The Eastern Heart Of Darkness

Updated: Nov 17 2003, 05:30am hrs
Indias academics have studied inter-state disparities in development but havent arrived at any systematic pattern. The North-South divide is a hardy perennial of discourse but this generalisation hides as much as it reveals. Not long ago, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh or BIMARU were believed to constitute the heart of Indias darkness from a development standpoint. But Rajasthan no longer belongs to the BIMARU.

Do district-level disparities point to a pattern Yes, it appears. NJ Kurian, advisor to the Planning Commission, wrote a provocative note on socio-demographic disparities in July 2001 according to which Ass-am, Bihar, MP, UP, Orissa, Rajasthan and West Bengal formed the bulk of the worst performing districts. Bihar, Rajasthan, MP, Orissa and UP too didnt have any districts in the best 100 districts of India.

Bibek Debroy and Laveesh Bhandari take these district-level studies a big step forward* by identifying Indias 69 most backward districts with up to date infor- mation. Normally, the appellation coffee table publication is associated with a lavish visual feast dealing with cultural exotica. But this is the best coffee table publication yet on development and is compulsory reading for planners.

Six indicators income poverty, hunger, infant mortality, immunisation, literacy rate and enrollment ratios were used to identify the most backward districts. Though each indicator by itself throws up a different set of districts, a district is considered the most backward if it classifies as backward in four of the six indicators used. This exercise thus throws up 69 such districts. Bihar leads with 26 districts, UP follows with 13, Jharkand and Orissa with 10 each, MP 6, Arunachal 3 and Karnataka one Gulbarga.

Debroy-Bhandari go on to identify the correlates of extreme backwardness like the lack of road connectivity. Backward districts in Orissa, Arunachal, MP and Karnataka are off the national highway. In Bihar, UP and Orissa many backward districts are flood-prone. The solution is to have better road connectivity in the backward districts of MP, Orissa, Aruna-chal and Karna-taka and solve the flood problem in Bihar, UP and Orissa. But its the planners who ultimately have to make a judgement call on how to intervene in these districts. Should they do it through better targeting of anti-poverty, education and health interventions Sho-uld they specifically target Gulbarga and the six MP districts while having a more broad-based approach to the problem in Bihar, UP and Jharkhand Regardless of their approach, Debroy Bhandari have taken the de-bate on district-level dispa- rities beyond state boundaries.

* District-level deprivation in the new millenium edited by Bibek Debroy & Laveesh Bhandari, 2003, Konark Publishers, New Delhi