Let Odisha vigorously pursue a policy for backward regions

the pioneer | May 21, 2021

The post independent economic development process in Odisha has not generated much employment for all sections of people across the State as evident from the growing distress migration.

The economic policies has contributed to widening the rich –poor gap across social groups as well as increasing the regional disparities.The unorganized sector labourers, small and marginal farmers, sharecroppers and petty traders are in the bottomline. It is evident from the statistics of the Government that many of the middle age socio-economic issues such as child labour, bonded labour, distress seasonal migration, trafficking, illiteracy, untouchability, social discrimination, malnutrition and extreme poverty are still prevalent in the State in spite of rule of a regional party for five times consecutively. These problems are the consequences of the economic policies of the successive Governments ruled for the last seventy years.

Justice SK Mohanty Commission’s report on regional imbalance submitted to the Government in 2008 identified south-west districts such as Malkangiri, Nuapada, Gajapati, Ganjam, Kalahandi, Kondhamal and northern districts like Mayurbhanj, Sundargarh and Keonjhar as most underdeveloped. This region is home to a majority of the total poor of the State but it is contributing more to the State treasury in terms of SGDP.

It has been observed that there is serious disparity in development of different regions and social groups in the State. The south-west and northern part of Odisha remain backward in many aspects of human and social development as well as in terms of educational, health, and communication infrastructure.

The most serious concern is lack of basic amenities like safe drinking water, electricity and connectivity. The lop-sided development has a serious impact on the economic growth of the State and very negatively encourages separatist tendencies, violence and extremism out of a sense of alienation and underdevelopment.

It is affecting production, social peace and quality of life. The charity, subsidy and welfare programme such as Re 1 per kg rice and few paltry schemes remain a dominant discourse in political mobilization of the poor people of the State.

Corporate private investment in mining and industry is being projected as State economic development and the role of State investment in economic development remains minimal. The development model of the Centre, schemes and programmes are being replicated by the State without any local innovation and considering the local context and relevance and a regional economic development prospective.

The costal districts remain always prone to natural calamities and every year people routinely suffer with losses and damages. It becomes the responsibility of the State to intervene in emergency through humanitarian relief.

This has been a regular State expense without a permanent solution to such tragedies. There is no plan by the State except relief to the affected people hit by flood, drought, cyclone and disaster. The biggest work done by the Government is the rescue operation and humanitarian aid. For the last seventy years, there has been nothing beyond relief.

As removal of regional disparity in development is one of the important agendas of the State which has been reflected in implementation of programmes like Biju KBK Plan, Biju Kandhamal O Gajapati plan, Gopabandhu Gramina Yojana, Western Odisha Development Council, Backward Regions Grant Fund, but these programmes have not yet created any substantial impact in removing regional disparity with low budget and lethargic bureaucracy. As a consequence, the backward regions of Odisha witness lack of local employment generation and low wage which encourages distress migration.

There are areas which still remain inaccessible and are branded as backward. Even there are districts without railway line and with zero industry. The long pending demands for Khurda –Balangir railway line and High Court bench in western part of Odisha still remain unresolved in spite of continuous uproar.

Odisha was formed as a linguistic province consisting of six districts such as Sambalpur, Koraput, Ganjam, Puri, Cuttack and Baleswar in 1936 and later in 1950 the others were merged. Broadly the whole area can be divided into three parts as areas under direct British rule, feudatory States and tribal areas which are different from the other two. So for historical and geographical reasons, the regional socio-political and socio-economic issues are different and there was absence of comprehensive administrative and legal mechanism to plan for the whole State till 1950.

The community development block concept was introduced in the early sixties but there have been serious limitations in the formation of blocks as development units without considering the purpose of such formations.

The budgetary allocation should consider the income of the district or a particular region. The regions contributing to State treasury in terms of natural resources, minerals, forest produce, and marine product ought to get preferential treatment. It is unfortunate that the people in coal, hydropower and thermal power plant area are not getting adequate electricity. It is found that the areas coming up with industrialization and urbanizations are being captured by the dominant educated social groups by displacing the poor, illiterate and marginalized social groups to the periphery and depriving them of job, business and other economic opportunities created in the area. Budgetary provision should strictly follow SCSP and TSP in spending to reach to the most backward social groups.

The State should invest to change the basic economic structure through its radical economic policy in favor of backward region through progressive land reform, universal quality English medium education, universal healthcare, irrigation, electricity, rural industrialization, NTFP and agriculture based activities, financial inclusion and tourism which always take a backseat in spite of many natural advantages.

Industrialization in the State is not integrating all regions. The State should have own power plant and attempt should be made to decentralize energy production for its domestic consumption. Solar, wind, wave and other forms of energy sources must be explored to minimize pollution and displacement.

Odisha being a land of diversity and diverse ethnic groups, the issues of different social groups need to be integrated into the State plan for an inclusive development. Regional economics and planning should be encouraged as a subject in colleges with State specific subjects like mineral economics, forest economics and marine economics.

The Government should generate adequate disaggregated socio-economic data and impact assessment reports which should be made available to policy makers, researchers, development planners and administrators.

The institute like NCDS and universities must collectively take a lead in the process in building a prospective of economic development involving political parties, CSOs and academics of the State to mitigate regional imbalances and persistent disparity in development.