Home / Opinion / Online-views /  Opinion | 2018 isn’t all gloomy: 5 districts offer hope

Two-thirds of India’s 112 backward districts are in Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Bihar, Odisha, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh. The remaining are scattered across the country with a few in the Northeast. These districts identified in January 2018 for fast-track development represent the part of rural India that lags behind in basic services such as health, education and infrastructure, and have rightly come under the focus of policymakers.

Under the “aspirational districts" programme, central and state officials are working closely to identify the strength of each district and use it to catalyse growth. NITI Aayog, which anchors the programme, has ranked these districts on their performance in key development areas of health and nutrition, education, farming, water resources, financial inclusion, skill development and access to basic infrastructure such as road, potable water and power.

The rankings, first announced in June and based on data from states and the central government, as well as a survey of over 100,000 households, showed that several of these districts had reported improvement in elementary education over the 2017 national average. The second set of rankings, released on 27 December, shows that five districts have particularly made rapid progress—Kupwara in Jammu and Kashmir, Ranchi in Jharkhand, Siddharthnagar and Fatehpur in Uttar Pradesh, and Jamui in Bihar. While districts such as Siddharthnagar made progress on several fronts, including education and basic infrastructure, Pakur in Jharkhand remain backward in education, health, nutrition and basic infrastructure. Pakur, which ranks at the bottom of the list, at 111, has plenty of room for improvement. Wayanad in Kerala, which was affected by floods recently, is not part of the latest ranking. Virudhunagar in Tamil Nadu has the best overall score among all the backward districts. The incremental progress made by the five districts offer hope that with a focused approach, a quick course correction in the development trajectory could be achieved.

Plugging the development gaps and improving the quality of life of people in these backward areas is important, considering that India has crossed only the halfway mark in achieving sustainable development goals (SDG) such as removal of poverty and inequality, which it had adopted in 2015 along with 192 other nations. NITI Aayog is also monitoring the work on achieving SDG goals. Improving basic services and ensuring livelihood of people in backward districts is of tremendous importance, considering that people are forced to migrate in search of a better life. Two key initiatives that will go a long way in achieving this goal are the Ayushman Bharat scheme, which offers health cover to 100 million vulnerable families, and the BharatNet project, which digitally connects all gram panchayats. Digital connectivity will link people in rural areas with urban centres, improving employment opportunities. In a nation that is set to be the fifth largest economy in the world, bridging the development gap is vital to social and political stability.

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