Dr. Syama Prasad Mookerjee Research Foundation


“Friends, the job of transforming the fate of 115 districts would also become the fate of the country. We can form a strong foundation for our new India from that work that has been entrusted to you..”

– Hon’ble Prime Minister of India Shri Narendra Modi 5th January 2018

At the beginning of a cold winter in 2018, district collectors of 115 districts were called down to Delhi. They were to attend an event to be addressed by the Prime Minister of India. None of them had any idea about what was about to come. They considered themselves to be the worst in the lot in their civil service careers. All of them were granted districts that were worst performing in the country. They considered it a punishment for the poor performance they had shown. Little did they know that they were called down to be the flag bearers of one of the most ambitious programmes in the history of Independent India. They were to decide the fate of a new aspirational India. It was not a punishment, it was now a challenge, it was now a mission. Thus began the journey of the aspirational district programme on 5th January 2018.

In our polity, states form the building blocks. However significant variations in the utilisation of resources by the state at various levels have led to a situation whereby certain districts were able to reap the best benefits whereas certain districts were left behind. This imbalance in the allocation and utilization of resources started drowning the hopes of people residing in these districts. Some of the districts had the worst performance in terms of Human Development Index. People of these districts started losing their hope in governance mechanisms and some of them even retorted to usage of an armed struggle. These inter-state and district disparities were found to be the major cause of the backwardness of our economy and a need was felt to improve upon the parameters of these districts. Hence NITI Aayog was tasked with the job to study and implement a scheme to improve the backward districts of the country. Hence the aspirational district programme was born.

The Aspirational District Programme is a Living Example of Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas Aur Sabka Vishwas

The aspirational district programme is conceived as a massive people’s movement where the centre, state, and concerned districts would work together hand in hand. Across the country, 115 backward districts were chosen for this programme where roughly 15 percent of our country’s population resided. This programme forms the perfect example of cooperative federalism in the country. The programme is built to encourage the 3 C’s of Convergence, Collaboration and Competition. There shall be convergence and effectiveness between the centre, state, and districts. Special officers appointed at central and state levels were appointed to look at the development of the scheme. These ‘Prabharis’ frequently coordinate with the district collectors of these aspirational districts monitoring and reviewing their performance. Based on the recommendations of these Prabharis, the empowered committee at the national level made regular amendments to the programmes.

The baseline ranking for the 115 Aspirational Districts was based on 49 indicators across five sectors that include health and nutrition (30% weightage) through 13 indicators, education (30%) through 8 indicators, agriculture and water resources (20%) through 10 indicators, financial inclusion and skill development (10%) through 10 indicators, and basic infrastructure (10%) through 7 indicators. A baseline index of 49 key areas was developed which provided the initial benchmark. A real-time dashboard was then created for data capture and analysis, and based on the performances it was periodically reviewed and funds were allocated. Transparency was the main attraction of this programme as this data was accessible to the general public and the programme gave enormous stress upon the welfare of the ‘Antodaya’. This daunting task was made successful by the massive public participation the movement had.

From Aspiration to Inspiration

SDG progress report shows that just 12 percent of the Sustainable Developmental Goal targets are on track globally, with progress on 50% is weak and insufficient, and worst of all the world has steered into a reverse mode on more than 30 percent of SDG. Globally, the number of people living in extreme poverty today is higher than what it was four years ago and on current trends, only 30 percent of all countries will achieve SDG goal no 1 of ending poverty by 2030.

Comparatively, India’s performance in SDGs has been very impressive and the Aspirational District Programme has been one of the reasons for our improved performance. The United Nations Development Programme mentions the Aspirational District Programme as a global example of enlisting subnational development with multi-stakeholder partnerships.

UNDP further writes that, ‘ Overall the aspirational district programme is a very successful model of local area development. It is aligned with the principle of leaving no one behind- the vital core of SDG’s. Political commitment at the highest level has resulted in the rapid success of the programme. It should serve as the best practice for other countries where regional disparities in development status persist for many reasons.

The competitive nature of the scheme is perhaps what has led to this remarkable progression. Every month, performance of the districts is reviewed and the best-performing districts are ranked in terms of five performance indicators. The first and second rankers in overall terms are awarded Rs 10 crores and Rs 5 crores respectively. The first ranker from each of the sectors is being awarded Rs 3 crores. Hence continuous support from the centre along with monitoring and transparency are the main reasons for the success of this scheme. As a result of the implementation of the scheme, there has been a significant reduction in left-wing extremism across various states of the country. The Left-wing Extremism-related incidents in the country had shown a significant reduction of 76% in 2022 when compared to 2010. There is also a decrease of 90% in deaths caused due to Left-wing extremism during the same time frame.

The aspirational district programme was able to transform the lives of over 25 crore people residing in backward regions of the country and bring them to the economic front. There has been significant improvement in all the areas earmarked under the scheme. This scheme is also a perfect example of cooperative and competitive federalism working together hand in hand. The scheme has brought the government to the last mile phenomenally changing the lives of people at the grassroots. As our country moves to the vision of Viksit Bharat, this unique experiment will undoubtedly become a study model for the whole world to follow for years to come.

(Adarsh Kuniyillam is a Parliamentary Analyst. Views Express are His Own)