We have discussed above that the efforts made for socio-economic development in India have been aimed at the holistic development of all the regions of the country. In fact, one of the major objectives of development planning initiated immediately after independence has been the reduction of regional disparities by promoting the development of all regions. The planning and implementation processes have focused on an approach of regional development. But one of the critical problems facing India’s economy is the sharp and growing regional variations among different States and Union Territories.
There are certain differences which are already created by nature. For example, you may find in the figure below that some areas have plain topography, fertile alluvial soil and abundance of water like Indo-Ganga plain; whereas there are certain areas which have hilly terrains, dense forest cover and less fertile soil like North-Eastern parts of the country. These differences created by nature are called regional diversity. But there are certain differences that are human-made. These differences or inequalities are related to indicators like per capita income, agricultural growth, industrial growth, expansion of transport and communication facilities, literacy and status of health. These human-made differences or inequalities between regions are known as disparities. It is these disparities that are causes of concern. Let us analyse and try to understand the disparities in respect of the following:
- Disparities in India
- Per Capita Income: Per capita income is the essence of the level of economic activity in the region. There are very wide regional disparities in per capita income. For the year 2005-06, national average of per capita income was Rs. 25,716. There were only eleven States which had per capita income higher than the national average. The bottom seven poorest States that had per capita income below the national average are Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa, Rajasthan, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh. These States are home to more than half of India's population.
- Poverty: State-wise poverty ratios have witnessed a decline over the years. Though poverty has declined at the macro-level, rural-urban and inter-state disparities are continuing. The poverty ratio is still relatively high in Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, Chhatisgarh, Bihar, Jharkhand and Uttar Pradesh. Poverty rates in rural Orissa (43%) and rural Bihar (40%) are some of the worst in the world. On the other hand rural Haryana (5.7%) and rural Punjab (2.4%) compare well even at global level with some of the middle income countries.
- Industrial growth: The initial distribution of industries in India was determined by the historical process of growth driven primarily by the interests of the British Rulers. As a result, most of the industries were concentrated at a few centers. This pattern has continued in the post-independence period as well despite all attempts made so far to expand the process of industrialization of various regions.
- Agricultural growth: Regional disparities in agricultural growth have increased over the years with the States of Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh, pushing well ahead of others. The per capita average food grain production has been the highest in Punjab and the lowest in Kerala. Mizoram and Maharashtra are at the lowest level in respect of irrigated areas. States like Punjab and Haryana achieved high rate of agricultural productivity because of having extensive irrigation facilities and intensive use of fertilizers. In majority of the States agricultural growth is yet to pick up the needed pace and come up to their potential.
- Literacy: It is one of the major indicators of socio-economic development but there are great disparities in this respect in various regions. According to Census 2001, the literacy rate is the highest in Kerala and the lowest in Bihar. Whereas the all-Indian average of literacy rate was 65.38 percent, it was 90.92 percent in Kerala and only 47.53 percent in Bihar. There are significant variations among rest of the States also.
- Transport and Communications: Transport and communication in India are of various types. The common forms of transportation are Roadways, Railways, Airways and Waterways. When you look at the data in respect of even one of these, you may appreciate the prevailing disparities. For example, in respect of road length, there are some States that are at a very advanced level, whereas there are some in which the road situation is very poor. With regard to total road length per 100 km. Kerala tops the list whereas the State of Jammu and Kashmir is at the bottom.
B. Causes of Regional Disparities
Whenever we try to identify the reasons for regional imbalance in various regions we tend to think that population growth, illiteracy and lack of basic infrastructure are responsible for under-development of certain States. But if we analyse these reasons further, we find that these factors are not only the reasons of underdevelopment in backward States but also its outcome. For example, there has been unabated population growth, prevalence of illiteracy and lack of basic infrastructure in many under-developed States, primarily because the socio-economic development has not taken place in the way it has taken place in other forward States. It is therefore, interesting to analyse the following major causes of regional disparities:
- Historical perspective: During the colonial rule in the pre-independence era, the areas which were not important from commercial or political angles, received little attention and remained under developed. Those areas still continue to be ignored by entrepreneurs. The most prominent among such areas are the tribal areas of central and north-eastern India.
- Geographical factors: Topography of a region can constrain its development. The desert region of Rajasthan and difficult hilly terrains of north-eastern regions are examples of such cases.
- Unequal distribution and variation in the use of natural resources: As you may be aware, natural resources like coal, iron ore, oil, natural gas and others are not available in all the States. But this availability alone has not ensured the development of such States. There are certain states that have made good use of this privilege, but others like Bihar, Jharkhand and Orissa have not been able to do so.
- Remote areas from national markets: The distance of the region from the national markets have also affected the development of the economy in those areas especially the northeastern region, making it difficult to alter their growth process.
- Lack of basic infrastructure: The States that have developed infrastructure facilities like roads, electricity and transportation facilities have made speedy progress in terms of socio-economic development. The States that lack these facilities find it difficult to adequately utilize the allocated investments and also to attract private investors.
- Poor governance: The most important factor that influences socio-economic development is the quality of governance. You may observe that the States that have moved forward have had the spell of good governance for most of the periods. On the other hand, almost all of the backward States are those that have not been able to develop basic infrastructure, have been struggling with law and order problems and have not been able to make optimum utilization of national resources allocated by the Planning Commission. The poor governance has also been discouraging the private investors to set up industries or pursue any other productive activities in those States.