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Chapter # 35. Balanced Regional Development: Transforming Aspirational Districts


Balanced Regional Development: Transforming Aspirational Districts

  • Achieve balanced development in India by uplifting 115 districts, currently below the national average in the areas of health and nutrition, education, agriculture and water resources, financial inclusion and skill development, and basic infrastructure.

Current Situation

The Aspirational Districts Programme (ADP) was launched on January 5, 2018, by the Honourable Prime Minister. Under phase-1 of ADP, 115 districts were identified based on the level of human development, physical infrastructure, threat of left wing extremism (LWE) and the views of state governments. Over 15 per cent of India’s population lives in these districts.

A list of 49 target indicators has been developed by NITI Aayog.  Transforming Aspirational Districts will be regularly monitored for promoting improvements in health and nutrition, education, agriculture and water resources, financial inclusion and skill development, and basic infrastructure.

In April 2018, NITI Aayog issued a ranking of these districts according to baseline data collated from secondary sources on these selected indicators. According to this, the top five districts are Vizianagaram (Andhra Pradesh), Rajnandgaon (Chhattisgarh), Osmanabad (Maharashtra), Cuddapah (Andhra Pradesh), and Ramanathapuram (Tamil Nadu) with a score ranging from 46.78 per cent to 48.13 per cent.

The bottom five districts are Shrawasti (Uttar Pradesh), Kiphire (Nagaland), Singrauli (Madhya Pradesh), Asifabad (Telangana) and Mewat (Haryana) with a score ranging from 26.02 per cent to 28.13 per cent.

Despite economic progress in the country, if these places have remained underdeveloped, it is because they suffer from a host of contributing factors. Relatively poorer endowment of physical resources, lack of infrastructure, poor social capital, low standards of health, nutrition, education and skill, poor governance and above all, inhabitants demotivated due to years of poverty and deprivation can be cited as major contributory factors.


The constraints impeding the development of these districts are institutional; aggregating assistance from different sources and applying the principle of convergence indicates that paucity of funds is unlikely to be a major issue.

  • Governance challenges:
  • Governance inadequacy hampers the effective implementation of government schemes.
  • The institutional framework has been fragmented because of the multiplicity of implementing agencies and schemes.
  • There is no accountability on the part of either the government or district administrations.
  • Non-availability of periodical data makes it difficult to track progress and implement evidence-based policymaking.
  • There is lack of social awareness and community participation in development programmes.
  • There is lack of competitiveness among districts to improve developmental performance.

Way Forward

The ADP aims to address governance issues by using a combination of approaches: lifting levels of aspirations through a vision and district plan, adequate institutional arrangements, convergence in all stakeholders’ efforts and above all, ranking-based public competition among the districts by setting up a real-time monitoring mechanism.

  1. Create a positive narrative of development by making development a mass movement

Referring to these districts as ‘aspirational’ rather than ‘backward’ highlights the programme’s recognition that people are the most valuable resource to improve a district’s performance. Changes in people’s mind-sets and attitudes are critical to achieve progress.

As a strategy, district officials will draw up a vision and action plan for their districts spanning the period 2018-19 to 2022-23. Officials will engage the public in formulating these plans.

Each action plan should be based on a SWOT analysis. To facilitate the preparation of such plans, NITI Aayog has already shared a broad common framework with all district administrations.

Setting off a virtuous cycle of growth in aspirational districts requires that people from all walks of life – especially those who have a track record of effecting change despite existing challenges – come together.

The scheme’s design encourages states and district administrations to give a lead role to such champions of change to turn this initiative into a mass movement.

  1. Use data to inform decision-making and spur competition among districts

Composite Index and Data: Across the selected dimensions, NITI Aayog has identified 49 key performance indicators (KPIs) with 81 data points. Extensive consultation with central ministries and knowledge partners informed the selection of these KPIs. An online dashboard allows for the tracking and display of district-level data on a real-time basis.

A key policy question is how to prioritize among different indicators across sectors. The ADP assigns different weights to the indicators, informed by a policy focus on social sectors. Health and nutrition, and education have been given the highest weightage and cumulatively, they account for 21 of the 49 indicators. It indicates the weights assigned to each of the core dimensions.

Rankings: Ranking districts based on performance relative to their baseline highlights the progress made by a district. Making these rankings and the underlying data available in the public domain will help boost competition between districts.

  1. Converge initiatives across all levels of government

The ADP aims to ensure convergence between different government schemes while also seeking complementarity between public initiatives and private efforts of households (for example, choosing to attend a course on skill development).

To achieve this, the action plan prepared by the district collectors of aspirational districts will identify the thrust activity, map existing schemes and their respective implementation agencies and set targets for rapid improvement. activity identified, such as the prevention of stunting, there would be many schemes addressing the issue, which in turn would have different implementing agencies. The ADP will bring together these efforts.

  1. Promote federalism and put in place institutional mechanisms to ensure teamwork between the central, state and district administration

Harnessing and creating synergies among the efforts of different stakeholders is the backbone of the ADP. While states are the main drivers and district magistrates/collectors are the fulcrum of the programme, a major innovation here is the emphasis on team formation.

Senior Government of India officials of the rank of Joint Secretary/Additional Secretary have been appointed as ‘guardians’ (‘prabharis’) for a district. Their role is to act as a bridge between the central and state governments.

Set up Empowered Committees of Secretaries of Government of India to supervise and troubleshoot. At the centre, committees have been constituted including the Secretaries of key ministries/departments that are implementing schemes in the social sector. Their mandate is to fine-tune existing programmes and improve their impact.

  1. Partner with expert organizations with demonstrated technical competence

While data-based objective ranking and competition among districts are major elements of the ADP’s strategy, another core component is bringing in technical expertise through public private partnerships. The approach here is to involve all, including philanthropies, the private sector under the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) framework and civil societies, in implementing the ADP.

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