The Indian state of Tamil Nadu grew relatively fast during the 1990s and performed relatively well in terms of human development. However there were considerable disparities between districts within the state. This paper analyses these inter-district variations in levels of income and human development and attempts to explain the causes of low incomes in some districts. It uses data from the late 1990s on per capita GDP and a variety of education and health indicators, and computes human development index (HDI) values comparable to those used by the United Nations Development Programme. It finds that:
the benefits of growth have not been spread evenly, with a group of districts on the eastern part of the state lagging behind others economically and socially
of the 29 districts, 19 had per capita income below the state average and 18 had a human development index (HDI) value below the state average, suggesting a very skewed distribution of both values
the two poorest districts (Tiruvannamalai and Vilupuram) are adjacent to the two richest districts (Chennai and Kanchipuram)
per capita income in Kanchipuram, the highest ranked district, was three times that in Vilupuram, the lowest ranked district
Chennai had the highest HDI value (0.75) and Vilupuram the lowest (0.57)
the non-primary sector tends to constitute a larger share of industry in the relatively high-income districts
most of the poorest districts are major rice producers, yet have low productivity rates in rice production
higher income districts also tended to have higher literacy and school enrolment rates, lower infant mortality, and higher life expectancy.
The paper concludes by suggesting that policy measures should focus on agricultural productivity and social backwardness as important causes of inter-district disparities, and that future research should try to identify other possible causes.