What is the secret of success in social inclusion? An example from Himachal Pradesh


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We started with a standard warm-up question as Gangi Devi, our first respondent, sat in anticipation. “Tell me a little bit about your society. What is distinctive about the Himachali way of life?” A smile lined up a face creased otherwise with wrinkles. “We are a peaceful society,” she said after thinking a little. “People here are good to one another, we stand by each other.” A person sitting next to her added for good measure, “We Himachalis are very innocent people.”
For those working in the development space in India, the state of  Himachal Pradesh, a small state ensconced in the Himalayas with a population of 7 million, is an outlier for many reasons, not least of which is Gangi Devi’s near puritan response.
Gangi Devi lives near a tourist centre close to Shimla, the state capital, which has seen increasing tourist footfall in recent years. Even as her community is debating the costs and benefits of increased activity around their village, Gangi Devi and her neighbours trust that the state government would keep people’s interests in mind and address adverse impacts, if any, of increased tourism on the environment.
Their belief in the government is supported by real actions. Himachal Pradesh is the first state in India to ban the use of plastic bags. Smoking in public spaces in the city of Shimla is punishable by law.
Governance in Himachal Pradesh looks doubly impressive when considered against an enviable development record Despite being the most rural state in India, with 90 percent of its residents living in villages,
  • Himachal Pradesh’s per capita income is the second highest among “special category states” in India[1] ;
  • The state has achieved a four-fold decline in rural poverty over the last two decades;
  • It has the highest post-secondary education across northern states;
  • It has the second highest rural female labour force participation rate in India;
  • It has a similar fertility rate to that of France and lower than that of the United States.
Most importantly, good outcomes hold true for all social groups, including the traditionally excluded Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, who perform worse than other groups across India.
How did Himachal Pradesh not only reduce poverty within a generation, but also share prosperity even with groups that were historically left behind?
In a new report, Scaling the Heights: Social Inclusion and Sustainable Development in Himachal Pradesh, we document Himachal Pradesh’s achievements and look at the factors underlying the state’s success. We show that the foundations for progress in Himachal Pradesh were laid by early land reforms. Almost 80 percent of rural households in the state possess some land and nearly half cultivate it. Over time, the distribution of land across social groups has remained more equal in Himachal Pradesh compared to the rest of India.
Even the Scheduled Castes, who are historically over-represented among the landless, own land in Himachal Pradesh, with the gap between their landholdings and that of other groups’ closing over time. This has meant that everyone benefited from rural reforms and agricultural programs, which were instrumental in tackling rural poverty.
There are many who suggest that Himachal Pradesh’s status as ‘special category’ state, which made it eligible for concessional government grants, have made it easier for the state government to expand infrastructure and service delivery across its tough, hilly terrain.
While this is true, it isn’t clear from existing accounts why the Government of Himachal Pradesh invested its resources responsibly and how the state maintained inter-group equity, despite hosting one of the highest proportion of Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe populations in India.
Our analysis points to some institutional and socio-cultural foundations that may have underpinned Himachal Pradesh’s success. For instance, people’s proximity to state officials has created an environment where citizens have both voice and leverage. The state has a committed bureaucracy, which has constantly innovated policies of inclusion and did not shy away from distributional reforms. The state’s unique culture, characterized by religious homogeneity, a cohesive caste structure and small settlements in a tough terrain, has reinforced a milieu of interdependence and local accountability.
Together with the very nature of Himachali society, organized around a common reverence for the bounty of nature around them, these factors seem to have created a stable social contract for change.
The story of Himachal Pradesh illustrates that the state can be the foremost propeller of social inclusion, be it through service delivery, local accountability or conscious efforts to maintain inter-group equity. It also shows that culture, social norms and practices can be powerful enablers of inclusive development. For practitioners working in contexts that want to move toward social inclusion, the vivid story of this Himalayan hill state, which Gangi Devi and many others so aptly describe, promises valuable lessons and examples.
[1] An earlier version of this blog post mistakenly stated that the state had the second highest per capita income in the entire country. This has been corrected to reflect the fact that Himachal Pradesh ranks second among “special category” states rather than among all Indian states.


