Home / Opinion / Columns /  Spatial poverty in Chhattisgarh

Chhattisgarh, then a backward region of Madhya Pradesh, was carved out to make a separate state in November 2000, fulfilling its people’s long-cherished demand for statehood. The state is bestowed with rich natural resources such as forests, minerals and surface water, and the strategically favourable location of the state along with a conducive industrial environment attracted huge investments.

However, despite many advantageous factors, the state’s growth story is a mixed bag. In the initial eight years, the state emerged as one of the fastest growing states with an impressive annual growth rate of 10% per annum, but in subsequent years, the growth rate slowed down to 7% per annum. In fact, the manufacturing sector that had been one of the dominant reasons for high growth initially has been on the decline since 2008-09. The share of the manufacturing sector to the state’s income decreased from 22% in 2008-09 to 13% in 2013-14. The per capita income in the state, measured in real terms is 28,373, far below the national average of 39,904 in 2014-15.

Given the lacklustre economic conditions and progress of the state, it is not surprising that Chhattisgarh tops the list of states in terms of poverty rate. The Tendulkar committee estimates by the Planning Commission point towards 40% of the population living below the poverty line.

Spatial analysis illustrates a clear connection between forest areas and poverty. Chhattisgarh has the third largest area under forest cover after Madhya Pradesh and Arunachal Pradesh. About 41% of the total geographical area of the state is covered under forests. A microscopic view of the poor districts—Bijapur, Surguja, Bastar and Narayanpur—shows significant proportion of the poor population in the forested areas. One aspect of high poverty in the forested areas is the lack of economic opportunities, with neither arable land nor scope for sufficient employment. Another aspect of these forest fringe areas is over-exploitation of resources for fuel and food, as well as illicit felling of trees for commercial purposes. The degradation of forest resources and restricted access for the poor to available natural resources keep the poor trapped in their circumstances.

The economically better-off districts in the state are not much better in terms of poverty. More than a fifth of the population in every district lives in extreme poverty, as per Indicus estimates. Durg, Raipur, Korba and Bilaspur are the leading industrial districts in the state. Yet, in Korba, more than 40% of the population lives below the poverty line. A large section of the poor population in these districts is settled near the mining areas. Demand for low-skilled labourers in the mining areas attracts cheap labour from the state and around. The mineral-rich areas are also reported to have a large number of forced or bonded labourers. It is generally argued that Indian mining workers are victims of unfair labour practices and the meagre wage rates, instability of working conditions and long working hours add to the vulnerability of the poor. This spatial analysis supports this view.

Micro level analysis suggests the forests and the mining areas are largely inhabited by tribals. The long deprivation of the tribal community, traditional practices and illiteracy further deter the progress of the poor in these areas.

Moreover, high poverty areas exhibit a high degree of physical and social infrastructure sparseness. This is demonstrated by poor infrastructure in terms of inadequate road connectivity and fewer infrastructural facilities, such as educational institutions, hospitals, etc. Another important determinant of poverty is the absence of proper sanitation facilities, suggesting that the latest policy direction to prioritize areas with low sanitation coverage can also result in greater pro-poor benefits. Basic facilities such as safe drinking water and improved sanitation practices are almost absent in the high poverty zones. While only 40% of the population in the state of Chhattisgarh uses improved sanitation facilities, in the high poverty zone, it reduces to 12%.

The government’s policy initiatives require a more focused and targeted approach to tackle poverty. This is possible through microscopic characterization of the poor and identifying where the poor live. Our concept of spatial poverty can identify these pockets of poverty and measure its extent via remote sensing. This can lead us to a far greater set of policy insights, the most important being its ability to link poverty with the environment that gives rise to and perpetuates it.

Laveesh Bhandari and Minakshi Chakraborty are economists based in New Delhi. These are the personal views of the authors and do not reflect those of the organizations with which they are affiliated.

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