The state’s poorest districts in terms of ownership of household assets such as TVs or motorbikes are clustered in Vidarbha, the easternmost region of the state, and in Marathwada, the region between Vidarbha and western Maharashtra. Photo: Bloomberg
The state’s poorest districts in terms of ownership of household assets such as TVs or motorbikes are clustered in Vidarbha, the easternmost region of the state, and in Marathwada, the region between Vidarbha and western Maharashtra. Photo: Bloomberg

The land of fortune and farmer suicides

A Mint analysis based on a wide range of district level indicators of assets and amenities shows how Maharashtra's wealth is very unevenly spread

If India is a land of contradictions, Maharashtra is its befitting exemplar. It is at once the country’s cradle of wealth and its most poignant symbol of agrarian distress, where many millionaires are born, and many farmers commit suicides each year. Maharashtra is the wealthiest of all Indian states. But its wealth is very unevenly spread, a Mint analysis based on a wide range of district level indicators of assets and amenities show.

As in the case of Uttar Pradesh, most of Maharashtra’s well-off districts are clustered in its western-most part, whereas most of the backward districts are located in the two other regions of the state: Marathwada and Vidarbha.

The state’s poorest districts in terms of ownership of household assets such as TVs or motorbikes are clustered in Vidarbha, the easternmost region of the state, and in Marathwada, the region between Vidarbha and western Maharashtra. The mean score of both regions are similar when it comes to the composite asset index. Western Maharashtra’s score is significantly higher. The findings do not change much if one excludes Mumbai and its suburbia from western Maharashtra, and Nagpur from Vidarbha. Vidarbha’s score on the asset index drops a shade below that of Marathwada but western Maharashtra’s score is still significantly above that of other regions even after excluding the outlier districts. In this analysis, districts of Konkan and Northern Maharashtra have been merged with those of western Maharashtra as they form a contiguous region on the west coast.

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 index 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.

When it comes to mean consumption expenditure, the rural-urban divide within each region is sharper than the differences between regions, data from the National Sample Survey Office (NSSO) shows. But in both rural and urban areas, average consumption expenditure in Marathwada and Vidarbha is lower than that in western Maharashtra.

The regional imbalance within Maharashtra has deep historical roots, and while there have been some efforts to address them, such efforts have not borne fruit so far. The first committee to address the issue of regional imbalances was set up in the mid-1980s in the wake of an agitation for a separate Vidarbha state led by Jambuwantrao Dhote. The committee led by the reputed economist V M Dandekar found that the state government spent much more on developmental activities (such as investments in power distribution networks) in western Maharashtra than in the other two regions of the state. It recommended special budgetary allocations to correct the under-spending in earlier years to remove the ‘backlog’ of developmental expenditure. A more recent committee led by the economist and former bureaucrat Vijay Kelkar has suggested that the focus of the government should shift from addressing such a ‘backlog’ to creating a minimum level of physical infrastructure in each region.

Despite institutionalizing mechanisms such as development boards for each region to deal with the backwardness of Vidarbha and Marathwada, Maharashtra’s actual record in addressing regional imbalances has been very poor so far. If the unified Maharashtra state is unable to commit towards greater public spending, and foster ways to encourage industries in Vidarbha, there is no reason for the region not to have its own state, according to the Kelkar committee report.

The land of fortune and farmer suicides: an interactive graphic

This is the second part of a five-part data journalism series on intra-state inequality in India. The first part examined the regional divide within UP.

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.

Close