HDI (meaning): The HDI was created to emphasize that people and their capabilities should be the ultimate criteria for assessing the development of a country, not economic growth alone. (more info)

I am seeing this graph on Wikipedia which gives the HDI of each state in India:

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Why is it that the states in the middle are generally less developed? Is there some general reason for this?


3 Answers 3


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The low HDI region in Northern India has comparative advantage within India in agriculture with Fertile Crescent crops and Indian rice. And, so there is been less pressure for this region to depart from a traditional rural agricultural economic model and culture, than there has been elsewhere in India, which goes to why this region is called "the Cow belt" of India (reflecting a rural, religiously conservative predominantly Hindu region), which in a comparative socio-economic sense is somewhat analogous to the "Deep South" in the United States that had a predominantly agricultural economy long after the Northern states in the United States had more fully industrialized.

Conversely, the more developed parts of India aren't optimal for agriculture, which in the South is due to its monsoon climate to which the most valuable staple crops are ill-suited. So, these regions have had comparative advantage for non-agricultural pursuits and have developed accordingly.

An urban commercial economic model is better for pretty much any measure of development from per capita GDP, to Human Development Index, to life expectancy, to average number of of children per woman per lifetime (more precisely Total Fertility Rate), to pretty much any other measure you use. While each of these indexes measures something slightly different, in the case of India, the disparities are so extreme that these distinctions become irrelevant and any of them will do.

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In India, as in China, as in Europe, as in Africa, as in Latin America, and as in the United States, per capita productivity is greater in places with higher population density (adjusting only for current, easily exploitable natural resource deposits like oil and natural gas). The linked 2011 economic study using U.S. notes, consistent with the larger literature in economics, that: "we find that a doubling of density increases productivity by 2 to 4 percent." And, over time, this edge in productivity produces compounding returns.

The image below is a district level population density map of India:

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Higher population density and the productivity gains that come with it, emerge much more naturally when you have an urbanized commercial economy because your region is comparatively ill suited to being a "breadbasket", than when your region's business model is based upon agriculture.

The effect is somewhat similar to the "coal curse" observed in global economic development, which shows that areas that were "blessed" which rich coal resources focused on mining those resources and failed to develop as strong of a broader based commercial economy. As a result, places with historically rich coal resources tend to lag economically behind places that had few fossil fuel resources.


If you had a map of any other country, such as USA, China, Russia and even Belgium or Montenegro, you will mostly see the same pattern:

  • Regions in proximity of a sea and having good ports are relatively prosperous. Navigable rivers work to smaller extent.
  • So are the regions in proximity of country's capital, sometimes large cities work too.
  • Regions which do not have sea/navigable river access fare worse.
  • For the rest of them, climate and geographic features will be the deciding factor.
  • There are a few outlier regions based on natural resources availability, history, etc.

For anything you produce in central regions, you need to pay for the logistics of bringing raw materials in and product out. For port cities this is not the case. Capitals distort this since they create their own demand - everything needs to be hauled to capital and might as well be produced locally cheaper.

Policy decisions may make this effect smaller, but will not get rid of it entirely.

  • This answers why they would have a lower GDP, not a lower HDI. To have an answer, you would have to state that the low HDI is caused by low GDP, and then provide actual info about the GDP instead of guesses (that info is readily available, for example en.wikipedia.org/wiki/… or en.wikipedia.org/wiki/…)
    – SJuan76
    Aug 4, 2022 at 12:34
  • @SJuan76 I suggest that you can either write your own answer or edit that of mine.
    – alamar
    Aug 4, 2022 at 12:37

One very primary reason is the difficulty in administration. these states were improperly designed, not based on ease of administration. UP is practically impossible to govern by a single CM. Its popltion's greater than that of Russia! Illiteracy has caused lot of problems. Also these regions are primarily agro based and industry never got proper attention here, resource-richness-curse also played out. Politics based on caste and communal differences. Poor leadership from the start.From all these came in high corruption and crime. A large number of them are the biggest Indian state that should explain a lot of it(administrstively). Potential pockets thus never got required attention by leaders, who got mass votes without any work for communal reasons.

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