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Bihar's Friendship Day nudge: Show us the money

Nitish funds jibe at Centre after Union minister cites renewed bonhomie

By Amit Bhelari in Patna
  • Published 7.08.17
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Union law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad with chief minister Nitish Kumar at the inauguration of the tele-law scheme on Sunday. Picture by Ashok Sinha

Patna, Aug. 6: Bihar Chief minister Nitish Kumar today made it clear that he expects the Centre to be more generous to the state than it has been, now that he has tied up with the BJP.

At the receiving end of his demand was Ravi Shankar Prasad, the Union minister for law & justice as well as information technology, and the venue was the launch of the Centre's tele-law scheme under which people in rural areas can get access to legal aid with the help of volunteers at common service centres equipped with computers and Internet. Five hundred such centres were opened today across the state.

After the Union minister announced that the Centre was planning to hike the limit of the fund for strengthening the legal system in the state from Rs 50 crore, Nitish said it was chickenfeed for a state like Bihar.

"Ravi Shankar Prasad ji is my friend and he expressed his happiness that we have come together once again," the chief minister said. "Ravi Shankar Prasadji, it should reflect also that we have come together. Bihar is a big state - 38 districts and 101 sub-divisions - but for the judiciary you are allocating Rs 50-60-70 crore. What we can do with this amount?"

BJP and JDU supporters in Bodhgaya, wearing masks of Nitish Kumar and Narendra Modi, celebrate Friendship Day. Picture by Suman

Nitish explained to the dignitaries present including Justice Dipak Misra - the designated successor to Chief Justice of India Jagdish Singh Khehar - how the annual plan of the state has increased manifold. "When we came to power in 2005, the total budget of Bihar - plan and non-plan - was around Rs 25,000 crore or Rs 26,000 crore," the CM said. "Now, our budget for financial year 2017-18 is Rs 1 lakh 40 thousand crore. For me Rs 50 crore or Rs 60 crore is nothing. If you really want to give something, be generous."

Ravi Shankar, who was sitting next to deputy chief minister Sushil Kumar Modi, said loudly from his chair: "I was saying with regard to subordinate judiciary." Nitish again looked at him and said: "I am also talking about the subordinate judiciary."

Nitish added for good measure: "There is no need for high court. The number of judges will increase by 53 and there should be proper chairs and separate chambers for them. The state has already sanctioned Rs 169 crore for the expansion of the high court. So... the requirement is only for the subordinate judiciary because their numbers are also high."

He stressed that he had been forced to broach the subject.

"If you would not have mentioned this topic, I would have also not discussed it here," Nitish said, looking at Ravi Shankar.

The chief minister thanked Prime Minister Narendra Modi for the tele-law scheme, and said digital technology will bring transparency in the functioning of government.

Before leaving the podium, Nitish once again said: "Ravi Shankar ji, Bihar is your state and you should do something that is visible."

That parting shot was based on what the Union minister had said earlier during the event. Ravi Shankar had started his speech saying that he was feeling happy that Nitish has returned to the NDA fold.

"As I come from Bihar, I have special attention towards this state," Ravi Shankar said. "In 2016-17 we have given Rs 50 crore to Bihar. This year I commit to increase the limit and Bihar would be given Rs 60 to 70 crore provided you give me utilisation certificate. Nitish ji is running the government, Sushil Modiji is also sitting here. The Centre and the state will work together."

He also said 1,34,459 cases are pending in Patna High Court, of which around 18,000 cases are pending for a decade, and urged judges to fast-track pending cases.