Asifabad in Telangana is among five most backward districts in India

Amir Ullah Khan and Ramachandra Raju Bhupathiraju

Out of the 3.5 crore people in the state, 2.75 crore are below the poverty line, according to statistics available with the civil supplies department.

Poverty in the state of Telangana is widespread and of the 3.5 crore population, more than 2.75 crores fall under the poverty line, as of the latest data from 2017.

Three TS districts are most backward

Three districts from the State are counted among the most backward districts, with Asifabad being among the five most backward in the country.

The Transformation of Aspirational Districts Programme (TADP) is an initiative launched by the Niti Aayog in bringing better convergence, collaboration, and competition between selected districts in implementing the central and state schemes. One hundred and fifteen districts across the country have this programme being implemented since Jan 2018. TADP aims to achieve a better ranking on the United Nations Sustainable Development Programme’s goals, where India ranked 130 in the UN Development Index in 2018.

The programme is spread across six core thematic areas and 49 specific indicators. 1) Health & Nutrition: Eradication of Anaemia and malnourishment in children, NQAS Certified labour rooms, Increasing institutional delivery of births, Improving Health Infrastructure. 2) Education: Improving Learning Outcomes, Improving School Infrastructure, Smart Classrooms for interactive learning, Teachers Training, Improvement of enrolment rates. 3) Agriculture & Water Resources: Increasing Farmer incomes and mechanisation of farms.  4) Financial Inclusion: Improving financial literacy and financial empowerment of women. 5) Skill Development: Promotion of vocational skills, livelihood enhancement projects.  6) Basic Infrastructure: Installation of solar panels, windmills etc. for clean energy, construction of community resource centres, construction of community toilets.

Districts which are consistently affected poorly in the above-mentioned indicators are included in the programme. The scheme aims to decentralise development based on localisation and ground realities of where it is being implemented. It intends to be taking an inclusive data-based approach in uplifting the districts with the social outcomes ratings. Using competition as a motivational factor, the programme envisages that districts compete in achieving better results.

Budgetary resources

What ails the programme is insufficient budgetary resources, lack of coordination between multiple ministries, and delta raking with data (which takes a largely quantitative approach, and hardly considers any qualitative factors). An example would be delivery of infrastructure would earn points on the ratings but qualitative factors like the upkeep and maintenance of that infrastructure is hardly captured, which defeats the ultimate purpose of a data-driven approach.

To have the programme better succeed, independent surveys should be able to verify the data and quality of data generated, rankings/indexes could be more simplified, decentralised local body control of finances should be adopted, and finally, if all of this could lead to a data-driven approach in governance and administration, it would be a successful programme. The success of this programme could usher in a new model for governance for India. Data presently available suggests that there has been a significant improvement in the lives of people. The three pillars of this programme are competition, convergence and collaboration.

Competition between governmental departments and their district divisions, and between the districts themselves would ideally lead to better outcomes than the traditional top-down approach of planning centrally and mere implementation locally. Convergence has been an Achilles heel of Indian administration.  Even to get a simple, lasting road right becomes a herculean task. One department lays the road, and the next digs it up, we have seen this happen way too often. The ideal result of this programme should be where all the hands know where the feet are in terms of everybody and all the administrative divisions involved in governance. Ushering in of that transparency of plans and actions will lead to better and more effective use of resources.


Collaboration is another key factor that should change the model of governance. Involvement of civil society, impactful partnerships between government and ‘non-profits/philanthropic organisations’, should lead to a governance model where the citizen is ultimately able to be a stakeholder. Traditionally Indian planning and implementation has been a centralised, top-down approach, where the citizen has hardly been involved, but being a mute spectator.

As per the NITI Aayog CEO Amitabh Kant in an online webinar on the 28th of September 2020, the real-time data-driven dashboard of the TADP was a transformative tool. Unfortunately, when we checked for the dashboard online, it was down until the 3rd of October, a full three days. The very claim of the programme being real-time data-driven, competition-based, convergent and collaborative governance didn’t stand up to be verified to the kind of claims made by Kant in the seminar as the very index/tool of the programme was down. In addition to this, the website of the programme does not furnish third-party validation of the data claimed in the dashboard.

Independent third-party assessment of the programme and its data is the key to validating the success of the programme. Public hearings of the citizenry along with these independent assessments and not just the claims of the government, will be tools on which we could look for a successful future model of governance for India. These aspirational districts are also those where in most cases there is high Muslim population. Some others are tribal dominated districts. The success of the aspirational district programme is key to growth and development among the religious minorities and tribal populations.

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Amir Ullah Khan and Ramachandra Raju Bhupathiraju are researchers at the CRIDP