Need to double up efforts to set right the regional imbalance  

However, simply preparing reports or marking out the regions for disparity in development is of little use, unless the government makes sincere efforts to bridge those gaps.
Image used for representational purposes only. (Express Illustrations)
Image used for representational purposes only. (Express Illustrations)

BENGALURU: Infrastructure development in the Kalyan Karnataka region received a big push in the last decade or so. The quality of roads has improved. Kalaburgi and Bidar have airports, and Raichur may get one soon. Many districts in the region are well connected with the rail network. Educational institutions, especially in higher education, are on the rise.

Sadly, the positive story almost ends there. The development ‘visible’ to the world has not improved the quality of life in the region to the expected levels. Yadgir, Kalaburagi and Raichur are the bottom three districts as per the 2022 Human Development Index (HDI). The report prepared by the State Government looked at education, health, income generation and other parameters.  

The stark disparities in development among North and South Karnataka districts remain even 21 years after Prof DM Nanjundappa’s committee report was submitted and a decade after the region got special provision under Article 371 (J) of the Constitution. Over Rs 32,433 crore was spent as per the Nanjundappa committee recommendations to address the regional imbalance in Karnataka. Overall spending in the region was much higher, or at least that is what the government claims it to be.  

Now, the State Government has decided to appoint a high-powered committee headed by a noted economist to look into the implementation of Nanjundappa’s committee’s recommendations and the outcomes. The announcement made by Chief Minister Siddaramaiah on the last day of the winter session of the State Legislature in Belagavi is a welcome move as it may help understand the shortcomings.  

However, simply preparing reports or marking out the regions for disparity in development is of little use, unless the government makes sincere efforts to bridge those gaps. One need not have an in-depth understanding of economics to know that the occurrence of large-scale migration from a region is a strong indicator of a lack of development and employment opportunities. Every year, a large section of people from the Kalyan Karnataka region migrates to Bengaluru, Hyderabad -- which is much closer to the region -- and other bigger cities in search of employment.  

Noted economist Prof RS Deshpande says there is no proper planning and placement of the development initiatives. The development initiatives should get into the day-to-day lives of people. What is the use of airports, if a large section of people can’t afford air travel, questions Prof Deshpande.

That, however, doesn’t mean we don’t need airports, good roads or rail connectivity. These are essential to spur economic activities and draw investments. But there is no point in solely focusing on constructing buildings, organising big functions and not taking adequate measures that have any economic gains for the population. Allocating funds to the required sectors will help improve education, health, income generation, and other important human development parameters. There is an urgent need to have more employment-oriented industries, apart from existing cement factories.  

The incidence of poverty continues to remain high. As per the multi-dimensional poverty index of NITI Aayog and National Family Health Survey -4 (2015-16), nearly 42% of the Yadgir population was multi-dimensionally poor. It has reduced to 25.38% in NFHS-5 (2019-21).

The recent NFHS-5 report showed Kalyan Karnataka performing abysmally low in terms of nutrition levels. Raichur, for instance, reported stunted growth of 40% and anaemia of 74% among children below five years in 2020. It was 37% and 71% respectively in 2016.

The Kalyan Karnataka Development Board (KKRDB) that is tasked with the development of the region mostly focuses on building ‘hard’ infrastructure such as roads, bridges, community halls and mobility asset creation. While ‘soft infrastructure’ like the quality of school education, health facilities in rural areas and skill development training remain peripheral priorities. Only a small portion of funds was spent on ameliorating the human development index, while much was invested in building visible infrastructure.  
Many elected representatives will be keen on investing in roads and other infrastructure as that development will be visible and can be part of their report card when they go back to people seeking votes. Corruption and leakage of funds are also a concern.  

Those closely involved in administration in the region also question the manner of allocation of funds. In some cases, the allocations to schemes/works given to other regions under the general grants are repackaged in the Kalyan Karnataka region as special grants. This can hardly help bridge the gap between the backward and developed regions of the state.  

Education, health and livelihood should be the priority areas, MSMEs need to be encouraged and youth should be given entrepreneurship training, says Dr Chaya Degaonkar, former Dean and Professor of Economics at Gulbarga University. She suggests conducting a social audit of the development works taken up in the region.

Special status under 371(J) has helped local youth get admission to higher education institutions, but still, a lot needs to be done to provide skill development and employment opportunities. It is time for elected representatives from the region and top officials to do some introspection and double up their efforts to develop the region on par with the rest of the state.

Ramu Patil
Senior Associate Editor

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