January 6, 2017

Syndrome of Underdevelopment in Odisha

~ By Sandeep Mahapatra

You would think that one of the first State to be formed  11 years prior to independence would have taken  pole position in today’s India but the truth is the state lags behind on all parameters of development. Majority of the villages are still waiting for the most basic amenities of the modern times.  The ornament like eulogies of peace loving, mineral rich etc etc. are used as alibi to cover up such anomalies.  Odisha of the present day is a far cry from what it should have been in its more than eight decades of its being.

The recent incidences of a tribal man carrying his dead wife as the hospital authorities refused to provide an ambulance, and another one where an 80 year old dead woman being subjected to the ignominy of being broken into two, to be able to be carried on a pole are just but two instances of many such tragedies that may have gone unreported.  Scores of children have died due to Japanese Encephalitis in Malkangiri district in a span of 15 days or which speaks volumes about the health care  system or absence thereof in the State. In all such instances except for making the customary statement, the Govt. of the day in the State has done little to remedy the situation.

They highlight the widespread despair of the state led by a government  that boasts of policies “from cradle to the grave”. Nothing could be far from the truth. Of late, the  refrain has been that a commoner is living on “ dole outs”. The BJD Govt. that tom toms, at the drop of a hat, tom toms that it provides rice at Rs.2 a kilo and meals at Rs. 5 a plate. But visit to any district in the western Odisha region will tell you a an entirely different story, tragic taleswhere every year thousands of menfolk with the entire family in tow, are forced to migrate to Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Tamil Nadu for more than six months of back breaking labour in brick kilns, live in shelters with under conditions worse than shanties, and often denied even their dues for the work they do. They are cheated, humiliated, beaten up and left to fend for themselves, only to  to return the next year to the same life so that they could repay the advance they had taken the previous year from the owner. The vicious cycle continues year on year…so much for a state that boasts about countless welfare scheme.

Travesty that seizes the poor could not be more amplified than in Odisha.

These are only a few instances indicative of the fact that the state is plagued with acute poverty. Let us not forget the countless farmer suicide that went unnoticed last year as the national media turned a blind eye to this despicable situation.

The situation is no different in the coastal districts either, considered as a region better off than the western districts. A month or two back, reports of severe malnutrition in many villages of Jajpur District were widely reported in the local media. As chance would have it, this even caught the attention of of the TRP motivated national media. .

The fundamental questions – what ails the State? Why Odisha has lagged behind despite having the potential and resources to do much better? Why it is that a state with more than 3.5 Crore population has failed to live upto the expectation of its people???

These are pertinent questions and anyone having some amount of interest in the state will be able to answer, rather these questions are often being posed by all those who eulogise about the history of the state especially on its foundation day;April 1. The state of affairs is not taken as a challenge but rhetoric, perhaps may be because such speakers don’t want to face the reality and/or have no answer/s for these oft-posed questions.

Decades back, the Odia State Board school education system, the text books mentionedHirakud Reservoir and Rourkela Steel plant as the marvels of the state post independence. Close to three decades now, these are the only two landmark developmental work that comes to any average Odia’s mind. Both these landmarks were constructed more than 50 years back, barring the Paradip Port, a DRDO research centre, afew engineering and medical colleges, no new additions were made which could have contributed in the field of education or employment. Post independence, the only avenue that an Odia person could have looked for was a Govt. job with little or no scope for promotion of entrepreneurshipwhich could be one of the reasons for lack of entrepreneurial zeal in the state that subsists till date.

At the political leadership level some leaders did comeup to the national stage and it would be wrong not to acknowledge their efforts for the state, but overall, for many of them it was more of self preservation than interest of the state that took precedence. Added to this, the fact that the state has only a handful of seats in the Lok Sabha meant that in terms of power play also, it mattered little. Though MPs of the state have gone on to become Ministers at the Centre, they have not held significant positions, barring exceptions, to wield power that could tilt the balance in favour of Odisha

According to one estimate, Odisha government had signed MoUs with 92 companies during the period between 2000 and 2014. And only 41 industries have started partial production so far. These 41 units which have started partial production include 35 steel units, three power plants and one each in aluminium, cement and auto-ancillary sector. Most of the power, aluminium and steel projects happen to be facing land acquisition hurdles and acute shortage of raw material. Another estimate reveals that close to 95 MoUs were signed during the period between 2000 and 2012. Quite a reflection on the state of affairs in Odisha.

