After a gap of nearly 10 years, the government is considering undertaking a new study of all the industrially-backward districts across the country and has considered potentially outsourcing the operation to a private agency.
The last such survey was done by the Planning Commission in 1997.
The exercise is being initiated by the department of industrial policy and promotion so that the government can direct policy interventions to these areas, not only to distribute growth, but also step up employment.
“We already have policy initiatives for areas like the Northeast, Jharkhand, Uttarakhand and so on. The survey will also help to identify areas that do not need policy intervention, but external linkages in the form of roads, railways, air connectivity, etc.,” said Ashwani Kumar, minister of state for industry.
The minister cited the example of Pathankot in his native Punjab. The town, which serves as a link between the three states of Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh and Punjab, is rich in horticulture, but has not been able to exploit its market due to lack of air connectivity.
“The town has an airport for the last eight years, but no flights were operated from there. We have recently begun operating flights,” the minister said.
This study is expected toinclude special parameters wherein the government would also be able to ascertain the reasons that have led to these districts not receiving development.
“When the Planning Commission did this exercise way back in 1997, the findings were used for income-tax purposes. This time we are trying to develop scientifically-backed terms of reference, which will focus on the causes for industrial sickness or backwardness in a region,” Kumar said.
The minister said that the department, after initial conversations with the Planning Commission, considered hiring an “independent professional agency with expertise to undertake a survey on a large scale. We have shortlisted a few agencies, but are yet to decide on who will undertake the work”.
Late Thursday, Kumar said the department might yet go with the Planning Commission and has convened a meeting on 12 April to discuss the issue. He said the department would like to expedite such a study and might end up using the existing Planning Commission data to update the decade-old survey.
Elaborating on the other ongoing initiatives, Kumar said that the Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations (Icrier) had indicated that it would submit its study on the retail sector in India by 15 July.
“The study will focus on the issue of big versus small and not domestic versus foreign retailers. Hence, even the entry of the big Indian companies into the retail sector will be examined in terms of their impact on employment, rural economy and small traders,” the minister said.
Asked if the government would push for affirmative action in the corporate sector with regard to providing job reservations for the weaker sections, Kumar said that the industry ministry was in favour of the industry adopting a voluntary and a self-enforced mechanism.
“We do not think coercion would be necessary,” he said.