Soumya Kapoor Mehta

Social Development Consultant

Join the Conversation

Sanjay Sharma
March 30, 2015

But it is strange that how the World Bank has not noticed the anomaly of Public Distribution System or Foodgrain Distribution of the State Government to all of its population, which is against the model code of conduct of the World Bank. Earlier all the families were given equal amount of foodgrain. But later the large families were obliged by more foodgrain according to the large number of family members. This decision to reverse the older one was taken about 10 years ago. Those who have adopted the family planning measures are being penalised by less foodgrain, while the larger families are being given more foodgrain. The motto seems to be, "Give birth to more children and get more foodgrain". So the people in order to get more foodgrain from the PDS have stopped adopting the the family planning measures, especially in the villages. Rather the Govt. should have penalised the larger families by giving equal foodgrain to all as was being done earlier. The basic unit for the maximum family foodgrain quota should be 4 i.e., Husband, wife and two children, as advertised in family planning programmes of the State. Those having less than or more than 4 members should be given the same quantity of foodgrains to follow the WHO guidelines of controlling the population explosion. The World Bank should reconsider the decision of giving financial help to the state as the aforesaid measure is populist and meant for votes not for the overall development of the state. The World Bank should force the state government to practise what it preaches and do not fritter away the hard earned money of tax payers or of World Bank.

Syed Shoaib
May 23, 2019

Dude! did you read that fertility rates in Himachal Pradesh are of the lowest before hypothesizing these correlations?

March 27, 2015

-EMPLOYABILITY of education
-Renewable technologies for small & medium enterprises
-Land holdings to be etched digitally on Adhar Cards.

Anonymous Himachali
March 30, 2015

Though Himachal has developed a lot...
But according to me :
1) Condition of roads and HRTC buses is still pathetic in some areas.
2) More job opportunities should be provided.
There is no IT in himachal if we look at the corporate side.
IT should be promoted. Not only it will improve the employment rate but also lower rate of migration of people to metropolitan cities
3) Women are still looked down at some places especially rural areas and villages.
4) Compared to opening more private colleges, schools should be opened.
5) HPU riots and high level politics should be strictly judged and banned.

March 29, 2015

what development?
1. All roads be it national highways or district roads are in ruins. Full of craters of all sizes.
2. Unemployment is at all time high. Going by press reports there are 10 lakh unemployed youth in state.
3 . Railroad network is non existent.
4. Airway network is non existent.
5. State doesn't has money to pay salaries but ministers run in cavalades of 4 to 5 expensive vehicles.
6. CM wont step out of his helicopter. Common public in tribal areas keep losing their loved ones as helicopter is always on VIP duty .
This is nothing but miracles of data numbers. Reality of this development is nothing but a bogus balloon.

March 30, 2015

Do you have any source which states that Himachal Pradesh’s per capita income is the second highest in the country ?

Emcet Tas
May 23, 2019

Thank you for your comment. An earlier version of this blog post mistakenly stated that Himachal Pradesh had the second highest per capita income in India. This has been corrected to reflect the fact that the state's per capita income ranks second highest among “special category” states (after Sikkim) as reported in the Economic Survey of Himachal Pradesh 2014-15.

Karan Sood
March 30, 2015

Wonderful blog, being Himachali it gives me sense of great pleasure. Looking forward to read full report.

Guman Singh
April 02, 2015

I agree with this report but this seems just glorification of state realities are still worst at some corner; such as caste discrimination is still prevailing, environmental degradation which took place due to maga investment in hydro,unregulated tourism operation, cement, and chemical industry has harmed a lot. It give rise corruption in high ranking of government and political parties has turned the parties of Thekedars where common men has no space today. Thanks to Dr. YS Parmar who is the real architect of this Himachal but present leadership is ready to hand over this to World bank and ADB; who are intervening in policy framing. Lets see the results of this ...Hope we will develop inclusively by our own efforts not under world bank direction.

Emcet Tas
April 22, 2015

We thank all readers for their interest in this article. As we point out in the main report, we agree that it is important for Himachal Pradesh to focus on environmental sustainability, youth employment, gender inequality and governance as it moves toward a new phase of growth, as these are likely to be key drivers of success in the future. We have addressed many of these issues in some detail in our report and also discussed them during our conversations with relevant stakeholders in Himachal Pradesh. Thank you.