NITI Aayog chief Amitabh Kant said on Monday that the states in India’s southern and western region were growing rapidly, but states such as Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Chhattisgarh were holding back the country, ANI reported. He was speaking at the first Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan Memorial Lecture at Jamia Millia Islamia University in New Delhi.

“States like Bihar, UP, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan are keeping India backward especially on social indicators,” PTI quoted Kant as saying. “While we have improved on ease of doing business, we have remained backward on human development index. We are still 131 out of 188 countries in HDI [human development index].”

Opposition leader in Bihar and Rashtriya Janata Dal leader, Tejashwi Yadav, did not take well to Kant’s criticism of Bihar. “Bihar and Biharis pay equal taxes, contribute equally or more in governance and nation-building,” he wrote on Twitter on Tuesday. “Bihar gave 33 MPs to NDA; seven Union ministers are from Bihar; both state and central governments are of the same party and alliance. But still these babus say Bihar is backward.”

At the lecture, Kant also said that the government was working on improving the country’s social indicators by implementing the Aspirational Districts Programme. He also emphasised the importance of sustainable growth.

“Education and health are critical, and these are areas in which India is lagging behind,” he said. “Our learning outcomes are poor – a Class 5 student is not able to do Class 2 subtraction. Class 5 student is not able to read his mother tongue. Infant mortality rates are very high. Unless we improve on these aspects, it will be difficult to grow in a consistent way.”

He also called for an increase in women’s participation in the decision-making process. “There must be a conscious effort to frame policies to give women opportunities,” Kant said.