State PCS

Edit Template
Edit Template

District Development Index – Measuring Progress at the Grassroots

District Development Index


Government Policies & Interventions, Local Self Governance.


India’s diversity is embodied in its districts. To the policymaker, understanding the full scale of this diversity is key to crafting policies. In this context, a multidimensional and localised index like the District Development Index for Maharashtra will prove invaluable.

More about the District Development Index

  • The index captures a district’s progress by giving equal weightage to its potential for socioeconomic development and its existing levels of socio-economic development.
  • In addition to providing an immediate picture of district performance, the index is also built for the long term, so policymakers can tap into the potential presented by various districts.

How can a district become a unit for development tracking in India?

  • The average district in India has nearly 1.86 million people, larger than the population of countries like Singapore (0.56 million) and UAE (0.94 million).
  • This figure shows the gamut of governance required at the district level, and when socio-economic indicators reveal strides made at the district level, they are to be applauded.
  • For example, a recent study by Sekhar Bonu and Anirudh Krishna looks at the inter-generational developments in education at the district level.
  • Using NFHS-5 data, they reveal that the average level of the mother’s education equals or exceeds that of the father’s in as many as 195 districts (out of 707 districts studied).
  • A generation previously, only 11 districts had more educated mothers than fathers. This points to the presence of intergenerational mobility at the district level.
  • Other metrics of achievement, such as financial access, show steep gains.
  • For instance, over 15 per cent of districts have more than 90 per cent of women who own and operate savings accounts.
  • Similarly, health metrics also show visible improvements.
  • For instance, over 91 per cent of districts have had more than 70 per cent of births in the last five years in health facilities.
  • However, it is also essential to understand how progress is scattered across different districts.
  • Bonu and Krishna’s study shows that some states, such as Karnataka, Arunachal Pradesh and Telangana, have both high-performing and poor-performing districts in terms of educational outcomes.

Disparities among districts

  • There is also evidence of significant disparities in the income concentration across districts, as highlighted in the Harvard Business School-led ‘Competitiveness Roadmap for India’.
  • For example, urban districts, which constitute 30 per cent of all districts in India, account for more than 55 per cent of all wages paid and close to 45 per cent of all jobs.
  • Similarly, the average wage in the top 70 prosperous districts is three times higher than the average wage of the bottom 305 districts.

Which one works better: a top-down policy or a bottom-up policy

  • What concerns the policymaker is whether improvements result from a top-down trickle effect or bottom-up growth.
  • The presence of a contiguous set of districts within the same state indicates that the top-down policies play a role.
  • However, “islands (laggard districts)” point to the need for specific intervention.
  • Thus, an ideal set of policies should be a bouquet of varied measures for different localities and regions, tailored to their culture, urbanisation, development and demography.
  • These should be bolstered by uniform interventions in infrastructure, public goods, livelihoods, policy enablers and good governance.
  • Top-down policies continue to help address socio-economic issues at the district level in areas such as improved sanitation and hygiene (Swachh Bharat), provision of healthcare services (Ayushman Bharat), reducing malnutrition (POSHAN Abhiyaan) and rural job guarantee (MGNREGS).
  • For instance, the Swachh Bharat Mission has led to 75 per cent of villages being defecation-free.

What could be the constituent of a bottom-up approach?

Bottom-up policies are founded on three key pillars — data collection, best governance practices and incentivised collaboration between different departments.

The Aspiration District Programme: a bottom-up approach

  • In this context, a commendable effort has been made through the Aspirational Districts Programme, launched in 2018.
  • It has been instrumental in addressing critical gaps and fostering collaboration among diverse stakeholders to target efforts in the pockets of deprivation in crucial areas of health and nutrition, education, agriculture and water resources, etc.
  • In the last six years, the programme has transformed the lives of about 25 crore people in 112 districts, with visible improvements in key indicators, such as health, financial inclusion and education, as tracked by NITI Aayog.
  • For example, the percentage of pregnant women registered for ante-natal care within the first trimester rose from 68 per cent in 2018 to 89 per cent in 2023, and the percentage of underweight children below the age of six years declined from 20.6 per cent in 2018 to 9.2 per cent in 2023.
  • Similar progress has been observed in the education sector, where transition rates of school children have improved significantly, and basic infrastructure is nearing saturation.
  • As the size of the pie grows, the benefits of growth can be expected to percolate down to the district level.
  • However, we need districts not just to become receptacles of growth but also the drivers of growth themselves.

A district is becoming a unit of production in India

  • A typical district in India is not usually associated with a significant underlying productive activity.
  • As the Harvard-led competitiveness report notes, national value creation is dominated by a small share of leading districts in India.
  • Schemes such as the One District One Product (ODOP) have begun making amends for this situation.
  • Since its launch in 2020, the programme has seen the development and promotion of 1,000-plus unique products, across 767 districts, encompassing sectors such as textiles, agriculture, food processing and handicrafts.
  • Going by American academic Michael Porter’s theory of clusters, district-level productivity and value-creation can be catalysed by creating linked industries and institutions in proximity.
  • Developing industrial clusters that leverage the district’s geography, culture and institutional structure is a possible route to improve district-level value creation exponentially.

From district to Industrial cluster: way forward

  • To create districts that are clusters of growth, a one-size-fits-all policy does not work.
  • For example, the healthcare and education priorities of Kerala and Tamil Nadu are vastly different from those of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.
  • The key to effective administration is realising that India is composed of many Indias, and a topdown approach alone will not work.
  • While top-down policies can act as enablers, the critical thrust should be on tailored responses.
  • This requires coordination across all levels of government, agency and autonomy at the local level and a pervasive presence of account-based accountability.
  • Moreover, a significant gap in the effective implementation of programmes has been the limited availability of timely and high-quality data at the district level.
  • This limitation severely hampers policymaking, particularly in identifying the segments of the population that need immediate government assistance.


Initiatives such as the District Development Index prepared for Maharashtra bring about transparency and ensure accountability of stakeholders. They will go a long way in tracking and supporting the contemporary socio-economic and infrastructure development at the district level, ensuring that districts emerge as growth drivers of Viksit Bharat.

Read Also: Important facts & Figures

Demo Class/Enquiries

blog form

More Links
What's New
IAS NEXT is a topmost Coaching Institute offering guidance for Civil & Judicial services like UPSC, State PCS, PCS-J exams since more than 10 years.
Contact Us
Social Icon

Copyright ©  C S NEXT EDUCATION. All Rights Reserved