About Bihar

About Bihar
Photo: Jay Mandal/UNDP India

Bihar is India’s third-most populous state after Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra. According to the 2011 Census, the population of Bihar is 103 million, which is about 8.58 percent of the total population of the country. Over the last decade, the state has witnessed a 25 percent growth in its population, which is among the highest in India; and with a fertility rate of 3.71, it is only going to increase further. The state also has the highest density of population of over 1,000 persons per sq km2.


Photo: Jay Mandal/UNDP India

Bihar’s history points to its importance as a centre of power, learning and culture in ancient India. Ancient Bihar, which consisted of Anga, Videha/Mithila, Magadha and Vajji, gave India its first and greatest empire, the Maurya empire. During the Gupta empire that also originated from Magadha in 240 AD, the country flourished in science, mathematics, astronomy, commerce, religion and philosophy. It was during this period that India was called the ‘Golden Bird’.

From Magadha, also arose one of Asia’s most popular religions, Buddhism. Lichchivi, or modern day Vaishali in Bihar, gave the world its first democracy with a duly elected assembly of representatives and administrators. The ancient universities of Nalanda and Vikramshila, established in the 5th and 8th century respectively, were also important centres of learning that attracted a large number of foreign students and scholars. Magadha’s capital, Patna, earlier known as Patliputra, was an important hub of trade and commerce and attracted merchants and intellectuals from across the world.

A number of prominent Indian philosophical sages and thoughts flourished in ancient Bihar like Gautama (author of Nyaysutra), Kanda (founder of Vaisuska system), Kanada (founder of Vaisesika system) Jamini (founder of Mimasha) and Kapila (founder of Samakhya philosophy). Arthshashtra, a master work on state craft around 300 BC is credited to Vishnugupta, mentor and minister to Chandragupta Maurya. Ancient Bihar was also an important centre for scientific developments and Aryabhatta, who was a resident of Patliputra, observed in 498 AD that Earth revolves on its own axes and around the Sun.

The present day Bihar was formed as a separate state under the British rule after its separation from Bengal Presidency in 1912. Since its formation, the state has been reorganized many times. The state of Odisha was bifurcated from Bihar in 1935. Some parts of Bihar and the state of West Bengal were reorganized in 1956 on linguistic basis. The state was divided once again in 2000, when it was bifurcated to create the mineral-rich, tribal dominated new state of Jharkhand.


The state is landlocked between humid West Bengal in the east and sub-humid Uttar Pradesh in the west; and bounded by Nepal in the north and Jharkhand in the south. The great Himalayas in the north significantly influence Bihar’s landforms, climate, hydrology and culture.

Bihar has a vast stretch of fertile plain, divided into two parts by the river Ganges, which flows from west to east. The Gangetic plains occupy a major portion of the total geographical area of the state. Extending from the foothills of the Himalayas in the north to a few miles south of the river Ganges, the Gangetic plains occupy nearly 65,000 sq km of the total area of 91,163 sq km, which constitutes about 7.1 percent of the total area.

Rivers of Bihar

Rivers of Bihar
Photo: Jay Mandal/UNDP India

Bihar is richly endowed with water resources, both ground and surface water. Besides high rainfall during monsoons, it has considerable water supply from the rivers such as the Ganges which is the main river of the state. Some of its tributaries include Saryu (Ghaghra), Gandak, Budhi Gandak, Bagmati, Kamla-Balan and Mahananda. Other rivers of the state that join the Ganges or its associate rivers after flowing towards north include Sone, Uttari Koyal, Punpun, Panchane and Karmnasha.

Bihar lies in the tropical to sub-tropical region. Rainfall is the most significant factor that determines the nature of vegetation in the state. The average size of a land holding in the state is 0.58 hectare, which is half the all-India average of 1.57 hectare. Over 80 percent farms are very small (average size 0.30 hectare), whereas small and marginal farms together constitute 91 percent of the total land holdings. The small land holdings in the state are also getting increasingly fragmented due to population pressure, and consequently, the proportion of agricultural labour is increasing while that of cultivators is declining.


