Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Patna parties late as safety returns to Bihar

Once a metaphor for lawlessness and urban decline, Bihar's capital Patna is fast becoming a happening city, thanks to a much-improved governance coupled with a booming economy.

A visit to the city - where a new government came to power last year - helps change the erstwhile perception about the safety of its people. With an improved law and order situation, women are now seen venturing out alone, driving cars and even taking children to favourite evening hangouts - all unimaginable until a couple of years ago.

"Earlier, we were so petrified that in spite of being financially well-off, we couldn't enjoy our lives. But now things have changed. We have started living a normal life. There is a marked improvement in law and order," Anjani, a housewife with two children, told IANS.

"New restaurants like Yo China, Moti Mahal and Roti have come up. The government is also making efforts to provide entertainment to the public," she added.

Added Sanjeev Sinha, who owns a chain of hotels in Bihar and Jharkhand: "We have two restaurants and three bars in Patna. Though we didn't have any problems during (former chief minister) Lalu Prasad Yadav's regime but business has certainly improved in last one year. Now more and more families visit us. They come to eateries as well as the bars. And people are more relaxed now."

He added that the government was planning to extend the closing time for bars beyond 10 p.m.

After living in fear for decades, the city is finally getting back to normalcy. In fact, travelling into the interiors of the state has now become less risky. Crime rates in villages have also declined.

"'Don't worry madam, you are safe,' cab driver Mansoor assured us while we were on our way to Patna from Amawan (a small village about 110 km from here)," said Krishna Shandilya who was travelling with her sister and daughter.

He stopped the car at Bakhtiyarpur, once one of the most crime-infested places in the region for the evening tea.

The city's business community is also reaping benefits of the current positive trend.

The purchasing power of consumers has gone up significantly. "There was a 43 percent growth in the sales of Maruti cars in 2006. We have sold the highest number of cars in eastern zone this year," said Rakesh Prasad Singh, owner of a Maruti showroom in the city.

Ever since the new government came to power last year, the fear factor has started evaporating and people feel more relaxed now, he added.

Talking about the significant changes, Singh said: "One of the most significant changes seen in the last one year is the city's business community fearlessly investing in new projects. Earlier, people dreaded showing off their wealth."

Apart from the mushrooming of new shopping malls and an increase in cars plying on roads, what has come as a relief is that people have started enjoying their lives.

"Patna is like any other city. I don't understand why people fear so much. We also go out with friends and freak out," retorted Priya, a student of the Patna Women's College.

However, youngsters feel the city should have more entertainment spots. Also, they want a better public transport facility.

Another growing demand among the citizens is that the state government needs to create job opportunities on a large scale.

But at the same time, the city is plagued by some serious infrastructure problems, which need to be remedied immediately.

People, however, hope that the city will soon prosper and, like many Indian cities of its size, become a favourite investment destination for non-resident Indians (NRIs).
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