Date of Release: October 14th, 2014

Published in: Live Mint

Maharashtra is generally perceived as a relatively rich state with high economic growth and strong macroeconomic parameters. Under the 15 years of Congress/Nationalist Congress Party rule, however, the state has also made tremendous progress in the social sector as well. In some indicators such as health and education, it beats almost every other state in India.

Take infant mortality rate, or the number of deaths of infants under the age of one year per 1,000 live births. Only Tamil Nadu has achieved a greater reduction in this parameter over 2000-2011. Maharashtra’s infant mortality rate fell 48% in this period compared with 35% for the whole country. To be sure, Maharashtra was already doing well. Even during 1995 to 1999, when the Shiv Sena was in power, the infant mortality rate fell from 55 in 1995 to 48 in 1999.

In primary education, where enrollment rates have increased significantly but retention of students in schools remains a challenge in most parts of India, Maharashtra does much better than the rest of India. With a retention rate of more than 94%, the state is nearly 12 percentage points clear of the all-India average of 82% in 2013.

The good performance in the social sector is also reflected in the relatively low increase in consumption inequality in Maharashtra in the decade to 2009-10. While the Gini Coefficient, a measure of inequality, increased in all states during this period, Maharashtra recorded one of the lowest increases at 3.9%. Only Karnataka and Tamil Nadu did better.

What could be the reasons for the good showing in the social sector? One crucial reason could be the performance of the panchayats. Most social sector programmes, especially those in healthcare and education, depend critically on the functioning of local bodies for better community mobilization and efficient utilization of funds. Maharashtra’s panchayats have consistently been ranked among the best in the country. According to a performance index prepared by the Indian Institute of Public Administration, Maharashtra’s panchayats rank the highest in India.

The real concern for Maharashtra, however, is in the economic sectors, where other states are now doing considerably better. Growth in agriculture and allied sectors between 2000 and 2013 places the state in the middle among 20 major peers. Though Maharashtra’s average annual growth rate of 3.5% was higher than the national average, eight out of the 20 major states managed to do better .When one considers that Maharashtra has traditionally been strong in horticulture, its performance in agricultural crop production becomes even poorer in contrast. A part of the problem has been the negligible increase in irrigated land in the state in the past decade. According to the Economic Survey of Maharashtra, irrigation potential rose by a mere 0.1% between 2002 and 2012. But things are even worse in the organized manufacturing sector. While Maharashtra still accounts for the highest number of jobs in organized manufacturing, the growth rate in the last decade has been quite sluggish at an average annual rate of 3.7% between 1999-2000 and 2011-12. Only five of the 20 major states fare worse than Maharashtra on this parameter. Job creation, arresting the increasing incidence of farmer suicides, building new irrigation potential while better managing existing resource and development of agricultural markets would be the priorities of the new government.

Apoorv Tiwari is a Research Lead at Swaniti Initiative, where he analyzes development policies and data for the benefit of elected representatives, policymakers and citizens.

Swaniti Initiative is a non-partisan, non-profit organization that delivers development solutions to elected officials across India.