A look at backwardness
Gopal Krishan

Addressing Regional Backwardness: An Analysis of Area Development Programmes in India
by Krishna Mohan; Manak Publications, New Delhi, 2005.
Pages 310. Price Rs.400/-.

It is difficult to believe that ‘India is a rich country with poor people’
It is difficult to believe that ‘India is a rich country with poor people’

FACTS are startling. The book testifies. Barring some industrial-urban concentrations scattered in general and the green revolution pockets of Punjab, Haryana, Western Uttar Pradesh and deltaic tracts of the peninsular India, virtually the whole of India has been covered by one or more of the seven backward area programmes analysed in the book under review. The spatial coverage of these programmes spreads over no less than 90 per cent of the districts and 80 per cent of the geographical area of the country. Such a revelation makes it difficult to believe that ‘India is a rich country with poor people’. Backwardness is pervasive and officially stamped. This is the state of affairs to which the book addresses itself.

A backward area is the one where both ‘place’ and ‘people’ backwardness gets interwoven and calls for an integrated approach for its amelioration. An essential condition is that such an area should have potential and propensity for development. Ecological, social or strategic sensitivity is its hallmark, as represented by hilly topography, tribal setting or border location, respectively.

Introducing theoretical underpinnings and providing illustrations of the backward area programmes in both international and national contexts, the book lays down their comparative genesis and salient features.

Addressing Regional Backwardness: An Analysis of Area Development Programmes in IndiaDuring the last century, the former Soviet Union can be credited for recognising the issue of regional disparity and working towards its reduction through the territorial production complexes right since the beginning of its planning era in 1928. In the United Kingdom, backward regions were identified and designated as depressed, or developmental or special areas. The United States had its Appalachian Region to care for and rejuvenate. Italy had to undertake the task of bridging the gap between its developed north and underdeveloped south.

In India, though the concern for uplift of backward areas, especially the tribal ones, finds a place in the very First Plan (1951-56) yet the shift from the exclusive ‘target group’ approach to ‘target area’ thrust had to wait till the Fourth Plan (1969-74). The Plan witnessed the launching of the industrially backward area, drought-prone area and North East Region programmes. The process went apace with the spatial extension of the existing programmes as well as the inclusion of the new ones. The Rashtriya Sam Vikas Yojana initiated during the Tenth Plan (2002-07) is the latest in the series.

The industrially backward area, drought-prone area, desert area, tribal area, hill area, border area, and North-East Region are the seven programmes subjected to analyses in the book.

Backward-area programmes display a variation in their specific objective, areal coverage, and financial outlay. Hill-area programme is geared toward ecological regeneration, industrially backward area programme toward reduction in regional disparity and tribal area programme toward social advancement of peripheral communities. In terms of spatial spread, industrially backward area programme accounted for 70 per cent of the country’s geographical area while the border area programme covers only 4 per cent. During 1969-97, that is from the Fourth to the Eighth Plan, Rs 129 billion was outlayed for the backward-area programmes. Hill-area programme partook one-fourth of this amount, tribal area one-fifth and drought prone area one-sixth. The remaining outlay was spread over other programmes.

It is around the nuclei of such fascinating facts that the book deals incisively with the various parameters of different programmes. Essentially, it is a critique of the considerations involved, criteria adopted, target areas delineated, institutional framework raised, and finances outlayed to implement a variety of schemes. The discussion follows an evolutionary approach in respect of each programme and offers its critique.

Assessment of the overall impact of the programmes is also on the agenda of the book. The findings are on positive lines. A narrowing down of the gap between the backward and relatively developed districts in the country is underlined. The disparity within the backward districts as a group is also decreasing. State intervention seems to have paid its dividends.

Backward-Area Development Programmes cannot be abbreviated as BAD programmes, as some cynics would like to do. Notwithstanding some of their infirmities, especially in identification of target areas, these programmes do represent some success in addressing regional backwardness. Things, of course, would have been better if the bureaucracy were better trained in administration of development, desired participation of the local populations could be ensured and data base of the target areas were adequate.

The book is unique in many respects. Marked by rigour of analysis and freedom from ideological bias, the book is a veritable source of information and ideas. Ploughing through an enormous list of official documents, the author sifts chaff from the grain.

The reviewer is not aware of any other book, which provides analysis-synthesis of various backward-area programmes under one cover. Several maps and tables render strength to the text. By maintaining a consistent spatial perspective, the young author has made a commendable contribution to the Geography of Public Policy.

The book makes for a stimulating read and assumes the character of a reference book. It has messages, which are salient enough not to be missed by any one interested in the question of addressing and redressing regional backwardness.