While addressing the media a day before the Purvanchal Expressway inauguration in Lucknow on November 17, 2021, Navneet Sehgal, additional chief secretary (Information and Micro, Small and Medium Enterprise) of the government of Uttar Pradesh claimed that UP is no longer a BIMARU (acronym for Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh) state.

"According to data from the Bombay Stock Exchange (BSE), Uttar Pradesh has more than 55 lakh demat accounts (used for trading in stock exchange), highest after Maharashtra and Gujarat. It is no longer a BIMARU state," Hindustan Times quoted him as saying.

But this is not the first time the state government has made such a claim. On March 19, 2021, UP chief minister Yogi Adityanath, while marking his government's fourth year in office, said that they had lifted UP from its status as a BIMARU state to one which was 'samarth' (capable), the Times of India, reported. Moreover, prior to state and national elections in the past, political leaders and government officials of BIMARU states such as Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh also claimed to have shed the title.

The term BIMARU, resembling the Hindi word 'bimar' (sick), was coined by demographer Ashish Bose in the early 1980s to define Indian states that were among the worst in health and demographic indicators. It was used almost synonymously to depict the bad socio-economic performances of these four states. Three decades later, economist Vinita Sharma, in an article for Economic and Political Weekly (EPW), in 2015, updated Bose's analysis and found that although Uttar Pradesh had made progress in most social indicators, the state continued to remain poor as the gaps between UP, southern states and the national average persisted in majority of the indicators.

Why the Statement is Misleading

To begin with, the claim made by additional chief secretary, Sehgal, that UP does not fall under the BIMARU category is solely based on demat accounts. There is seldom a link between demat accounts and the BIMARU status of a state because the latter is mainly assessed by looking at health and socio-economic indicators. "Demat accounts are merely reflecting how the upper middle class has become richer," Santosh Mehrotra, human development economist and visiting professor at the Centre for Development, University of Bath, United Kingdom, told FactChecker.

With more than 23 crore people, UP has the largest population in the country, per the government's projected total population between March 2001 and 2026. "It may be pertinent to recall here that UP is the largest Indian state (in terms of population) and it is but natural to have many of the aggregate indicators featuring among the largest in India like GSDP [gross state domestic product], demat accounts, manufacturing activity, agricultural production, etc.," Vikash Vaibhav, assistant professor at Dr B.R. Ambedkar School of Economics University (BASE) in Bengaluru, told FactChecker. "All these aggregate measures need to be suitably normalised," he added. As of November 24, 2021, UP has a total of 70.77 lakh registered investors with the Bombay Stock Exchange, highest after Maharashtra (1.8 crore) and Gujarat (99.56 lakh).

FactChecker tried contacting Sehgal for his clarification via call and text but had not received a response by the time this article was published.

FactChecker looked at social indicators such as birth and death rate, infant mortality rate (IMR), literacy rate and other social indicators using national data sources, such as the National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO), the latest National Family Health Survey (NFHS-5), and Sample Registration Systems bulletins (SRS). Our analysis shows that although UP has seen an improvement since the last decade, it is far from converging with the national averages on most social indicators. Moreover, when it comes to health indicators such as IMR, UP seems to be diverging.

It is also worth noting that out of more than 23 crore people in UP, the NFHS-5 data is gathered from only 70,710 households, 93,124 women, and 12,043 men.

UP's birth and death rate higher than national average

In spite of seeing a decline since 2011, the birth rate of UP remains higher than the national average, according to the latest 2019 Sample Registration Survey (SRS) figures. Birth rate is defined as the number of live births per thousand population in a given region and year, and is a crude measure of fertility of a population and a crucial determinant of population growth, according to the SRS report.

UP's birth rate came down from 28.3 live births per thousand population in 2011 to 25.4 in 2019 but has still not been able to converge with the national average of 19.7. By only a marginal difference, UP stands at second place after Bihar (25.8). While the birth rate is high, so is the death rate in UP. Death rate is defined as the number of deaths per thousand population in a given region and time period, and is useful in measuring mortality and population change in that area. At 6.5, UP's death rate is slightly higher than the national average (6) and is placed at second spot after Madhya Pradesh (6.6) among BIMARU states.

