Tamil Nadu: A blend of development and welfarism

The State has areas of concern such as water and sanitation, and lower enrolment ratio at the higher secondary school level

Updated - February 04, 2022 10:18 am IST

Published - February 03, 2022 11:51 pm IST

In the last eight months, various reports came out, making an inter-State comparison on development indicators. Each one had one positive finding or the other to talk about Tamil Nadu.

The third edition of NITI Aayog’s 2020 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) Index, whose findings were made public in June 2021, placed Tamil Nadu at the second spot. Significantly, for the third year in succession, Tamil Nadu finished at the top with regard to the Goal 1 — No Poverty — which encompassed the aim of eradicating poverty not only in monetary terms but also in all forms and dimensions by 2030.

In early August, after the Union Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation came out with its annual report on advance estimates of growth figures for 2020-21, Tamil Nadu was found to be the only southern State to clock a positive growth rate of 1.42% even during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In November, NITI Aayog made public the report on the maiden Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI). Despite being a large State, Tamil Nadu was placed among the middle-ranked States in terms of rural-urban disparity. Around the same time, the Reserve Bank of India’s Handbook of Statistics on Indian States estimated that Tamil Nadu had achieved a yield of 3.76 tonnes of rice per hectare during 2019-20 and it followed very closely the water-rich Andhra Pradesh, which had recorded 3.765 tonnes. Of course, Punjab was the first with 4.034 tonnes.

The same publication mentioned that with respect to the number of factories, for which the data were available only up to 2018-19, Tamil Nadu had the highest number with 38,131 units. Maharashtra was behind with 25,972 units.

Then came the Good Governance Index (GGI) 2020-21, which was prepared by the Department of Administrative Reforms and Public Grievances at the Centre. The State bagged the first rank in the Group A States with regard to the judiciary and the public safety sector.


The reasons for Tamil Nadu’s good performance are many. “By and large, the political leadership of the State has been forward-looking. This is discernible from the way each dispensation takes pride in what it has done in the field of development, vis-à-vis what the other had done. This trend has provided stability to the growth of the State,” says Santha Sheela Nair, former Vice-Chairperson of the State Planning Commission.

N.R. Bhanumurthy, Vice-Chancellor of the Dr.B.R. Ambedkar School of Economics University, Bengaluru, who has served different government and RBI committees on issues concerning the States, says there is a “fine balance” between development and growth in Tamil Nadu. The State’s performance in the social sector has been complemented by a similar showing on economic factors. Several measures, including the mid-day meal scheme, have been scaled up not just across the country but also at the international level.

Orderly and peaceful

A former civil servant of the Tamil Nadu cadre, C.P.Singh, who hails from the eastern part of Uttar Pradesh, points out that the way Tamil Nadu witnessed social and cultural churning at least over the last 100-odd years is distinct from what other States such as Bihar and West Bengal experienced. “It is much more orderly and peaceful. This was possible because of the State’s intrinsic strengths, which continue to remain, contributing to its better performance.” He adds the bureaucracy, which made use of the best practices of the ryotwari system of land revenue administration followed by the State in the pre-Independence era, has been known for being responsive to the needs of people.

At the same time, the State needs to improve in many areas. “It has to do much more than what it has done in the areas of local bodies and water and sanitation,” Ms. Nair says, adding that Tamil Nadu can easily become no. 1 in Sustainable Development Goals.

The latest GGI, which underscored that the State had improved its standing in the sectors such as agriculture and social welfare, however, identified Tamil Nadu as one at the bottom in citizen-centric governance. Likewise, the third edition of the SDG Index mentioned that 44.3% of the pregnant women in the State in the age group of 15-49 were anaemic. But the neighbouring Kerala’s figure was 22.6%.

This issue can be tackled effectively, if greater space is given to the local bodies as is being done in Kerala, Ms. Nair says.

An official says a perusal of the data on the gross enrolment ratio for 2019-20, as brought out in the RBI publication, reveals that the figures for boys and girls dropped drastically at the higher secondary level, compared to the secondary level. Better connectivity and facilities at school would make a qualitative difference.

K.R. Shanmugam, Director, Madras School of Economics, says the Tamil Nadu government should expeditiously enhance its performance to the international level, as desired by Chief Minister M.K. Stalin.

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