In the beginning of this year, the Union Government embarked upon a major policy initiative for the rapid transformation of districts that are lagging on specific development parameters. Senior Government officials in the rank of Additional Secretary and Joint Secretary have been designated as officers in-charge, to coordinate the efforts of the Centre and the States in addressing the specific developmental needs of these districts.

Prime Minister, Shri Narendra Modi paid tributes to Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar before the Conference on Transformation of Aspirational Districts, at the Dr. Ambedkar International Centre, in New Delhi on January 05, 2018. He interacted with Collectors and Officers-in-charge of aspirational districts at this conference organized by the NITI Aayog. Six groups of officers made presentations on the themes of nutrition, education, basic infrastructure, agriculture and water resources, eradication of Left Wing Extremism and financial inclusion and skill development.

On this occasion the Prime Minister then said that relative backwardness of some regions is an injustice to the people of those regions. In that context, he added, this effort to develop more than 100 backward districts, is in keeping with the vision of Dr. Ambedkar, who worked for the uplifting the underprivileged. He also emphasised the need to be systematic arrangements to involve people, giving the example of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan and the need to recognise and channelize the aspirations of the people of these aspirational districts

In the same month later, the Minister of State for Rural Development, Shri Ram Kripal Yadav held a review meeting with officials of the departments of Rural Development, Land Resource, Revenue, PWD and Social Welfare of the Government of Maharashtra. The meeting also reviewed the work in progress in the four aspirational districts in the state, where senior officials from the Union Ministry of Rural Development, have been asked to help the state government in moving schemes forward.

Among the total of 115 districts, fourteen are from Northeast, identified for aspirational development which are Dhobri, Goalpara, Barpeta, Darrang, Baksa, Udalguri and Hailakandi in Assam, Dhalai in Tripura, Ribhoi in Meghalaya, Namsai in Arunachal Pradesh, Chandel in Manipur, Mamit in Mizoram, Kiphire in Nagaland and West Sikkim district in Sikkim. These districts are being taken up in the transformation of aspirational districts programme under the aegis of NITI Aayog.

In February, The Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs, chaired by Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi has approved 130 Km long Jeypore-Malkangiri New Line project at a completion cost of Rs. 2676.11 crore and is likely to be completed by 2021-22. The project will cover the districts of Koraput and Malkangiri of Odisha State. Malkangiri and Koraput districts are among the identified left wing extremism affected districts in the country. The proposed new line will connect Malkangiri, Boipariguda, Tanginiguda, Mathili, Pondripani Road and other major towns to Jeypore station on the existing Kottavalasa-Kirandul line. Further, connectivity to important towns viz. Koraput, Jeypore, Jagdalpur, Dantewara will improve. It will also result in short lead to many other places of Odisha, Chhattisgarh and Andhra Pradesh.

Later on in the same month, Union Minister of Drinking Water and Sanitation, Sushri Uma Bharti, launched the Swajal pilot project at Village Bhikampura, Karauli in Rajasthan. She also reviewed the progress of the various schemes in Karauli, as it is one of the 115 aspirational districts; with the aim of ensuring overall development by proper implementation and convergence of central and state government in the district. She reviewed the progress in 6 key sectors including health, nutrition, education, skill development, agriculture, financial inclusion and basic infrastructure and suggested the officials to take necessary action to expedite for early implementation of the program.

Same day speaking at the meeting, Shri JP Nadda said that National Health Mission (NHM) is vital to supporting the states in improving their health systems. He further stated that Hon’ble Prime Minister’s announcement on the aspirational districts also provides them with significant leverage point to address long persisting inequities and development lag in these districts which will be strengthened through NHM. Shri Hardeep S Puri, Union Minister of State (Independent Charge) congratulated the Health Ministry for the progress on MDGs, especially in terms of IMR, MMR, U5MR and HIV/AIDS. He assured full cooperation to the Health Ministry for overall development of the new aspirational districts.

On the occasion of International Women’s Day, the Prime Minister launched the National Nutrition Mission, and expansion of the coverage of Beti Bachao Beti Padhao programme, at Jhunjhunu in Rajasthan wherein he also interacted with District Magistrates of aspirational districts.

In March, Cabinet Secretary P.K.Sinha chaired a meeting to review the progress of the transformation of 115 Aspirational Districts. The meeting was attended by the Prabhari Officers, the officer in-charge coordinating the exercise for transformation of 115 Aspirational Districts along with the Secretaries and representatives from 12 Union ministries.