When it comes to total fertility rate or TFR, UP (2.4) once again ranks second highest after Bihar (3) among BIMARU states and is yet to match the national fertility rate of 2. This is despite seeing a fall in fertility rates from 2.7 in 2015-16. TFR, considered one of the most useful indicators of fertility, is defined as the average number of children that would be born to a woman by the time she ends childbearing. UP is yet to reach below-replacement fertility of 2 which is the combination of fertility and mortality levels that leads to a negative population growth rate.

Moreover, while launching UP's Population Policy 2021-2030, Yogi Adityanath had called rising population in the state a 'hurdle in development' and also said his government aims to bring down the total fertility rate among women to 2.1 by 2026 and to 1.9 by 2030, The Print reported on July 11, 2021.

Poor Performance on Health Indicators

With nearly 50 infants dying per 1,000 live births in 2020-2021, UP has recorded the worst child mortality rates in all three categories in the country, according to NFHS-5 data. Infant mortality rate or IMR is defined as infant deaths (less than one year) per thousand live births in a given time period and for a given region, and is considered to be a crucial indicator of the overall health scenario of a country.

In the under-five mortality rate (U5MR), UP has recorded nearly 60 deaths per 1,000 births, lower than 78 U5MR from 2015-16, NFHS-4. But this is still much higher than the current 41.9 national average mark. Similarly, UP has scored the worst in neonatal mortality rate (infants dying in their first month of life) — from 45 deaths in 2015-16 to 35.7 in 2020-21 — diverging against the national average of 24.9. This is followed by other BIMARU states — Bihar (34.5), Madhya Pradesh (29) and Rajasthan (20.2).

Nearly 70% of children in UP between 12-23 months are fully vaccinated based on information from either vaccination card or mother's recall. Although higher from 2015-16, it is six percentage points lower than the national average of 76.4%.

Only 6.1% of children between 6-23 months receive an adequate diet — this places UP at the lowest among the BIMARU states. As many as 40% of children are stunted — short for their age — (second from the bottom); and 17.3% of children are wasted — thin for their height — (third from the bottom).

To add to the dismal figures, the percentage of anaemic children (6-59 months) has increased from 63.2% in 2015-16 to 66.4% in 2020-21. However, although high, the percentage of non-pregnant women (15-49 years ) who are anaemic has reduced from 52.5% in 2015-16 to 50.6 in 2020-21 and is lower than the current national average of 57.2%. In all, these indicators may explain the high mortality rate in children in UP.

Literacy Rates Improving But Yet To Meet National Average

India's average literacy rate is 77.7% and UP's is at 73%, according to 'Household Social Consumption on Education in India', a study conducted by National Statistical Office (NSO). The state's literacy rate has increased by only four percentage points in the last 10 years, from 69.72% in 2011 to 73% in 2020-21.

Per the NFHS-5 data, while 82% men are literate, only 66.1% women can read or write in UP — still not a major improvement from 61% during 2015-16. A major share (77.2%) of the literacy rate is seen in urban women while 62.4 belonging to rural households are literate.

UP has also seen a rise in female population aged 6 years and above who ever attended school — from 63% in 2015-16 to 67.4% in 2020-21. But this, too, remains lower than the national average of 71.8%.

Other indicators

As many as 62.4% of couples in UP use some sort of family planning method (India's average is 66.7%). This is a significant rise from 45.5% in 2015-16.

Nearly 16% of women are married before 18 years; lower from 21% in 2015-16. The state has managed to perform well as compared to the national average of 23.3%.

Further, UP has also seen a slight decrease in spousal violence; from 36.6% in 2015-16 to 34.8% in 2020-21. However, this is still higher than the national average of 29.3%. The state ranks second from bottom among the BIMARU states with Rajasthan faring the worst at 40%.