We were wandering down the main market of Jhanjharpur, a small town in North Bihar with a population of just thirty thousand. The local market was sprawled all along the railway track, and had many shops—both pucca shops and those which were put up in stalls on the footpath or had spilled over onto the roads. We soon found that hardly any of the produces sold in the market are produced locally. These are sourced outside and traded in the town.
Although Jhanjharpur has a fertile land and the villages in surrounding areas grow wheat, rice, pulses, etc., much of the supply of rice, pulses and other foodgrains, etc. comes in to Jhanjharpur from outside -- from Darbhanga and other towns, while supply of vegetables/fruits comes from Kolkata, and sometimes from Bengaluru. A bangle-seller in a stall in Jhanjharpur market said that the bangles were sourced from Firozabad in Uttar Pradesh. A salesman in a showroom selling mobiles remarked that the mobiles were sourced from Patna. Clothes/Ready Made Garments are brought in from Patna, Kolkata, etc. A grocer selling rice, potato, etc. said that he gets his supply from the local mandi, where the supply comes in from metros such as Kolkata, Patna, Bengaluru, etc. The products are mostly bought by rural customers.Autos are brought in from Chennai and bus chassis from Jamshedpur. Similarly the two-wheelers found everywhere in rural and small semi-rural areas, small towns, etc. are also brought in from outside the state. Some local produce finds its way to the market, but meets only a part of the demand. For instance, a seller of paan leaves said that he comes in every day from a nearby village and returns in the evening. There are some sellers of vegetables who come to the market with their vegetables daily, but these are small amounts compared to those sourced at the mandi, which are sourced from outside Jhanjharpur and outside the state.
This was the story in all the small and medium sized towns we visited in Bihar as part of our study on ‘Growth, urbanization and rural-urban linkages in Bihar’. Enterprises survey and household surveys were conducted for this study by Institute for Human Development in three towns in North Bihar and three towns in South Bihar in the latter half of 2015. The sample towns in North Bihar were Darbhanga, Madhubani and Jhanjharour, while those in South Bihar were: Patna, Biharsharif and Jhanjharpur.
In the backdrop of a remarkable improvement in road connectivity in the state, and signs of improvement in the electricity supply, the survey team found that thesmaller towns have markets quite well connected to the national network with abundant supply of consumer goods such as biscuits, chips, chocolates, beverages, bottled water, packaged noodles, detergents, etc. The sourcing of other goods such as foodgrains, vegetables, clothes, etc. have already been mentioned. Nowhere did the survey team find an overwhelming presence of locally produced goods. The supply network in the sample towns is connected far and wide with bigger towns in Bihar and with other urban centres in India.
In South Bihar, in a small town Hilsa with a population of 51 thousand, a cement dealer pointed out that construction activity has increased in the last few years, both in rural areas and in Hilsa town. They source cement from Patna, sand from Gaya, gravel or stone chips (gitti) from Koderma in Jharkhand, thus showing linkages of this small town with neighbouring as well as distant states.A timber merchant and maker of furniture in the same town reported that the timber in his shop comes mostly from Kolkata and stone comes from Gujarat. In a bigger town of Biharsharif in South Bihar, fish coming in from Andhra Pradesh has more sales than locally produced fish, especially among the poor, since these are cheaper.Local fish often finds its way to Patna, Kolkata, Ranchi, Jamshedpur, Dhanbad, etc. via large traders.
Thus rural-urban linkages are not always observed between rural areas and the nearest urban centre. Rather, often rural areas have linkages with Patna, Darbhanga and some other relatively big cities in the state and also with urban centres out of the state such as Delhi, Bengaluru, Kolkata as well as with cities abroad. For instance, Madhubani paintings made in villages such as Jitwarpur are marketed directly to agents who are located in Patna, or in Delhi, Bengaluru, etc. Sometimes foreign buyers who come directly to Jitwarpur to buy paintings. But there is very little linkage with the nearby Madhubani town.
The study shows evidence of rural-urban linkages between an urban centre and the rural hinterland when we consider labour movement. This linkage is to be distinguished from the linkages via migration to faraway urban and rural destinations and are strong particularly for the manufacturing enterprises. On an average, around 61percent of survey enterprises in the six sample towns were found to be hiring workers, and among these 33 percent reported hiring rural workers (mostly along with workers from urban areas). If we look at the data related to the share of workers commuting from rural areas, which is 45.5 percent of 3728 adult workers hired for survey enterprises, the evidence is corroborated.
Although the enterprise surveys showed that the backward linkage of enterprises are stronger with local urban areas, there was some evidence of backward linkage with rural areas, reflected in 14.6 percent of the enterprises sourcing their major input/intermediate product from rural areas within the district. Sourcing of inputs from local rural areas was found to be relatively more in the smaller towns. Backward linkages were found to be stronger for the factory sector vis-à-vis the non-factory sector.
Manufacturing units, especially food and beverages, household industry and handicraft, etc. exhibited stronger forward linkages, since these units have relatively more sales to local rural areas. Among trade/retail units, transport related sales/service enterprises and among Services units, institutions reported more sales in rural areas. Links through rural customers visiting urban enterprises are also important. Around 80 percent of the survey enterprises reported that rural customers come and buy their products. In Patna, this share was the least at 58.7 percent. On an average, these enterprises with rural customers sell 39-45 percent of their products/services to customers coming from nearby rural areas, indicating high linkages.
Local rural-urban linkages are also influenced considerably by availability of social facilities such as education, health services, etc. in the nearby town. Darbhanga town has many educational institutions, coaching facilities, etc. as well as a renowned hospital and medical college. Many people from Madhubani, Jhanjharpur, etc. smaller towns as well as from the surrounding villages come to Darbhanga to avail of these facilities. Patna is a favoured destination for education and health services for people all over the state of Bihar.