CEO of NITI Aayog outlined the priorities, challenges and the road ahead for the aspirational districts. He urged the officials to work in close coordination with the state Government and evolve mechanisms for effective implementation of Government programs in a time bound manner. Secretary, Rural Development, Amarjeet Sinha said the social capital can make a remarkable difference given the fact that 8603 Gram Panchayats are covered in the Aspirational Districts. He underlined the need to expand the Self Help Groups in these districts for a better outcome.

Next day, addressing a function in Noida, Home Minister said that, he has witnessed NGOs working in remote inaccessible parts of LWE-affected regions where even the local administration finds it difficult to reach and they can play a vital part in the development these aspirational districts.

On 10th March 2018, Prime Minister addressed the National Legislators Conference in Central Hall of Parliament. He said that in every state there are a few districts where development parameters are strong and that we can learn from them and work on weaker districts. He further added that working on the aspirational districts will improve India’s standing in the HDI.

The Union Minister for Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution, Shri Ram Vilas Paswan along with the Minister of State (I/C) for Power and New and Renewable Energy, Shri Raj Kumar Singh, the Minister of State for MSME (I/C), Shri Giriraj Singh and the Minister of State for Rural Development, Shri Ram Kripal Yadav addressed a joint press conference after holding a consultative meeting for Rapid Transformation of 13 Aspirational Districts of Bihar, in New Delhi on March 14, 2018.

Then the first Interaction of 15th Finance Commission was held with the Members of Parliament. In this meeting wide ranging suggestions were made by the Parliamentarians including the Status of implementation of the Recommendations of the 14th Finance Commission, having a relook at the processes and methods to consider the backwardness of a State including the needs of ‘Aspirational Districts’.

In the 105th Indian Science Congress, Union Minister of Science & Technology Dr.  Harsh Vardhan urged scientists to put their heart and soul into finding new solutions to the problems facing the nation and improve the quality of life of common man.  The Minister also stressed the need to ensure that the fruits of development reach out to the unreached people of the 115 aspirational districts of the country.

Addressing a press conference in New Delhi, the HRD Minister said that the cabinet has approved fourfold increase in outlay under Rashtriya Uchchatar Shiksha Abhiyan (RUSA). The Minister also informed that in aspirational Districts, which have lagged behind in education, the government is granting 70 new model degree colleges with an allocation of Rs 12 crore each, totalling to Rs 840 crore. He further said that 8 new professional colleges are to be established in aspirational district states like UP, Bihar, Odisha, Jharkhand, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh with a grant Rs 26 crore each totalling to Rs 208 crore.

In his keynote address on the occasion of World Water Day, Secretary of Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation, Shri Parameswaran Iyer said that the Swajal pilot is going to be launched in 6 States, including water conservation, watershed development on a large scale. It will also be launched in the 115 aspirational districts selected by the Prime Minister for focus on all-round development.

On 28th March 2018, NITI Aayog launched the baseline ranking for the Aspirational Districts based on published data of 49 indicators (81 data points) across five developmental areas of Health and Nutrition, Education, Agriculture and Water Resources, Financial Inclusion and Skill Development, and Basic Infrastructure. The ranking was released by Shri Amitabh Kant, CEO of NITI Aayog.

The CEO also announced that the ‘Champions of Change’ Dashboard for real-time data collection and monitoring will be open for public viewing from 1 April. The dashboard will facilitate District Collectors of all the aspirational districts to input the latest available data of their respective districts. A Workshop was organized on 23 March to train representatives of the Districts to familiarise them to the Dashboard and its functioning, including data input, verification and presentation.

From May 2018, Districts will be ranked on their incremental progress i.e. Delta Ranking, exemplifying the spirit of competitive federalism. Districts can learn from each other’s experiences using the Best Practices document that NITI Aayog has prepared and circulated to the district collectors. NITI Aayog in partnership with the Government of Andhra Pradesh has created this dashboard for monitoring the real-time progress of the districts.

The broad contours of aspirational districts programme are Convergence of Central & State Schemes, Collaboration of Central; State level ‘Prabhari’ Officers and District-Collectors, and Competition among districts driven by a mass Movement. With States as the main drivers, this program will focus on the strength of each district, identify low-hanging fruits for immediate improvement, measure progress, and rank districts.