Achieving balanced regional development in India: Challenges and Strategy

In this essay…

During the lockdown period due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Rahul was seeing T.V. He observed that hundreds of migrant laborers were walking with bare feet to march and reach the source region. He asked his father – “Papa! Why these people are walking for so long like 1000 kilometers? His father replied to him “Betaji those people are not able to sustain their life in big cities due to COVID-19.

He again asked his father – “But why those people had gone in those cities if it is so vulnerable?” His father replied – Because the source region from where they belong is not much developed. They come there to work and get employment. This is what is called an Imbalance of regional development.

In this article, we will discuss the following – What is regional development in a balanced way? Why balanced regional development is needed? What are the impacts of imbalance regional development? What are the main challenges in achieving balanced regional development? What could be the strategy to achieve balanced regional development?

Imbalances in regional development

Balanced regional development is the process of developing all corners of Indian society equitably so that all regions could access the resources equally and provide employment opportunities to the people of Indian society. There are regional imbalances that exist in India. The north-South divide is one of the examples. The backwardness of the northeastern region as compared to other regions of India is deep.

RBI report 2019 says that in India nearly 23% of people live under BPL. But, 45% of the population lives under BPL in states like Chhatisgarh and Jharkhand which is almost doubled than national BPL population. It shows that the eastern part of India is less developed as compared to rest of the India. The resource-rich region of the east lacks Industrial development. Similarly, COVID-19 has unveiled the digital divide between cities and rural villages.

Reasons behind regional imbalances

Many states had accelerated their growth during two important events – the Green revolution post-1965 and Industrialization post-LPG reforms. The green revolution was not able to reach to eastern India and was limited by the western part of India. Since eastern India is largely agrarian due to the Gangetic river plane, industries don’t reach to eastern India. One more reason behind not industrialized eastern India was the priority over food security issues.

Sudeep Chakravarty in his book “Red Sun” claims that lack of political will and violence in the society was one of the major factors behind lagging in the development process which reduces investments. Apart from the above reasons, lack of good governance, the politicization of caste, and less spending in capacity building are aggravating factors behind regional imbalances in India. For example, India spends only 1.6% of GDP on health and 3% of GDP on education, and 0.67% of GDP on R&D which are lesser than other leading countries.

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White revolution germinated in Gujrat under the leadership of Verghese Kurian. It was limited to Gujrat for very long. Land reforms are not implemented in a proper way. Its success was limited to J&K, Kerala, and West Bengal. Identity conflicts like Caste and class conflict in eastern India, especially the UP, and Bihar region are prevalent. It prevents investors to take interest in their region.

Impacts of regional imbalances

The migration of people both horizontally and vertically is a manifestation of imbalanced regional development. For example, census 2011 suggests that there is 13 million inter-state migration in India. During the lockdown, the same people walked more than 1000 km barefoot to return to the source regions.

Thus, increasing pressure on cities has many spillover effects like slums in cities, difficulty in managing people during pandemics, and stress on resources in a particular region. Apart from migration it also impacts the security of our country. Imbalanced development may lead to the Naxal problem which forced the government to draw a red corridor from Pashupati in Nepal to Tirupati in Andhra Pradesh.

Along with security challenges, stress on urbanization impacts the mental situation of an individual which keeps an individual to stay away from family for having employment. Subsequently, it destroys the quality of life of an individual in general and society lagging behind in particular.

Need of balanced regional development

There are various reasons which knock for balanced regional development. India has promised to achieve sustainable development goals which could not be achieved by leaving any society behind. For example, SDG-10 appeals to reduce inequality and it could only be possible if all societies grow at a similar pace.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, we have observed that Delhi and Mumbai have been most vulnerable because COVID-19 loves the population. Such imbalance concentration of people is due to imbalance development of regions. Recently we witnessed the covert attack on security forces in Chhatisgarh by Naxals. All these factors suggest us to reduce imbalances and go ahead with regional development in a balanced way.

Challenges behind achieving balanced development

Political challenges
Lack of political will for developing the source region is one of the biggest challenges. The political class lacks public pressure on the question of developing the region. Politics of the regions which lack development revolves around the caste factor. Thus, people won’t bargain with the political class on development factors.

