Understanding Regional Economic Growth in India

CID Faculty Working Paper No. 88

Jeffrey D. Sachs, Nirupam Bajpai, and Ananthi Ramiah
March 2002


This paper aims to understand the growth experiences of fourteen major states of India in the period 1980 to 1998. We use two measures of convergence, s-convergence and ß-convergence to examine whether per capita income in the states have been converging or diverging. By both standards of convergence, India demonstrated overall divergence during the period 1980-98, as well as during both the pre-reform and post-reform sub-periods. Interestingly, the richer states experienced a degree of convergence during the post-reform period, while the poorer states did not. Divergence was most notable within the poorer group of states.

As against the U.S. states, Japanese prefectures and the European regions, both India and China display no signs of conditional convergence much less unconditional convergence. We suggest four possible hypotheses: (1) the geographical differences are larger in India and China than in the United States, Europe, and Japan; (2) population movements in the United States, Europe, or Japan more readily arbitrage differences across regions; (3) policies of the national or regional governments prevented convergence, and (4) economic convergence is easier at higher levels of economic development than in China and India.

A remarkable 82 percent of the cross-state variation in growth is explained by just the urbanization variable in India, and with no hint of any conditional convergence after controlling for the degree of urbanization. The regression estimate shows that a 10-percentage-point higher rate of urbanization is associated with 1.3 percentage points per year higher annual growth.

We also offer some preliminary explanations for the unusual growth experiences of some states. We consider four such mysteries: (1) the mediocre growth of Kerala despite excellent social indicators; (2) the relatively fast growth of landlocked, and arid Rajasthan; (3) the improved growth performance of landlocked Madhya Pradesh; and (4) the poor growth performance of coastal Orissa.

Keywords: Indian states, regional growth, sub-national performance

JEL subject codes: E65, H72