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Backward Bahraich, Shravasti, Balrampur, Gonda, Basti

Subodh Varma, Feb 25 2017: The Times of India  

To the north, along the Nepal border lies a belt that time seems to have bypassed -Bahraich, Shravasti, Balrampur, Gonda, Basti among others.Forests, swamps and lakes dot the landscape threaded by rivers Ghagra, Rapti and Gomti, Ganga's tributaries. To the south are river plains lush with wheat and mustard in Sultanpur, Amethi, Faizabad.

Shravasti district is unique, emblematic of the northern zone. It has the state's lowest per capita income, lowest literacy rate, no registered factories or other establishments. There is an irony here: Shravasti was the capital of the great ancient kingdom of Kosala and Gautam Buddha spent 24 years here.Now it is in a time warp, as are neighbouring districts, all boasting of a glorious past but today in shocking decline. The southern half too has legendary heritage. Ayodhya, believed to be Ram's birthplace lies on Saryu's banks in Faizabad.Amethi's seen huge political attention in modern times due to star netas winning there. Yet, Amethi's per capita income is not too different from Bahraich or Balrampur's.

A distinctive feature of the region is its low urbanisation.Shravasti has the dubious distinction again of the state's lowest urban population, a mere 3%. But even Amethi and Sultanpur have about 6% urban dwellers. The majority is also dependent on agriculture, with over 78% area tilled by small and marginal farmers. This is one reason for the area's extreme backwardness, and also high out-migration rates. Some pockets have evolved an industrial profile of sorts like Tanda in Ambedkar Nagar district, which became famous for its `Tanda Terrycot' in the heyday of the powerloom in 1980's. To day it still has a name of sorts for making lungis, gamchhas, and Arafat rumaals (scarves).The region has a higher than average, over 30%, Muslim population in Bahraich, Balrampur, Shravasti and Siddharth Nagar.

Is this gross under-development a historical accident or something else? Consider that just 1% of the state's 4,280 de gree colleges are in this region, and on average 40-60% children are underweight, and almost all anemic as per the Census's 2014 Health Survey Institutional deliveries are just 46% compared to the state's average of 57%.Infant mortality rates are chillingly high, reaching 130 deaths per 1,000 live births in Shravasti and 115 in AyodhyaFaizabad

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