India has embarked on a massive development push in 112 of the country’s poorest districts, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Friday, explaining his government’s efforts to boost growth in neglected regions to spur overall economic expansion.
Delivering the inaugural address at the Hindustan Times Leadership Summit in New Delhi on the theme Conversations For a Better Tomorrow, the prime minister said his government was developing these 112 districts, home to roughly 150 million people, as “aspirational districts”.
“Previous governments had left large parts of our country blank. These regions were the most backward on most parameters. But we are working on development and governance parameters…when their future improves, India’s future will improve,” he said. “We are not those who leave a page blank, we are writing a new chapter…we are taking the country from politics of promise to politics of performance,” he added.
The government has focused on three broad areas of improvement in these districts – health and education indices such as infant mortality rate and maternal mortality rate, banking and insurance cover, and infrastructure and electricity connectivity. “On all parameters, there is real-time monitoring,” said Modi.
Economists have for long expressed concern about economic disparity that has left large regions with low employment and incomes, depriving them of their share of the dividend from the nation’s growth.
Many such regions see regular cycles of disease outbreak, made worse by poor health infrastructure and no access to finance and insurance. Modi mentioned some of these districts in his speech: Mamit in Mizoram, Namsai in Arunachal Pradesh, Kiphire in Nagaland, Begusarai in Bihar, Gumla in Jharkhand and Bastar in Chhattisgarh and Kalahandi in Odisha.
But the prime minister signalled that his government was working in earnest to change that. The administration has deployed senior officials, Modi elaborated, who travel to these far-flung districts from Delhi two or three times every month. “They stay there and work with local teams to implement change through better strategies,” he added.
The PM said that despite these 112 districts lagging behind the rest of the country on almost all parameters, previous governments had never focused on these areas. “The least focus of the government was in these districts, they saw the least meetings of ministers and the weakest officers were deputed to these areas. In the race for development, these districts were left blank and to their own fate,” he said.
Elaborating on the importance of these regions, Modi said 150 million of India’s poorest people, primarily from the marginalised sections such as the scheduled castes and scheduled tribes,live there. “Do these people not have the right to the dream of a better tomorrow?”
He said hundreds of officials from the central government were on special duty on these districts to work and improve overall development parameters. “This is a guarantee for a better tomorrow. To improve India’s overall development parameters, the biggest push will come from these 112 aspirational districts,” he said.
The PM said that his government was determined to break free from the politics of promising freebies and sops before elections. “We believe in the country’s ability,” he said.
Modi also elaborated on the administration’s Rs 3.5 lakh crore Jal Jivan Mission, which he said will be undertaken with the same vigour as the Swachh Bharat Mission that was a flagship project of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government and saw India declared open-defecation free in October this year on Mahatma Gandhi’s birth anniversary.
Under the mission, the government is working to connect 150 million households to piped drinking water supply. “Our government is working as an enabler, promoter and facilitator…for anew India, we are doing permanent and performance-oriented work,” Modi said.