Source- Live Mint

The relatively fewer poor spread across hard-to-reach locations, provides a tough target for the state government

The Himalayan state of Uttarakhand, carved out of Uttar Pradesh in 2000, has been performing better in terms of growth and development than its parent state since inception. The state has capitalized on its strengths and growth has been at an average rate of 12% annually since 2004-05, while Uttar Pradesh has seen a much slower momentum at 7% per annum during the same period. Socially, Uttarakhand has always been a more advanced part of Uttar Pradesh; its literacy rate stood at 71.6% in 2001, much above its parent state’s 56.3% and higher than the national literacy rate of 64.8%. Census 2011 data show that the literacy rate has increased to 80%, a noteworthy achievement given the fact that most parts of the state are remote and difficult to access. When it comes to poverty as well, the state has done better than its parent state, with a poverty rate of merely 11% in 2011-12, compared with 29% in Uttar Pradesh. However, even though Uttarakhand has a huge potential for development—rich natural resources, flourishing forest goods-based industries and increasing revenue from tourism—like the other parts of India, some pockets have benefited much more than the others in the state. Our spatial analysis suggests that the bulk of the economic activities are concentrated in only one quarter of the state. Ninety per cent of Uttarakhand comprises hilly areas and, therefore, presents daunting challenges for both agriculture and industrial growth. Indicus research on spatial data analysis shows a high concentration of poverty near areas covered with snow and glacier. Difficulties of communication, transportation and the sparseness of population discourage economic activity in these areas.Poor infrastructure in the hills is naturally an important contributory factor behind the high poverty levels in some of the hilly areas of the state. Spatial data shows fewer educational institutions, hospitals, etc., in the high-poverty concentration zones. Consequently, out-migration from Uttarakhand is one of the highest in the country. It has also been cited by researchers that almost every household in the villages of Garhwal district has at least one family member leaving the state in search of work. Further, economic growth is not always successful in alleviating poverty. Two districts of Uttarakhand bear this out—Udham Singh Nagar and Hardwar. Udham Singh Nagar is one of the agriculturally rich districts and is known for its synchronized pattern of agriculture and irrigation. Similarly, Hardwar being one of the important pilgrimage destinations, has been generating revenue for years through tourism. However, despite high-earning potential, poverty is very high in this part of the state. The reason for this lies in the state’s highly lopsided regional development. It is the dearth of job opportunities in the neighbouring areas that pushes people to settle in the regions with higher economic opportunities. Indicus research suggests the average size of land holding also as one of the significant correlates of poverty. The average size of land-holding among the rural households in the hilly districts is low compared with that of the districts in the plains. More than one-tenth of the land holdings in the hill districts are less than 0.25 hectare (ha) size, another half of the land holdings are between 0.25-5 ha sizes. Also, productivity of land is generally low in the hilly areas. This makes the condition of agricultural workers in the hilly areas worse than that in the plains. Building a skilled workforce through proper education is known to be one of the key weapons of reducing poverty. In fact, global experience shows that education of women has played a significant role in building a better qualified next generation of youth, and Uttarakhand is no exception. Another most important correlate of poverty is the absence of proper sanitation facilities, suggesting that the latest policy direction to prioritize areas with low sanitation coverage can also result in greater pro-poor benefits. The critical problem of Uttarakhand is, however, that of highly spread poverty. The relatively (compared with UP) fewer poor spread across hard-to-reach locations, provides a tough target for the state government. However, there are two districts which account for the bulk of the poor in Uttarakhand. At the north-western end of the state is the mountainous Uttarkashi and towards the southeast is Udham Singh Nagar. A concentrated effort in these two districts could wipe out half the poor in the state, leaving the rest of the state for a more organic sustainable growth approach. Our concept of spatial poverty that can be identified and measured via remote sensing allows us a far greater set of policy insights as it allows relating poverty to the environment that gives rise to and sustains it.