Modernizing the State, Connecting to the People: Bihar, India, 2005-2012


In November 2005, Nitish Kumar became chief minister of one of India’s poorest states. The third-largest state by population, Bihar lagged behind other states in growth and development but scored high in corruption, lawlessness, and dismal service delivery. Mismanagement of financial resources, obsolete methods of data entry and reporting, a low-skilled workforce, insufficient transparency, and scarce accountability hindered service delivery. As head of state government, Kumar launched a series of reforms that applied information and communications technology to streamline operations, boost revenues, and improve the government’s responsiveness to citizens’ needs. By 2012, Bihar had earned national and regional acclaim for its technology-related gains, and the government of India recognized the turnaround through e-governance awards. Kumar’s efforts earned him the nickname Sushasan Babu, or Mr. Good Governance. Still, some reforms did not go far enough, and significant limitations remained: lack of integration among information and communications systems prevented proper coordination across departments; civil servants did not embrace all technology-related initiatives; and lack of electricity and Internet connectivity in many areas prevented citizens from taking full advantage of the services.


Juliette John drafted this case study in May 2014 while at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School on leave from the UK’s Department for International Development.  The case study was updated by Rushda Majeed and Pallavi Nuka following interviews conducted by Rushda Majeed in Patna, Bihar in August, 2014.  Three separate ISS case studies—Coalition Building in a Divided Society, Clearing the Jungle Raj, and Reviving the Administration,—outline Nitish Kumar’s broader efforts to build a coalition for reform, improve law and order, and resuscitate Bihar’s administration, respectively.

Associated Interview(s):  Anup Mukerji

civil service
training programs
administrative capacity
tax collection
delivering services
extending services to rural areas
computerization of records
process streamlining
Focus Area(s)
Civil Service
Critical Tasks
Computerization of records
Extending services to insecure or remote areas
Internal accountability
Land registration
Making services accessible
Public service delivery
Core Challenge
Capacity (capability traps)
Principal-agent problem (delegation)
Country of Reform
Juliette John, Rushda Majeed, Pallavi Nuka