Appleby on Bihar: get the facts right

Bibek Debroy, New Delhi, India

Where in his reports and papers did Paul Appleby rank Bihar as the second-best governed state?
Something has always puzzled me and perhaps readers of Business Standard have the answer. But let me begin with a quote from a recent speech delivered by the PM at the International Conference on Agriculture for Food, Nutritional Security and Rural Growth. This Conference was in Delhi and the speech was delivered on May 27. Here is the quote:

“We do need a lot more attention to be paid to the management of our agricultural research and technology system. We must also ponder why is that Bihar which was chosen to be the original location of the Indian Institute of Agricultural Research, why it has failed to catch up with the rest of the country? Bihar, in 1950 was described as the second-best governed state in the very famous Paul Appleby Report. From that point, from that benchmark where Bihar is today in terms of its absorptive capacity? This is worthy of exploration, why a state like Bihar has not been able to catch up with the rest of the world?”

I don’t want to focus on why Bihar has fallen behind. My being puzzled has more to do with facts. We have heard this before, the Paul Appleby Report ranking Bihar as the second-best governed state, the first being UP. This factual assertion has now been endorsed by no less a person than the PM himself.

“The Bihar administration was considered to be one of the best in India by Paul Appleby in the fifties, but Bihar is now synonymous with everything that could be called bad about administration.” This is another such quote from a journalistic piece and I needn’t name the author.

Paul Henson Appleby (1891-1963) visited India in 1952, 1954, 1956 and 1960-61. As a consultant to the Ford Foundation, he produced his first report in 1953, titled, “Public Or is this just a myth, like the one about Keynes talking about employing people to dig useless ditches and then cover them up? (Keynes never wrote this. It was something ascribed to him by his followers.) Was it a legend deliberately cooked up by the political system to prove that Bihar was a well-governed state under Congress rule? At this rate, we may soon have a quote from Humphrey Appleby on Bihar. In case you have forgotten who he was, “Well briefly, Sir, I am the Permanent Under Secretary of State, known as the Permanent Secretary. Woolley here is your Principal Private Secretary, I too have a Principal Private Secretary and he is the Principal Private Secretary to the Permanent Secretary. Directly responsible to me are 10 Deputy Secretaries, 87 Under Secretaries and 219 Assistant Secretaries. Directly responsible to the Principal Private Secretary are plain Private Secretaries, and the


Administration in India: Report of a Survey”. And there was a second report in 1956, titled, “Re-examination of India’s Administrative System with Special Reference to Administration of Government’s Industrial and Commercial Enterprises”. So the PM’s speech-writers have got the year wrong. There was no Paul Appleby Report in 1950. The year should have been either 1953 or 1956. Rather interestingly, in the first report, Appleby stated the following. “I have come gradually to a general judgment that now would rate the government of India among the dozen or so most advanced governments of the world.” There was emphasis on the word “now” and Appleby was primarily referring to the democratic structure, not to efficiency of administration or effective governance. Nonetheless, the compliment to India is remarkable.

But to get back to the point, where in his two reports did Appleby rank Bihar as the second-best governed state? I have read both reports and can’t find it. Strictly speaking, the subject of the second report had nothing to do with ranking states. If Appleby had undertaken such a ranking, it should have been in the first report. And certainly in the 1950s, this business of cross-country or inter-state rankings wasn’t that fashionable. Governance wasn’t the buzzword it is now. Nor was there any literature on what variables to include in governance and how to weight and aggregate them into an index.

In writing the first report, Appleby interviewed hundreds of ministers and administrative officials and the introduction says, “The study took me on tours across India covering 9,000 miles by road, rail and air. This permitted very brief visits to 10 states outside Delhi.” Not only were visits to states brief, as I have said, I can find no rankings in the first report, nor anything that is specific to Bihar. Can BS readers think of any other report that Appleby wrote? Incidentally, I have also gone through three papers Appleby published in the Indian Journal of Public Administration and can find no such references there either.

Prime Minister will be appointing two Parliamentary under Secretaries and you will be appointing your own Parliamentary Private Secretary.”

After all, with reference to the PM’s speech, Sir Humphrey did say, “Oh Bernard, a good speech isn’t one where we can prove the minister is telling the truth, it’s one in which nobody else can prove that he’s lying.”

About the author: Bibek Debroy is editor of “IndiaToday”. This article is based on reports of “Applybye” who once claimed that Bihar was developed state second to none at the time of Independence.



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