With a total area of 94,163 sq km, Bihar is the twelfth largest state in India. The state also has the second largest percentage of rural population in the country after Uttar Pradesh. Out of the total population of 103 million, nearly 90 percent of the population lives in the rural areas. Sixteen percent of the population comprises Scheduled Castes while Scheduled Tribes constitute less than one percent of the rural poor. Further, almost 58 percent of the people in Bihar are below 25 years of age, which is the highest in India.

Bihar can be broadly divided into four major linguistic regions of Anga, Bhojpur, Magadh and Maithili. However, administratively, the state has nine divisions and thirty-eight districts. Hinduism is the predominant religion with 82 percent followers. Muslims constitute 16 percent, Christians 0.03 percent and others 0.3 percent of the state’s population.

Human Development

Human Development
Photo: Jay Mandal/UNDP India

Although Bihar is one of the fastest growing states of India, it faces immense development challenges. The state has high levels of intra-state disparity with north Bihar lagging behind due to low agricultural productivity, poor irrigation facilities and high vulnerability to floods. The state is also often referred to as the most under-developed states in the country. According to the Tendulkar Committee Report 2009, nearly 54.4 percent of the population lives below the poverty line, which is much higher than the national average of 37.2 percent. However, if factors beyond income are considered (Multidimensional Poverty Index), about 79.3 percent of the state’s population lives below the poverty line. In fact, the poverty ratio of the state is the second highest in the country after Odisha. The rural poverty at 55.7 percent is also much higher than the urban poverty at 43.7 percent. Poverty in Bihar is a function of low per capita land holding, very low industrialization base and limited opportunities in the service sector. Low human endowment and poor infrastructure compound the problem. Due to limited opportunities in the state, there is large-scale migration from the state both in lean and peak season of agriculture to other parts of the country. The NSSO Consumption Expenditure Survey (2004-5) has showed that Bihar has the lowest level of per capita expenditure in the country.

In addition, Bihar’s performance on other human development indicators such as health, education and sanitation is also below the national average. For example, Bihar has the country’s lowest literacy rates at 63.82 percent. Youth illiteracy is a serious concern as 50 percent of the population over 15 years of age is illiterate. The adult illiteracy in the state has a debilitating influence on skill attainment, income generation and social welfare initiatives. The percentage of women with Body Mass Index less than 18.5, which is 45.1 percent for Bihar, is also significantly higher than the national average of 35.6 percent; the state has a high under-five mortality rate of 84.8 percent; and the percentage of underweight children in the state at 55.9 percent is also higher than the national average of 42.5 percent. The decline in infant mortality rate to 48 per thousand births is one of the best improvements in health indicators in the last six years when the national average stands at 47 per thousand births. In terms of sex ratio, the state is again amongst the worst performers. With just 916 females per 1,000 males, the state’s sex ratio is much lower than the national average of 940 females per 1,000 males. However, the child sex-ratio of the state at 933 is better than the national average of 914.

In terms of infrastructure, the state fares poorly. Road density at 36.75 km per 100,000 persons is the lowest in the country. The annual per capita consumption of power is only 76 units as against the national average of 612 units per year. For these reasons, the state has a very low HDI value of 0.367, which is the third lowest in the country.

Tube wells are the most important source of drinking water in the state with nearly 91 percent of the population dependent on them.

Rural-Urban Disparity

Rural-Urban Disparity
Photo: Jay Mandal/UNDP India

The disparity between the rural and urban areas of Bihar is also quite significant. For example, only 24.5 percent of the rural households in the state have access to electricity. Overall, only 10 percent of the households in rural Bihar have access to all the three basic amenities- water, toilets and electricity, while over 90 percent of the urban households have access to all three.

This disparity is evident in housing quality as well. About 35.5 percent of households in rural areas live in kuccha houses as opposed to 10.3 percent of the urban population. Overall, nearly 32.7 percent of the state’s population lives in kuccha houses.