As we all know, signing MoUs is not difficult  as Odisha has been favourable investment destination, both domestic and foreign. This investment inflow is not because of the investor friendly nature of the dispensation of the state here else they would have all seen the light of the day. They come to the state because Odisha has minerals.

It is home to about 33 percent of the iron ore reserves, 55 percent of bauxite, 25 percent of coal, 40 percent of manganese and 95 percent of chromite in the country. Government’s industrialisation plans from the very start were almost entirely dependent on large scale extraction and exploitation of the state’s mineral resources which incidentally are located in the tribal heartland, which has constantly been vulnerable to radical movements, armed or otherwise. The tribal people account for a whopping 24 percent of the state’s population. Consideration of the potential trouble areas did not precede signing of the MoUs, resulting in a staggering gap between promise and delivery of the industrial projects.

In the last two years Odisha government has brought two policy documents: a new ICT Policy- 2014 and Industrial Policy Resolution -2015. Projecting on the new ICT Policy, Chief Minister claimed: “In fact, we target to create one lakh jobs in IT sector in the next five years. It is a matter of pride that growth rate of IT exports from the state is more than the national growth rate for last many years. Bhubaneswar has equally made good progress in IT SEZ sector too.”

How so we wish that the state government also brings out white papers on the promises it made and abysmal failures due to lack of political will.

Apart from the two high profile policy resolutions, the government has organized two highly hyped investor’s meets in Mumbai and Bengaluru in this year.  In the investors’ meet of Mumbai on February 14, held as part of the Make in India Week, there is media reportage of Odisha bagging Rs 70,959 crore investment commitments, including around Rs 30,000 crore investments in the mineral sector and the rest in areas like food processing, electronics, textiles and renewable energy. In the subsequent two-day investors’ meet of Bengaluru on August 25 & 26, the government has boasted of holding discussions with at least 66 companies and attracting investment as much as Rs 90,490 crore.

 A reality check of the proclaimed endeavours for industrialisation and employment generation during a prolonged tenure of the present dispensation discloses least progress on the ground, due to lack of political vision and sincerity. The regional equilibrium in terms of expanding upstream manufacturing base in the Western part,   fostering   downstream industrial infrastructure in the coastal belt, building multi-mode line of communication between the two regions and promoting service sector with special focus on tourism across the geographical expanse should be the ideal development blueprint of the State. The key in realising this objective lies in keeping the provincial policy approach in sync with lager development efforts of the central government which presently entrust foremost emphasis on industrialisation in the Eastern India and on its unique Sagar Mala project in Peninsular India. On the contrary, Odisha leadership joins the path of Chief Ministers elsewhere, whotry to project themselves as future alternatives to current national eldership by making false projections of their respective provincial development endeavours.   However, the hard reality is that achievement of substantive progress in a province is the stepping stone for elevation of concerned provincial leadership into national one. Gujarat is clear a testimony to this commonsensical wisdom.

The ground level implementation of the even Central schemes are in a shambles. It seems the vested interest wish to perpetuate poverty and underdevelopment. It is needless to reaffirm that Odisha has been deliberately kept poor and her people have been forced to suffer from deprivation and indignity, despite being rich in culture, natural resource, forest cover, marine space, attractive tourism potential, unique handicraft, ancient trading background, and above all historically powerful statecraft (political admistration, for instance, Kalinga is one of the oldest states in the human history).People in ground have been compelled to become dependent on ready help from outside, instead ofbeing ensured with constructive avenues, sense of self help, and enterprising work culture. Since independence most of its ruling elites except few statesmen are responsible for this state of affairin Odisha.

The policy documents and the investor’s meet (people often call them jamborees for the favourites of the current regime in the state) are merely pie in the sky. The adage – all sound and fury and no substance – sums up the rule of the BJD in the state. The present governing dispensation has hammered the final nail to the coffin.

And the innocent masses have no option but to carry them by themselves. Change in the need. Change is the demand.


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  1. Comprehensive article on disappointing state of affairs in Odisha; despite its strategic location, rich mineral base and having been a prosperous empire in past.

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