“India does not live in its towns but in its villages,” wrote Mohandas Gandhi in 1931. “When the cities realise that they must live for the welfare of the poor, they will make their palaces and institutions and the life of their inhabitants correspond somewhat to our villages.’’

The first bit of Gandhi’s observation is still true today. As of 2017, two out of three Indians lived in rural areas – a significantly high proportion globally where less than half now live in villages. However, Gandhi’s wish that cities correspond to villages has not been followed very well. In fact, India’s urban spaces grab most of the attention in public life, ranging from the Indian government to the media.

In this, a scoring of gram panchayats by the Union Ministry of Rural Development’s Mission Antyodaya programme allows people interested in policy to see the big picture view of rural growth in India. Gram panchayats are elected self-governments based at the village level. This map charts the average score of all the gram panchayats in each state.

The villages were ranked on parameters such as irrigation coverage, the availability of banks and ATMs as well as the availability of schools, electricity and telecom services, amongst others.

There is little surprise that villages in South India lead the rest of the country. Kerala has the highest score in the country and all five southern states are in the top 10. Conversely, every village ranked from 1 to 10 – there are 197 such instances given multiple villages having the same score – belongs to South India. However, the states to the extreme North, with the exception of Jammu and Kashmir, do rather well too. These three states – Punjab, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh – were once part of the Punjab province of British India.

The heartland Hindi states, however, perform badly – with Bihar and Jharkhand bringing up the bottom in that region. The North East is especially egregious in the functioning of its gram panchayats. Four out of five of the worst performing states in India are located in the North East.

Surprisingly, however, the link between state prosperity and the performance of its panchayats is uneven. While they are linked in the southern states, Maharashtra lags behind even though it has one of the highest per capita incomes in the country. The average gram panchayat scores of Maharashtra and West Bengal are the same and both states lag behind Tripura. While Haryana has a higher per capita income than Kerala, its average gram panchayat score lags behind that of Kerala significantly. This might be because development in India is skewed towards its urban centres.

Open defecation

Interestingly, the data collected via Mission Antyodaya differs significantly from Union government claims elsewhere on open defecation. Other than the Union territories of Chandigarh and Daman and Diu, no state or Union territory is open defecation free.

Reporting from the ground has also brought up problems with how villages are declared open defecation free. In Chhattisgarh, for example, large swathes of areas under Maoist control were arbitrarily declared open defecation free by the Swachh Bharat Mission even when this was not true.

All data used is as of November 1, 2018.