Nagrik Dialogue

Deep Dive-A JOURNEY THROUGH POCKETS OF BACKWARDNESS

The district has made rapid progress in all indi­cators particularly health. Congrats,” tweeted Amitabh Kant, Chief Executive Officer of Niti Aayog, after a recent visit to Kupwara district of Jammu and Kashmir. “It is wonderful to see electricity reaching every single household after 71 years of independence.”

Kant was on an extensive tour of Kupwara and other north Kashmir districts to personally take stock of the progress made under various developmental indicators under the Aspirational Districts Programme launched by Prime Minister, Narendra Modi.

The Pashmina Kani Shawl Weaving Center at Wadipora in Kupwara was among the sites included in the visit. “It’s a rare weaving heritage of Kashmir where gorgeous patterns/motifs are woven into Pashmina shawls. A group of four women take months to weave one shawl,” the Niti AAyog CEO found his visit truly unique!”

Pashmina, which became Kashmir’s first global introduction, is now facing the death-knell fate of the Kashmiri silk. It needs a complete makeover and new approach to salvage its glory.

So does Kupwara, a district on India’s border with Pakistan plagued by militancy. It was at the bottom of the list when the Niti Aayog ranked most backward districts of the country on the basis of 49 indicators across five sectors that include health and nutrition, education, agriculture and water resources, financial inclusion and skill development and basic infrastructure. The indicators reflect the aims and objectives of the Sustainable Development Goal prescribed by the United Nations for 2030.

During the last couple of months, the government’s newly crafted Aspirational Districts programme with a focus on 117 districts — out of a total of 712 in the country — has resulted in a flurry of social and infrastructure activities in some of the most backward pockets.

The scheme is gaining momentum as wherever Prime Minister Narendra Modi travels, he makes it a point to meet district mag­istrates of the nearby aspirational districts, exerting pressure on local authorities to perform. The ‘Transformation of Aspirational Districts’ Programme aims to expeditiously improve the socio-economic status of 117 districts from across 28 states.

The three core principles of the programme are – Convergence (of Central & State Schemes), Collaboration (among citizens and functionaries of Central & State Governments including district teams), and Competition among districts. Driven primarily by the States, this initiative focuses on the strengths of each district, and prioritizes the attainable outcomes for immediate improvement.

The programme focuses on 5 main themes – Health & Nutrition, Education, Agriculture & Water Resources, Financial Inclusion & Skill Development, and Basic Infrastructure, which have direct bearing on the quality of life and economic productivity of citizens. A key feature of the Niti Ayog’s campaign is involvement of all the stakeholders—the state governments, the district administra­tion and the civil society and the private sector.

“These 117 districts are determined to change the destiny of India within next 3 years. And if they transform, then India will transform itself rapidly as you will get an incremental growth of about 1-1.5 per cent because these districts will become the key drivers of growth,” Amitabh Kant said at the event organised by Indo-US Chamber of Commerce here.

“We need a huge amount of investment from the private sector. It is not possible for the government alone to bring the change. We need a great partnership between the government and private sector and only this will drive us to sustainable development,” he added.

The Aspirational Districts Programme is a product of collec­tive effort in which States are the main drivers. At Government of India level, programme is anchored by NITI Aayog. In addi­tion, individual Ministries have assumed responsibility to drive progress of districts.

An Empowered Committee under the convener-ship of CEO, NITI Aayog has been notified to ensure convergence in schemes and address specific issues brought out by Prabhari officers. States have been requested to form a committee under Chief Secretary to implement the programme. States have also nominated nodal officers and also State level Prabhari officers.

The core strategy is to make development as a mass movement in these districts, identify low hanging fruits and the strength of each district, to act as a catalyst for development, measure progress and rank districts to spur a sense of competition and inspire the most backward districts to become state’s best and then the nation’s best. There is enough evidence on the ground to show that the results are encouraging.

“The schemes for backward areas had existed even earlier, but there is a sense of urgency now. In Bijapur, for example, seven new bank branches were set up in April, taking the total number of branches in the district to 24. Then, in the last three months, we built 115 km of new roads under under the Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana,” says Ayyaj Tamboli, district magistrate of Chhattisgarh’s Naxal-affected Bijapur district.

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