Bornali Bhandari and Poonam Munjal
The Aspirational Districts Programme is doing a commendable job of pulling backward districts away from a low equilibrium state to a high one. Along with that, the Government of India (GoI) is also implementing several district-focused schemes, for example, developing districts as export hubs, One District One Product (ODOP) scheme, District Skill Development Plans (DSDPs) etc.
While these schemes may help map current strengths, all the districts need to have a vision for the future and plan for it in a holistic and integrated fashion.
Hence, there is an urgent need for all the districts to develop their own Perspective Plans. The GoI should develop a framework for such a plan and how to implement it, which will act as a guidance tool for all districts.
A perspective plan is a blueprint, a framework for long-run growth of 15-20 years. This will help determine districts’ growth strategy both in the medium to long run versus setting out detailed plans of achieving specific targets and help direct district-focused schemes based on evidence.
Within the ambit of a District Perspective Plan (DPP), the district should first utilise the available secondary data to understand where it has a current comparative advantage in goods & services and where advantages can be developed.
In an integrated fashion, the DPPs need to take into account all the districts’ advantages and disadvantages in various dimensions namely geographic, demographic, economic, ecological, social etc. Marrying growth strategies with spatial planning will help plan further for land use, urbanization, urban development, logistics, public transport, environment and energy etc.
The sustainable development goals could also be integrated with this. DSDPs can be further developed based on this. Computation of Domestic District Product, input-output models can come to the aid of districts in planning a green growth trajectory, along with the identification of sources of growth.
This kind of planning is practical and feasible. The National Council of Applied Economic Research (NCAER) has recently prepared District Development Plans (DDPs) for three districts of India – Ratnagiri & Sindhudurg in Maharashtra and Solan in Himachal Pradesh – for the Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade (DPIIT), Ministry of Commerce and Industry.
The DDPs were prepared following the DPIIT’s recommendation to follow a bottom-up approach, with districts as planning units, to work towards the government’s strategy of making India a USD 5 trillion economy by 2025.
This required undertaking an action-oriented policy research at the district level to enable districts to achieve an additional 2-3 per cent growth and the aforementioned districts were chosen as pilot districts.
The preparation of DDPs were phased into two parts. Phase I involved thorough desk research, secondary data analysis and developing an initial implementation plan based on stakeholder consultation with district administration and industries. Hence NCAER identified the potential economic activities/sectors for growth and the inherent limitations.
The second part of the study or Phase II was based on more rigorous consultation; visits to tehsils/blocks; and interactions with farmers/fishermen/businesses. The key implementable recommendations were proposed in this part of the study for the policy-makers to facilitate fast-track growth in the districts.
Apart from GI-tagged Alphonso mango, cashew was identified as an additional product with export potential from the Maharashtra districts of Ratnagiri and Sindhudurg under the ODOP.
Other than cashew, mango, there is international demand for other products like fish and crab. Therefore, the districts are proposed to be developed as export hubs so that the producers and traders could ship these products out directly from the districts, saving the transport cost to the nearest port in Mumbai, 300 km away from Ratnagiri.
For Solan, Asia’s largest pharmaceutical hub, a few amendments were proposed in the state’s industrial policy, based on consultations with the industry. Some of these amendments were made in the state’s New Industrial Policy-2019.
Further, given the availability of wild cannabis in abundance, its cultivation was proposed to be legalised, which was eventually allowed to be used for industrial and medicinal purposes by the State government.
In the second phase, NCAER provided hand-holding support to the district economic development units for implementing the suggested growth strategies and recommendations for course corrections.
In order to facilitate their easier implementation, the recommendations were converged with the existing central or state government sponsored schemes in the districts.
The concerned central or state government ministries were directed to examine the proposed recommendations and take them forward to achieve favorable and desired outcomes.
The DPPs can enhance state capacity and contribute to state-level growth & eventually all-India growth. It is imperative that the Government develops a holistic & integrated DPP framework for districts.
Bornali Bhandari and Poonam Munjal are Senior Fellows at NCAER. Views are personal. Additional comments by Dr Sanjib Pohit, Professor, NCAER
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