Resurgent Bihar

Resurgent Bihar
Photo: Jay Mandal/UNDP India

Bihar is the third-most populous state in India after Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra. Only 11 countries in the world have a population greater than Bihar. Over the last six years, the state has witnessed significant changes. For example, there has been considerable improvement in the law and order situation, road connectivity and overall economic climate. Bihar now has one of the highest rates of GDP growth among all Indian states. However, the backlog in development is such that even if Bihar continues to grow at a rate of more than 10 percent per annum, it will require more than three decades in just bridging the national per capita income gap. Below are some of the development challenges that the state faces and important achievements that state has been able to gain in the last few years.

Development Deficit in Bihar

Development Deficit in Bihar
Photo: Jay Mandal/UNDP India
  • The state has the lowest literacy rates in the country at 63.82%
  • Lowest per capita income of INR 14,654 at current prices and INR 11,558 at 2004-5 prices
  • Highest urban poverty ratio and second highest rural poverty ratio (Rural 55.7%, Urban 43.7%
  • One of the lowest consumer expenditure as per the 61st round of NSS- Rural- INR 416, Urban- INR 696 and as per the 66th round of NSS, it is INR 780 for rural areas, and INR 1,238 for urban areas)
  • Home to second largest number of Below Poverty Line people (BPL) after Uttar Pradesh (48.6 Million in 2005) and (54.35 million in 2009-10)
  • Highest Total Fertility Rate and decadal rate of population growth
  • One of the lowest rates of urbanization, only 11% of the state’s population lives in urban areas 
  • One of the lowest HDI (21 out of 23) as per the India Human development Report
  • Highly vulnerable to natural disasters: 73% of the geographical area prone to floods. 28 out of 38 districts are in earthquake zone five and four 
  • Lowest per capita power consumption in the country at 76 units per annum
  • One of the highest rates of out-migration to other states- 9.2% of rural male and 4.4% of urban male) as per the 64th round of NSS
  • Average agricultural productivity below the national average in key cereal crops in the state- For Rice – Bihar- 1,237 and National- 2,202; For Wheat – Bihar- 2,058 and National- 2,802 (yield in kg hectare)
  • One of the lowest average sizes of land holding in the country at 0.58%
  • One of the highest rates of child malnutrition in the country with 54.9% of the children underweight

Governance reforms in the last six years have led to the following successes:

Significant Improvement in Health Indicators
Photo: Jay Mandal/UNDP India
  • Significant Improvement in Health Indicators
    1. Significant increase in institutional deliveries (22% in 2005-6 to 48% in 2009-10) 
    2. Rapid growth in immunization (33% in 2004-6 to 61% in 2009-10) 
    3. Zero reporting on polio in 2011
  • Improved Fiscal status
    1. One of the highest rates of GDP growth in the country (annual rate of 10.93% between 2004-5 to 2010-11)
    2. Highest growth in GDP for the year 2011-12 among all Indian states
    3. Significant increase in plan expenditure from 1, 262 crore in 2001-02 to 18,427 crores in 2010-11
    4. Increase in state’s tax collections from 3, 561 crores in 2005-06 to 9,869 crores in 2010-11
  • Agriculture
    1. Launch of an ambitious Agricultural Road Map to achieve growth rate of 7% in the primary sector
    2. Formation of the Agriculture Cabinet in the state to give a push to agricultural growth 
    3. Rapid increase in the Seed Replacement Rate in both paddy and wheat from single digits to over 25% 
    4. World record set for productivity gains in paddy, and similarly, higher level of productivity gains made in key cereal crops
  • Improvements in Policy Frameworks and Implementation
    1. Formation of Human Development Mission with the Chief Minister as the chairperson 
    2. Right to Service Act implemented from 15th August 2011
    3. Innovations in RTI (telephone-based RTI services introduced) 
    4. Improvement in road connectivity (expenditure increased on road from 2,072 crores in 2006-7 to 4,691 crores in 2010-11) 
    5. Increased focus on power sector reforms and industrialization in the state 
  • Emphasis on Inclusion
    • Innovative programmes like Balika Cycle yojna
    • Establishment of Maha Dalit Commission in 2007 
    • 50% reservation for women in panchayati raj institutions, the first state to do so in 2006 for women empowerment 
    • Innovations in delivery of justice with a role for Nyay Panchayats

1 Sample Registration System Statistical Report 2010
2 Census of India 2011