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A district map of Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state, makes for a compelling visual—that of a bull about to charge. Lalitpur in south-central and Sonbhadra in southeast that protrude into the neighbouring states appear strikingly similar to the hooves of a bull getting ready for a big leap.
But when it comes to the financial might, it is Gautam Budh Nagar, a tiny district in the western periphery, which is most bullish among the state’s 75 districts.
This doesn’t come as a surprise. Gautam Buddha Nagar has Noida and Greater Noida, Uttar Pradesh’s showpiece townships just off the national capital, peppered with high-street malls, glitzy corporate towers, and acres and acres of residential complexes. The Taj Expressway, connecting Delhi with Agra, runs right through the district.
Shravasti, in the east, on the other hand, recorded a DGDP of Rs 3,506 crore, 26 times lower than that of Gautam Budh Nagar. Little wonder then that Shravasti is among 117 “Aspirational Districts” that the NITI Aayog has identified for a focussed policy intervention.
For Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, who wants Uttar Pradesh to be a $1-trillion economy with GDP targets identified for each district, it is the laggard districts that will need all the attention and hand-holding.
At Rs 21,906.86 crore, the DGDP of Varanasi, one of the oldest living cities in the world and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s parliamentary constituency, is way behind Gautam Budh Nagar. Amethi, a pocket borough of Congress’s first family’s until this year’s Lok Sabha election when the then party president Rahul Gandhi lost the constituency to Union Textiles Minister Smriti Irani, ranks a lowly 65, with a DGDP of Rs 8,19,474 crore.
Prayagraj, earlier known as Allahabad, and Ayodhya have a lot of catching up to do in terms of economic activity measured by DGDP. Even having state capital hasn’t helped the Lucknow district, which has a DGDP of Rs 44,246.01 crore, not even half of that of Gautam Budh Nagar.
For Uttar Pradesh as well as India to make a decisive leap forward, these backward districts have to figure prominently when policymakers sit down in Lucknow to draw development plans.
According to Indicus Analytics, an economic research and data analytics firm which first came out with district-level GDP figures more than 10 years ago, such data provides granular insights into the Indian economy.
Last year, the Uttar Pradesh government launched the `One District, One Product’ (ODOP) scheme as part of a broader strategy of concentrated agro and industrial development focus on each district, offering an array of fiscal incentives, and credit, marketing and policy support.
While the large corporations housed in Noida are aggressively global, the road to Uttar Pradesh’s $ 1 trillion GDP goal lie in boosting incomes of small enterprises, local artisans and craftsmen, which is what the ODOP scheme seeks to achieve.
According to PHDCCI, an industry chamber, “micro and small units involved in ODOP need institutional intervention for strengthening marketing capabilities. The need of the hour is providing hand holding to micro and small units through formation of Special Purpose Vehicles (SPVs)”.
Adityanath’s focus on development at grassroots also fits into what some analysts say is the need o focus on identifying India’s next growth hotspots, away from metropolises.
According to global consulting major McKinsey & Company, there are commercial opportunities for companies to tap beyond the current growth centres, which require a smaller and a discrete approach.
“To get the most from this granular approach, companies need to develop customised strategies for each geographic sliver. To do so, they must map priority geographic segments to product categories and extensions,” McKinsey said in its 2014 report “India’s economic geography in 2025: states, clusters and cities”.
Adityanath’s emphasis on district-level GDP also gels with the “Aspirational Districts” programme of NITI Aayog, the Union government’s think tank, which seeks to improve the socio-economic status of 117 districts from across 28 states.
Eight of these—Balrampur, Shravasti, Bhairach, Siddharth Nagar, Chandauli, Sonbhadra, Fatehpur and Chitrakoot—are in Uttar Pradesh. In terms of DGDP, most of these districts occupy the bottom rung.
Among these “aspirational districts” Shravasti with a DGDP of Rs 3,506 crore is ranked 75th, behind Chitrakoot (74) with a DGDP of Rs 3,674 crore and Balrampur (70) with a DGDP of Rs 6,844 crore. Chandauli (66) with a DGDP of Rs 7,443 crore, Siddharth Nagar (63) with a DGDP of Rs 8,535 crore, Bahraich (41) with a DGDP of Rs 11,797 crore, Sonbhadra (37) with DGDP of Rs 12,530 crore and Fatehpur is at rank 31 with a DGDP of 14,048.71 crore are the other “aspirational districts” in the UP, according to NITI Aayog.
Central and eastern regions emerge the worst in the state’s district DGDP sweep stakes. The ambition of the turning Uttar Pradesh into a $1 trillion economy—a five-fold jump from the current nearly $200 billion—will depend on these and other laggards leapfrogging into the upper-middle ranks, even as Noida and Greater Noida remain the jewels in the crown.