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Business News/ Opinion / Online-views/  Spatial poverty in Andhra Pradesh
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Spatial poverty in Andhra Pradesh

Telangana seems to have a far more difficult time in addressing poverty-related challenges than Seemandhra

Villagers wait to fetch drinking water at a village in Nalgonda district. Photo: AFP Premium
Villagers wait to fetch drinking water at a village in Nalgonda district. Photo: AFP

In this third part of the series, we look at the former state of Andhra Pradesh, which includes both Seemandhra and Telangana. Seemandhra consists of a large coastal line and the Krishna and Godavari deltas with generally rich agro-climatic conditions. Telangana, on the other hand, includes Hyderabad and the rich mineral belt in its northern districts of Adilabad, Khammam, Karimnagar and Warangal. Though Andhra has far richer land in terms of its agriculture potential, this is not the case with much of Telangana. However, even without factoring in Hyderabad, we know that Telangana has similar incomes on a per-capita basis.

So how does Telangana manage it? Though it has less fertile land, it has far richer mineral resources as mentioned above. This has also enabled the growth of industry in the state. The fact that there is a large proportion of wasteland and lower proportion of forests will enable it to ramp up both mining and mining-based industry. But Telangana’s most important asset is Hyderabad and all the benefits that the catchment districts of Rangareddy and even beyond can derive from it.

Extreme poverty levels, as measured using Tendulkar’s methodology, are also similar across the two states. This only suggests that Seemandhra, with generally better agriculture and infrastructure, has been less efficient in converting these assets than Telangana, with the better-off accessing an unduly larger portion of the state’s rich resources. This is not unusual— states that have stronger economies do tend to show higher levels of inequality as well. But they also have lower levels of poverty—something we do not observe in the Telangana and Seemandhra comparison.

What is more interesting is the location of pockets of poverty. The coastal areas in Seemandhra, which are its richest part, also have the most intense pockets of poverty. Why is that? We find this pattern not just in Seemandhra but also in many other parts of India. If you want to find a poor area, look for water. Find the water and chances are you will discover a pocket of poverty somewhere in its vicinity. This pattern holds across rural and urban areas.

What is it about the poor and water? The answer is not that water creates poverty! Simply that when the poor cannot access water through taps in clean bathrooms, they have to live in an area where they can access it. In urban areas, we tend to find poverty close to river beds, nalas and even broken pipes. In rural areas, water is somewhat easier to access, but wherever there is water, land ownership by the better-off prevents access. Caste and creed divisions also prevent access to some sources. Hence, we find clusters of the poor close to some source that has not been “privatized".

The problem of water creates its own coordination failures. When everyone around you is poor, it is more difficult to benefit from new opportunities, as you rarely get to know of them. Poverty clusters, therefore, create their own poverty and an important cause behind such clusters is poor access to water within the home.

Compared to national levels, Seemandhra has low levels of extreme poverty, but that does not mean poverty is not present in the state. Simple universal access to good quality infrastructure in the state will go a long way in reducing even the less extreme poverty.

Telangana will, however, have a different problem. It is low in water resources and has vast drylands. Poverty is less concentrated and more spread across the state. Water supply will be difficult across large areas as adequate sources do not exist.

We can broadly define Telangana as the part south of Hyderabad and that to the north. Large mining areas exist in the northern part and are likely to increase. The southern districts of Mahbubnagar and Nalgonda may not be as well-endowed (but this may change in the future) and therefore, will necessarily need intervention in other ways. Livestock farming becomes more profitable where there are large spans of uncultivable land. The northern parts of the state, on the other hand, will automatically gravitate towards mining and manufacturing.

Telangana will, however, have a far more difficult time in addressing its poverty than Seemandhra, and that is because it will suffer from the same class of problems that Jharkhand suffered from. A new state, with many absent democratic and administrative processes, and civil society that is not mature enough, all collude to make the state far more susceptible to corrupt and anti-democratic forces. The fact that there are mining belts will further worsen such forces.

Our concept of spatial poverty that can be identified and measured via remote sensing allows us a far greater set of policy insights. The most important being that we are able to link poverty with the environment that gives rise to it and sustains it.

Laveesh Bhandari is an economist based in New Delhi. The views of the author are his own and not those the organization with which he is associated.

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Published: 21 Sep 2014, 11:21 PM IST
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