Himachal Pradesh: Secrets of Success

January 28, 2015

World Bank

  • Himachal Pradesh is a frontrunner among Indian states in reducing poverty and improving human development outcomes.
  • An accountable bureaucracy and a committed leadership, together with strong community involvement, have helped deliver services efficiently, even to the remotest rural areas.
  • People’s support for future development hinges on the state’s continued protection of its unique social cohesion and environmental heritage.

India’s mountain state of Himachal Pradesh is a little known success story. The state has achieved remarkable economic growth, especially in the last two decades, outperforming other Indian states in lifting people out of poverty. Per capita income in Himachal Pradesh is the second highest in the country – an impressive achievement given that more than 90 percent of its residents live in rural areas.

Growth has also gone hand in hand with some of India’s best human development outcomes. Educational attainment is among the highest in the country, and the share of women in the workforce is larger than in most other states. Further, the state and its citizens have demonstrated a strong sense of environmental consciousness; for instance, Himachal Pradesh is the first state in the country to have banned the use of plastic bags.  The state is also a trail-blazer in sanitation and is the first among its north Indian neighbors to come close to becoming ‘open defecation free’.

Underlying these positive outcomes is Himachal Pradesh’s reputation as a society that is stable and inclusive. Inter-group disparities are low, despite the fact that traditionally disadvantaged groups such as the Scheduled Castes (SCs) and Scheduled Tribes (STs) make up a sizeable 30 percent of the population. Yet, evidence on state’s progress and the factors driving it is sparse or limited to micro-studies.

A new World Bank report, Scaling the Heights: Social Inclusion and Sustainable Development in Himachal Pradesh is the first report of its kind for Himachal Pradesh. It is a macrosocial account of the state’s achievements over the past several decades. Simultaneously, it is an interdisciplinary attempt to understand the confluence of factors that allowed the state to move toward social inclusion and sustainable development.

The report peels through the underlying drivers of the state’s success and examines whether they will remain intact in the wake of the large-scale changes that are bound to follow as the state moves along its chosen path of infrastructure-led growth. 

" Balancing the needs of growth with social and environmental sustainability will perhaps be among the greatest challenges ahead for Himachal Pradesh.  "

Cohesive society, accountable bureaucracy, and committed leadership

While Himachal Pradesh’s special category status has made it easier for the state to access development funds, the report analyzes the reasons behind the wise investment of these resources, why these investments led to positive outcomes, and how inter-group equity was promoted. In doing so, the report serves a strong empirical demonstration for what other states and countries going through similar transitions can do to achieve social inclusion.

The report highlights the state’s unique historical and cultural context where a cohesive society together with good governance provided by an accountable bureaucracy and a trusted, ‘benevolent’ leadership has played a decisive role in driving success. The state’s commitment to expand public services to the remotest areas, together with strong community involvement and high levels of local accountability, have helped deliver services efficiently to far-flung villages across difficult terrain. Cultural factors have also led to strong women’s participation in development programs, helping the state reach high levels of sanitation, immunization and school attendance. Added to that is the low likelihood of conflict, stemming from the nature of the state’s social structure and the composition of its social groups.

The report shows that the policies adopted and the quality of their implementation can be the foremost propellers of inclusive development. For instance, land reforms in the 1950s and the 1970s laid the early foundations for social inclusion. Today, almost 80% of rural households in Himachal Pradesh own some land, and holdings across social groups are more equal than in the rest of India. This allowed even the traditionally landless communities such as the Scheduled Castes to benefit from a series of reforms and development programs in agriculture. State policies have also consistently innovated to ensure environmental sustainability, in keeping with the people’s strong traditions of environmental protection.

Will past achievements be sustained?

Going forward, Himachal Pradesh is keen to ensure that its future growth path, driven by hydropower development, watershed management, tourism, and industrial growth, does not introduce a new way of life that destabilizes its historically cohesive society and upsets social and environmental sustainability.

Among the state’s concerns are the dramatic decline in the number of girl children compared to boys, and the high level of child malnutrition. More than one third of children under the age of five were underweight in 2011, showing little improvement over 2005-06 levels, although these levels were relatively low compared to the national average.

The state is also likely to face new challenges in areas where progress has been made. For instance, it will be critical to ensure that the large cohort of educated young people, who aspire for public sector jobs, is equipped with the skills to work in future growth sectors. Added to this is the state’s rising median age which, combined with increasing urbanization, may increase the need for providing care to the elderly.

Today, urban areas in Himachal Pradesh lag behind rural areas in human development outcomes. Therefore, as urbanization levels increase, the state will have to ensure that urban growth is well-planned, enabling its residents to access key services and partake in the new economic opportunities that cities and towns have to offer.

Finally, fieldwork for the report suggests that although people welcome economic development, their support hinges on the state’s continued protection of its social and environmental heritage. Therefore, balancing the needs of growth with social and environmental sustainability will perhaps be among the greatest challenges ahead for Himachal Pradesh.

Fast Facts:

  • Poverty headcount is nearly one-third the national average. Rural poverty showed an impressive fourfold decline, falling from 36.8% in 1993–94 to 8.5% in 2011, benefitting all social groups in both rural and urban areas.

  • Educational attainment is among the highest in the country, particularly among excluded groups. More members of SC and ST groups have completed secondary or higher levels of schooling, both in rural and urban areas compared to other states, including southern states like Karnataka and Tamil Nadu.

  • Women’s employment: The big success story is in female labor force participation which stands second in the country after Sikkim. More than 60% women in rural areas were in the labor force in 2011–12, significantly higher than the all-India average of 27% and although fewer urban women worked – 28% in 2011 – these levels were on par with Kerala and Tamil Nadu and double that of neighboring states.