. At school level School of Creative Learning, Patna (operating for last 15 years) has already been working along these lines. We need to identify if anything more needs to be added to this system and if one can replicate similar systems to promote creativity and innovation at school level.

At college level, Olin College in USA is a model. It was set up about 10 years back and has focused on promoting innovation. It has worked on “Project based learning” model. Another good example of innovation is through “extreme affordability” course of Stanford Design School through Interdisciplinary research.

Within India, we have many examples of educational clusters. One good example is Vallabh Vidyanagar near to Anand. In about 50 years from scratch, it has now 92 educational institutes catering to nearly 1 Lakh student along with industry. However they have not really focused on innovation as a goal education.