A lot of heat was generated in the Sen vs. Bhagwati debate that took place a few months ago, along with some rays of light. The same followed after the release of the latest poverty numbers. Here’s a look at how Indian states have fared in both economic growth and poverty reduction between 2004-05 and 2011-12.
Gross Domestic Products are the most common estimates of economic growth. GDPs of Indian states (called “GSDP”) matter, but bigger states obviously have larger GDPs. To compare states, one needs to look at GDP per person (“per capita” for those who like to use Latin). It should be noted that GDP per person is different from the average or median income.
In the 2000s, states raced against each other on per capita GDP. While almost all states grew well, not all of them could keep pace with others close to them. The chart below shows you how state rankings have changed between 2004-05 and 2011-12.
Between 2004-05 and 2009-10, the biggest relative gains were made by Sikkim and Uttarakhand, with Punjab, Arunachal Pradesh, Jammu & Kashmir
and Karnataka losing significant ground.
If the same chart is made for how states have fared on poverty reduction, a different picture emerges. States have been ordered below based on the percentage of population in the state that lives below the poverty line.
There appears to be a lot more dynamism in poverty reduction, perhaps because there are several states that are much closer to each other. Between 2004-05 and 2009-10, the biggest relative gains in poverty reduction relative to each other were made by the states of Andhra Pradesh, Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Himachal Pradesh and Orissa. While no state’s poverty headcount increased in this time period, the relative underperformers were Assam, Delhi, Jammu & Kashmir, Jharkhand and Karnataka.
Note that the states of Arunachal Pradesh, Goa, Manipur, Mizoram, Nagaland, Sikkim, Puducherry and Tripura were removed from this list as their 2004-05 poverty numbers were based on poverty lines of other states (like Assam and Maharashtra) and hence the numbers are no comparable to the 2011-12 numbers. Some news stories and opinion pieces had erroneously talked about how several northeastern states had worsened in poverty. Such observations are sadly mistaken.
The two charts from earlier tell us only about relative performance of states – using their closest competitors as benchmarks. However, absolute performance on growth and poverty reduction matter just as much, if not more. The next few graphs examine just that: examining the growth in GSDP per person, and reduction on poverty in percentage points between the years 2004-05 and 2011-12.
The above graph shows a clear correlation between economic growth and poverty reduction.Higher the growth, higher is the poverty reduction observed. The only major outlier to this is the National Capital Territory of Delhi – which is so because Delhi started with a low poverty rate of 13.1 percent in 2004-05. The graph also clearly shows that the high poverty reduction, high growth state of Uttarakhand is far removed from all the other states.
On Uttarakhand, many are quick to jump to the conclusion that this high “reckless” growth caused the disaster earlier this year. What we can conclude from data is that Uttarakhand grew exceptionally well in the past decade and reduced poverty equally rapidly, but failed to reduce any vulnerability it had to natural disasters. Had an event like the Kedarnath disaster happened a decade ago, there would be a lot fewer residents, tourists and property to be affected as greatly.
The next two graphs look at comparable groups of states: large, higher income states and lower income states of India.
When both growth and poverty reduction are looked at in concert, Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh come off as the best perfomers, well above the national average on both parameters. It is also noteworthy that while Gujarat grew faster than Maharashtra in terms of its GSDP during the 7 year period under consideration, Maharashtra did slightly better on a per person basis.
Following on the previous charts, Punjab and Karnataka’s poor performance comes as no surprise. Karnataka grew quickly in the early 2000s with the IT boom, and hasn’t quite been the same since. Punjab’s agrarian prosperity also seems to have peaked, with insufficient dynamism in services or manufacturing sectors to sustain high growth.
Odisha had the highest rate of poverty reduction in India of all states, and is among the top performers alongside Bihar, Rajasthan and MP among the lower income states. Chattisgarh grew well, but failed to reduce poverty as much as the other lower income states, and Jharkhand did poorly on both fronts.
Economic growth is clearly necessary but not sufficient for poverty reduction. Our conversations on economic growth have to evolve from “Growth or Something else” to “Growth AND Something More“. What can be observed over each of the last three charts is the absence of states on the “Low Growth, High Poverty Reduction” quadrant. Evidently, there are many states who grew well, but failed to provide sufficient public goods for significant poverty reduction. However there are no states that managed to reduce poverty to a great extent without strong economic growth during the mid 2000s. What has been well known in economist circles is confirmed again for Indian states.
Between 2004-05 and 2011-12, the Indian economy grew at an average rate of about 8.5 percent (CAGR, Compound Annual Growth Rate), and thus at 6.7 percent per person. Indian states were spread around this number. In 2013 the growth rates have fallen to about 5 percent nationally – and there are no signs of going back to an 8 percent growth rate in the near future. It is not difficult to imagine how abysmal poverty reduction will be over the next few years. We may end up failing another generation of India’s poor.
Postscript. There are some caveats to keep in mind, while interpreting the performance of individual states. First, while poverty reduction and growth are compared across the same time period, there can be a lag between the two. New wealth generated can take time to percolate through the economy. Second, GSDP numbers are generated by state economics and statistics departments based on central guidelines. The competence and independence of different states’ economics departments can vary a lot, and it is possible that GSDP numbers from some states could be overestimated.
Third, there are some discrepancies between poverty ratio numbers calculated from NSS surveys from 2009-10 and 2011-12. States such as Bihar show little poverty reduction between 2004-05 and 2009-10, but phenomenal decrease in the next two years. While 2009-10 was a drought year and might have underestimated the overall reduction in poverty, the planning commission needs analyse and provide clarifications on the latest state-level poverty numbers presented. However, these caveats do not affect the overall observation that there are no Indian states that grew poorly but reduced poverty greatly.
Many thanks to Dr. Mukul Asher for discussions that helped shape this piece.