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Posted at: Mar 21, 2017, 12:43 AM; last updated: Mar 21, 2017, 12:43 AM (IST)

UP needs economic push

Sushma Ramachandran
Yogi Adityanath must put development before Hindutva agenda
UP needs economic push
Buck up: The state’s growth has always remained lower than the national average.
THERE has been much jubilation within the NDA over the landslide victory in Uttar Pradesh. But the time has now come to begin the hard work of meeting the expectations of voters to achieve better living standards. With Yogi Adityanath as the new Chief Minister, the concern now is that voters have sought development but the new regime may put Hindutva as a priority. Despite these worries, one can only hope that there is a concerted effort to meet the hopes and aspirations of the young voters who are looking forward to the creation of more jobs instead of having to migrate to other regions. The big question is, can the people of UP be given an improvement in their economic status to put them on par with other more affluent states in the country?

Judging by the history of the state, one would have to say that the prospects are bleak for UP to achieve high economic growth. The politics of identity, caste and religion have so overwhelmed the mindset of past governments that all economic policies have been skewed to meet the needs of specific groups and communities. 

Currently, UP is the third largest economy in the country, after Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu. The number of people below the poverty line were estimated at roughly 30 per cent of the total population in 2011-12 going by the Tendulkar formula while the Rangarajan committee pegged it at nearly 40 per cent. There is no doubt that the state’s economic growth was fastest at 7 per cent when Mayawati was Chief Minister. Subsequently, growth slowed to 3.9 per cent when Akhilesh Yadav took over. It improved to about 6.1 per cent by 2014-15. This is much lower than that of surrounding states. Madhya Pradesh at the time grew by 6.8 per cent, Chhattisgarh by 7.9 per cent, Haryana by 8 per cent, Jharkhand by 11 per cent and Bihar by 15.6 per cent. These figures are reflective not just of a slowdown during the regime of the Samajwadi Party, but also the fact that the state’s growth has nearly always remained lower than the national average. An interesting fact is that UP also has one of the highest remittances into the state along with Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Punjab, indicating the need for people to migrate to other parts of the country or abroad to eke their livelihood. Another fascinating nugget of information is that it is way down at 31 in per capita income and equally low at 29 in literacy levels in the country.

In other words, the new state government has a gigantic task ahead of it. But it is by no means impossible.  The infrastructure in the state has to be improved significantly even though the Akhilesh Yadav government did take some steps in this direction. Critics of his performance say the creation of the Yamuna expressway was meant to be a visible indicator of growth and thus influence voters. But reports indicate that apparently there was a genuine effort to upgrade roads and highways which are critical to industrial linkages. The complaint is that these have not been laid between industrial clusters and have been instead located in areas of high visibility.

As far as agriculture is concerned, the state’s performance has been lagging behind despite good rainfall in recent years owing to uneven distribution. Clearly, the lack of widespread irrigation facilities continues to be a problem even though western UP has always been one of the granaries of the country. The SP government tried to provide palliatives to farmers but the need of the hour is policies that have a long-term impact rather than doles or freebies that provide succor in the short run.

Industrial growth has been the big weakness in the state. While all other states have been vying for both domestic and foreign investments, UP has been letting opportunities pass it by. If the new dispensation is dynamic, it will try and move towards an investor-friendly manufacturing regime that could benefit from the availability of cheap skilled labour in the state and lure new industries to set up shop.

One major area that has been neglected is the wealth of handloom and handicrafts industries in the state, especially in cities like Varanasi. The traditional weavers and artisans are moving on to more lucrative professions as these age-old crafts are not yielding enough revenue to earn even a basic livelihood. Many Central government schemes in the past have been launched to modernise these sectors but nothing has managed to really vitalise these small units. It is high time that politicians stop paying lip service to the voters in these regions and evolve carefully structured  packages of incentives to revive these traditional employment-oriented industries.

Regional variations of economic development also need to be addressed in the state. It has always been a truism that western UP is relatively more affluent as compared to the more poverty-stricken eastern region. This uneven development needs to be addressed urgently. Apart from more robust agriculture, even industries and manufacturing hubs tend to be in the western region. The longstanding neglect of a critical region needs to end immediately. 

The fate of UP is somewhat like that of India after coming under colonial rule. A rich state at the time of independence has now become a poor one. The lack of interest in economic development by the leadership of all parties which have at some time or another been at the helm here is responsible for the decline and fall of the most populous state in the country. It has turned into one of the so-called BIMARU states that are the weakest in economic terms in the country. Yet politically, it remains a key state with all parties vying to grab hold of it. It is now time for it to become equally important in economic status to ensure that the people of the state have a standard of living that matches the rest of the country. Yogi Adityanath has a huge task ahead of him. One can only hope that he and his team eschew the path of divisiveness and knuckle down to the hard  work of building the economy.

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