How Assam is leading the way for economic transformation

Responding to the PM’s call, this state has delegated its powers to the districts, reinforcing the idea of bringing the districts at the centre of development process

Ashish Kumar and Rishi Jain | February 9, 2024


#economy   #district   #Planning   #Assam   #policy  
Assam chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma speaks after the signing of an MoU between Govt. of Assam and Pahle India Foundation on estimation of district domestic product on June 28, 2023.
Assam chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma speaks after the signing of an MoU between Govt. of Assam and Pahle India Foundation on estimation of district domestic product on June 28, 2023.

The idea of decentralized planning, particularly in the Indian context, has been a recurring theme for decades. Despite its acknowledged importance, the implementation of decentralized planning has faced a number of challenges. These include issues such as devolution of powers, transfer of resources, and ad-hoc decision-making. Despite ongoing efforts, the journey towards effective decentralized planning has been achieved with limited success.

With this backdrop, the prime minister’s attempt at district-led development comes as a clarion call for the states to act upon it. The emphasis is on making districts the fulcrum of economic growth, ultimately translating into the multifaceted development of the state. This entails transferring authority to the district level and entrusting the district administration the responsibility for fostering multi-dimensional development in all parts of the district.This means giving greater autonomy to the districts in planning and implementation of the activities which are driven by the needs and requirements of the people in the district in collaboration and support from the state and central governments.

Responding to the PM’s call, the Government of Assam has delegated its powers to the districts, reinforcing the idea of bringing the districts at the centre of development process. By empowering deputy and additional deputy commissioners (DCs and ADCs) to act as catalysts for economic development, focusing on specific areas – infrastructure, revenue, agriculture and allied activities, industries and investment, and social sector – the state has taken a leading role in changing the current landscape.

Monitoring of change is crucial to understand the effectiveness of the change which can be achieved through analysis of the comparative performance of a district over years and also in comparison to other districts. This entails the regular compilation of relevant and comprehensive economic indicators foreach of the districts. Oneof the most comprehensive indicators in use is the district domestic product (DDP). DDP, if computed properly, has the potential to capture the sectoral economic development and can help gauge strengths and weaknesses during the process of development.

However, the current practice of estimating DDP by apportioning national and state-level aggregates to district level using some indicators does not capture the intricacies of the economic realities of the district. Therefore, there is a need to develop a methodology which allows computation of DDP using a bottom-up approach than just remaining as top-down as is being done presently. For instance, out of the total Gross Value Added (GVA) of 3.75 lakh crore (2021-22) for Assam, the primary, secondary, and tertiary sectors contribute about 24%, 31%, and 45%, respectively.

Further statistics suggest that these sectors have grown at a rate of 13.33%, 9.29%, and 9.70%, respectively. This macro-level outlook, however, overlooks district nuances highlighting the crucial need for district-specific estimates. For example, the state is the largest tea producer in India and accounts for about one-seventh of global tea production. It is also considered one of the big players in natural gas. However, not all districts would be engaged in producing tea and natural gas. Therefore, there is a need for DDP.

The Assam government’s bold initiative of computing the DDP estimates from a bottom-up approach is a step in right direction. The move is laudable, as it ensures robust estimates highlighting the inherent capacity of each district. This will also help in identifying the potential strength of each district and can help in choosing the thrust sectors/areas for preparing a ‘District Vision Document’ with targeted interventions. The move can further translate into policy actions, for instance, linking the thrust areas with initiatives like ‘One District One Product’ (ODOP), enabling districts to add more products/services to their current basket of just one good, to say, two-three products (ranked accordingly). Also, making districts the economic growth centre would help focusing onmost efficient and economically effective goods and services, which would not only meet domestic demand of the country but would also helppropel the state’s exports.

As a further stepin recognising the importance of districts in shaping their growth, the Assam government has also launched the Most Outstanding District Initiative (MODI), augmenting the growth process. The initiative includes a prize of Rs 100 crore for the best-performing district, taking the best measure(s) for solid waste management, sanitation, and clean drinking water. This would instill a competitive spirit among districtswhile ensuring the best possible environmental outcome for the people of Assam. The initiative is a welcome move as it wouldencourage competition amongst districts and hence achieving holistic environment friendly development.

What does this mean for other states? By leading from the front, Assam has set an example for others, showing that tapping the endowments with the right intent and a consistent approach can augment a state’s capacities by simply leveraging and empowering the existing machinery. DDP computation, though time taking, is the most effective means to help in focusing on specific sectors and empowering districts in bringing much desired economic growth and development at a faster pace.

The steps taken by Assam to achieve faster growth through this scientific and focused approach would be a lesson for other states. In a country with more than 750 districts, identifying critical strengths for each district requires persistent efforts at all levels and can beachieved in a medium term with benefits of the growth flowing to the citizens. The concentrated efforts can speed up the process, significantly contributing to India’s journey to becoming a developed nation as it heads towards its independence centenary.  

Ashish Kumar is former director general, ministry of statistics & programme implementation, and Distinguished Fellow, Pahle India Foundation. Rishi Jain is research associate, Pahle India Foundation.

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