On most economic and developmental parameters, Karnataka outperforms the rest of the country. But the pattern of development in the state is deeply uneven, a Mint analysis based on a wide range of district-level indicators of assets and amenities show.

Most of the state’s poorest districts in terms of ownership of household assets such as TVs or motorbikes are clustered in North Karnataka while most well-off districts are clustered in South Karnataka. North Karnataka’s mean score on the composite asset index is significantly lower than that of rest of Karnataka, and the difference remains significant even if one excludes capital city Bengaluru, Karnataka’s growth engine, from the analysis.

In this analysis, North Karnataka comprises of the districts belonging to the so-called Hyderabad Karnataka region​. Districts belonging to the so-called Bombay Karnataka region have been included in Rest of Karnataka.

The regional divide within Karnataka is sharper when it comes to access to amenities such as electricity and toilets. The asset index used to rank districts in this analysis is a composite index based on census data on ownership of household assets such as cars, motorbikes, TV, radio, access to banking, phones, and bicycles.

The amenities index is a similar gauge based on access to amenities such as toilets, tap water, and electricity. Both indices have been constructed using principal components analysis, and have been normalized to take values between 0 and 1, with values closer to 1 indicating greater ownership of assets (or access to amenities). Newly-created districts have been merged with their parent districts to ensure comparability between 2001 and 2011 figures in the analysis.

While differences in asset ownership between the two regions have reduced marginally between 2001 and 2011, the gap in access to amenities was as wide in 2011 as it was in 2001. Interestingly, when it comes to consumption expenditure, the gap between rural and urban areas of North Karnataka is nearly equal to the gap between consumption expenditure of rural North Karnataka and the rural part of the rest of the state, according to data from the National Sample Survey Office (NSSO). This is in contrast to states such as Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra, where despite sharp regional differences, rural-urban inequality within each region is deeper than inequality between regions.

The regional divide in Karnataka is rooted in its history. The old Mysore state, comprising most of the southern parts of the modern Karnataka state, was ruled by dynamic rulers and administrators. As a result the southern districts witnessed impressive early gains in development before Indian states were reorganized on linguistic basis in 1956. In that reorganization, many Kannada speaking regions of neighbouring states were merged with the old Mysore state to create the state of Karnataka.

While districts belonging to the old Mysore state have built on earlier gains, regions such as North Karnataka, which were peripheral regions of other pre-independence states, have lagged behind. The weight of history and the more contemporary neglect by successive state governments have combined to create a sharp north-south divide in the state.

While regional differences have been stark since the inception of the state, it was only in 2000 that the state government felt the need to appoint a committee to examine regional imbalances in the state. The committee led by the economist D.M. Nanjundappa recommended special budgetary provisions to build physical and social infrastructure in the northern parts of the state to bridge the north-south divide. It also recommended increased representation of people from North Karnataka in important political posts and committees to combat the growing feeling of neglect in that region.

In 2012, the Lok Sabha unanimously passed the 118th constitutional amendment, mandating special status for the North Karnataka region, paving the path for the creation of development boards similar to those in Maharashtra. It remains to be seen whether the government implements these rules, and whether Karnataka’s experience in regional planning is better than that of Maharashtra.

This is the third part of a five-part data journalism series on intra-state inequality in India. The first two parts examined the regional divide within Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra.

The interactive map for this story has been designed by howindialives.com, a Delhi-based start-up that is developing a search engine for public data to make it more accessible to decision-makers.

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