India has lacked a consistent, well-formulated strategy for balanced regional development. This has been true both in the absence of an effective policy regarding location of industrial projects, as well as in the highly selective nature of agricultural growth in terms of regions.
What can be said is that over the period 1950- 91, regional disparity did not go down. Added to this is the fact that some states have very high per capita state domestic product compared to other states. Moreover, many of the richer states in 1951 continued to be so in 1990, while some states that were among the poorest in 1951 were also poor in 1990.
Alleviation of poverty and raising the standard of living have been integral components of social justice in India. These have also been among the central objectives of economic planning.
In the first four decades, two phases of poverty alleviation can be discerned. In the first phase which continued till the Fourth Plan, the primary emphasis was on economic growth because it was felt that growth will itself take care of equity, and that the benefits of growth will ‘trickle down’ to the poorer sections.
Beginning with the Fifth Plan, poverty was sought to be removed through a direct attack on poverty. To this end several explicit anti-poverty programmes were launched and were directed towards selected target groups. If we take the rise in real (adjusting for inflation over time) income per capita as a rough overall measure of well- being, some improvement has taken place over the last four decades, with per capita income at constant prices almost doubling between 1950-51 and 1990-91. Per capita availability of foodgrains increased by about 13 per cent over this period.
Enrolment in primary school level in the age group 5-14 has risen from 25 per cent to 50 per cent, and overall literacy rate has gone up from 18 per cent to 52 per cent. Life expectancy at birth has increased from 32 years to 60 years. Overall death rates as well as infant mortality rate have declined.