Apart from the eastern region, the north-eastern region has been largely undiscussed and the government didn’t meet the aspirations of the people belonging to the north-eastern region.

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Administrative challenges
The Eastern region as well as the northeastern region has been facing violence for a long time. It creates problems in ensuring good governance and a smooth flow of administration. For example, the Red corridor in the eastern region affected by Naxalism and militancy in the north-eastern region Bru refugee crisis are mere manifestations.

Apart from security threats lack of good governance has been one of the major causes of the disturbing administrative channels. Lack of cooperation between the public and the system has also been a serious challenge. For example, the Chenchus tribe of Andhra Pradesh didn’t accept homes made by the government since the face of the home was not in the line of their culture.

Societal challenge
Post-90s, the Casteization of politics has reduced the public bargaining power in society. Thus, developmental issues take a back seat especially in areas that are not performing well in development. States which lack on the developmental parameter are largely agrarian due to rivers. It creates a dilemma between food security Vs Industrial development.

Another major challenge in society is that people are not empowered to seek their rights and talk about the development of the region. Along with the above, another challenge is that societies are tribal which are seen sometimes opposing any outside interferences.

Financial challenge
Eastern region lacks investments due to political turmoil and security issues. It leads to the financial constraints which contain industrial development. Another aggravating factor of less interest of corporate society in the eastern part of India is that factors which affect industrialization lack eastern coast are not suitable for a port.

Environmental
Eastern and northeastern part of India is environmentally rich region because these regions are monsoonal region. There is difficult terrain that is prone to disaster. For example, in some parts of Bihar, flood situations are often seen. Thus, environmental constraints like deforestation oppose industrialization on the cost of environmental degradation.

Strategies for balanced development

So far, in 70 years of independence, India has witnessed few models of governance – the Kerala Model, Gujrat Model, and Delhi Model. There is a famous debate between Jagdish Bhagwati and Amartya Sen is in the context of the Gujrat model and the Kerala model. The newly emerging Delhi model has also taken center stage in strategies for development.

Delhi’s model of governance has many terms and conditions. The citizen must be empowered enough to fetch benefits for the Delhi model. Good communication is the essential condition for the Delhi model. Citizens must be ‘well informed.’ Some of the experts call this model that it is limited to small areas like Delhi. It may not be much feasible for eastern states as required.

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Between the Gujrat model and the Kerala model, Jagdish Bhagwati claimed that the Gujrat model is an effective way that has a top-down approach. It gives logic that more economic growth may lead to more tax collection and subsequently more spending. Amartya Sen claims that the Bottom-up approach like the Kerala model is an effective way that focuses on capacity building.

I think in the case of the under-developed state, it must be a mix of the above three on case to case basis. Thus, the strategy must also have an influence on the PDS system of Chhatisgarh. Thus, a new model is the need of the hour. Apart from this, there is a need for local resource-based industries such as food processing. Development of rural tourism and skill development is needed.

Government efforts

However, the government of India has taken some efforts for regional balances. Recently railway engine WAG-12 under the make in India program was made from Bihar which is one of the states lagging behind in the developmental scale. Special efforts are made for the backward states. Fund share for these states is 90:10 unlike other states (60:40). The aspirational program by NITI Ayog has been working in this direction to reduce these imbalances.

Apart from the above, the government is diversifying initiatives in eastern India. The government is curbing Naxalism with smart power i.e. the mix of hard and soft power. Vote % of Chhatisgarh in the last assembly election was 71% as per CSDS is one of the evidence. 15th Finance commission had taken under-development as a factor in income distribution by claiming one factor of scale “Income distance.”

Under GST, destination-based taxation may reduce imbalances. For example, If a car is manufactured in Tamil Nadu but is consumed in Maharashtra. Then, SGST would accrue to Maharashtra and not to Tamil Nadu. Mission Purvodaya in the steel sector is aimed at driving accelerated development of eastern India through the establishment of an integrated steel hub.

For capacity building, Eklavya residential for tribal children and skill development programs in the digital sector by Facebook may help in ringing back to the mainstream. IITs and IIMs is being opened in other backward states too. For example, IIT Jammu and IIT Guwahati India-Japan cooperation for the development of northeastern state may bring a ‘ray of hope’ for the north-eastern people and help in reducing regional imbalances in India.

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