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A recent report by the State Planning Commission of the Government of Tamil Nadu, titled “Regional Growth Pattern In Tamil Nadu” has revealed huge imbalances in growth between districts — the northern and western districts are doing significantly better than the eastern and southern ones — indicating that the Dravidian model of development has not brought equitable growth to all, as claimed.

One of the objectives of the state planning commissions is to undertake research studies to analyse growth and development using data and information, to make recommendations for public policy changes that are required for reducing regional imbalances among regions and communities. Any attempt to study regional disparities should cover social, economic, environmental as well as developmental status comprehensively.

Instead of carrying out an analysis of the entire spectrum of socio-economic parameters, the current report takes into account only a few economic parameters such as Gross District Domestic Product (GDDP) — the total goods and services produced by a district in a year — and the population and per capita income of the district. It has left out social and developmental indices, failing which there can be no meaningful planning done to correct the regional imbalances. All the same, the report does offer a way to correct the imbalances.

Covering the periods 1993-1996, 2004-2007 and 2017-2020, the report says that “the analysis of the GDDP of districts in Tamil Nadu over a period of nearly three decades, indicates that the distribution of spatial and sectoral growth in Tamil Nadu is skewed and the skewness is increasing.” This counters the political claim that the Dravidian model of development has benefited all sections of the society and regions across the districts.

The analysis of the GDDP of districts in Tamil Nadu over a period of nearly three decades, indicates that the distribution of spatial and sectoral growth in Tamil Nadu is skewed and the skewness is increasing

Tamil Nadu is the most urbanised state in the country but the urbanisation within the state is skewed. There has been fast industrialisation in and around Chennai as well as the western districts which have had historical growth in both agriculture and industries. A simple glance at the mapping of the state divided into four zones by level of per capita income clearly shows that northern and western districts dominate with higher per capita incomes compared to southern and eastern districts, which are backward.

The northern districts hold 31.8% of the population and contribute 36.6% to the state economy, the western districts have 22.8% population and contribute 29.6% to the economy, whereas the southern districts have 20.5% of the state population and contribute 18.8% to the economy and the less developed eastern districts have 25.5% population and contribute 15.1% of the economy.

Also Read: ‘Dravidian Model far from perfect’

It follows that the eastern and southern districts are less prosperous by 58% and 79% respectively compared to the northern districts and by 56% and 77% respectively compared to the western districts. These huge disparities that have been around for decades — as has the Dravidian model of development — and naturally also show up in the other factors such as access to toilets, safe drinking water, and access to electricity, studies have pointed out.

A detailed study by economists like R J Chelliah and K R Shanmugam that analysed the inter-district disparities in Tamil Nadu using cross-section data on per capita income, education and health, and other indicators, also come to the same conclusions. The report found that “there are considerable inequalities in income and disparities in levels of human development among the districts in Tamil Nadu, which are indeed a cause for considerable concern”.

They conclude that “significant disparities exist among the districts. It is also seen that the poor districts are associated with low human development, low industrial development, low agricultural (rice) productivity, and high proportion of SC/ST population”. This too seems to bust the myth created by Dravidian parties that the Dravidian model has brought development across all communities and regions.

The pattern of development shows that successive Dravidian state governments that followed the so-called Dravidian model concentrated their development efforts on only a few pockets in the northern and western districts of the state, neglecting the east and southern districts for many decades

The report also highlights the fact that over the last three decades, the disparities have only deepened: “in a reasonably broad spectrum of seven-district quartiles, the relative positions of districts have not changed significantly between the spectrums in these 27 years.”

Moreover, “as for the change in percentage points in the relative share of each district between 1993-97 and 2017-20, we find only seven out 29 districts have more than one percentage point difference in the relative share of their GDDPs over the 27 years. That is, over 27 years, the relative shares of most of the districts have almost remained the same or the change has been less than one percentage point. Thus, it appears, the regional structure of Tamil Nadu economy in terms of relative size of district economies has not changed for nearly three decades.”

Also Read: Why the Dravidian model can’t be quickly scaled up to defeat BJP nationally

Successive governments in the state seem to have failed to tap into the natural resources and human capital of certain districts in a manner that would bring out their potential and opportunities to grow and develop. The report rightly points out that “instead of creating a district-wise incentive system, we need to create a zonal approach to infrastructure development and installation of industrial ecosystems cutting across a group of contiguous districts. Therefore, creating suitable ecosystems for different sectors in districts should help spread economic activities across districts that are contiguous and can be classified as a zone.”

It is hoped that the policymakers in the government listen to their own experts who have used data analysis to come up with a plan to bridge the gaps among the districts in the state and to bring equitable growth to all of them, instead of continuing to tout a Dravidian model that clearly has not worked on the basis of equity.

(The author is an economist and public policy expert)

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