Odisha Chief Minister, Naveen Patnaik, addressing the Collectors’ Conference on 14 th February asked District Collectors to implement developmental projects in the shortest possible time. Apprising Collectors that Odisha has been at the forefront in sports, healthcare, women empowerment, crop production and COVID management, he reminded the District Officers that the 5T and ‘Mo Sarkar’ initiatives had ensured transformative governance. He identified farm mechanization, crop diversification, horticulture and floriculture, dairy development and fisheries as focus areas. He said the state government is providing interest-free loans of up to Rs 5 lakh to Self Help Groups (SHG) under Mission Shakti and will provide Rs 50,000 crore as loans to SHGs under the scheme over the next five years. Collectors were advised to provide support to make the programme succeed.
The format adopted for this Conference was the same like the previous ones. The important issue that got ignored, again, by such routine and “Business As Usual “approach in governance is the issue of “Faster Development of the backward regions” of our state. Government did not look serious enough about developing these areas in a time bound manner. The emphasis is on implementing various “schemes” throughout the state, whereas Government needs to facilitate faster growth of these backward areas through a different strategy that has to be District specific. The approach should be “disruptive”.
To elaborate this approach, I write on Kandhamal District—a District that is rich in natural endowment but has remained one of the poorest in the country. It spreads over an area of 7654 sq kms and is larger than the state of Sikkim. It has a low population density of only eighty per sq km. Its total population of six and half lakhs is larger than the population of Sikkim. The District is marked by low urbanisation, low penetration of electric-energy based activities. Only 23.5% of its total area is suitable for agricultural exploitation. Highland, suitable for horticultural activities, accounts for over 82% of the agricultural land. Out of the 2515 villages of the District, only 72 villages are reasonably big, each having a population of a thousand and above. More than 85% of the villages of the District are small with population below 500. Large areas around Daringbadi and G Udaigiri are ideal for floriculture where gladioli, tuberose and marigold can be grown throughout the year. Most parts of the district offering ideal agro climatic conditions could have meaningful development in horticulture, floriculture, and dairy and bring about employment opportunity for the entire population. Unfortunately, a holistic and sustainable development-model in these sectors has not been taken up so far. Grinding poverty therefore persists for generations.
A big dose of investment needs to be injected in the most appropriate sectors that would trigger a holistic and faster development. Whenever big investment has been made in backward regions of the state it has been for industrial projects based on the mineral resources of the area. That explains why Rourkela or Damanjodi developed. These places are hosts to major industries. At the same time, we have neglected state’s many ancient urban centres like Sambalpur; Berhampur; Jeypore; Balasore which as developed cities like Vishakhapatnam or Vijayawada or Indore could have been engines of growth in the hinterland. In such a situation, many places, despite hospitable climate and great natural endowments, continue to languish and most urban centres keep stagnating. If we continue with “business as usual” approach we would only widen the existing social and economic divide. Picturesque places would turn safe hideouts for extremists. An intense dose of development inputs would enable the population to come out of the zone of deprivation with abject poverty and slow economic activities. What could be done for Kandhamal District is a District Growth Hub (DGH) on about three hundred hectares of land near Daringbadi or Belghar or Phulbani. We promote a Private Corporate Hospital, a Residential Public School of national relevance; a few good hotels including a star Hotel like ones in Gangtok and a few non polluting industries in the DGH. We should promote construction of around a thousand modern residential units in this zone. One need not worry about accessibility of the DGH. Gangtok’s importance or attraction does not get compromised in any manner even if it is accessed by a 125 km road from the nearest airport at Bagdogra or from the nearest rail head at Siliguri. We need of course to make the Bhubaneswar-Phulbani Highway a worthwhile four-lane Highway.
Besides, we should have other projects for the development of the District. These may include the following. We may prevail upon the Ministry of Defence to set up a large in-house agro-veterinary farm in the District for production and processing of fruits, milk and poultry for catering to the requirements of our armed forces. This farm should be able to provide job opportunities to many local youth and will also act as a model so that the local population takes to mixed farming on a large scale. Central government may set up a training institute for para military forces for tackling insurgency. The hilly terrain of the district provides ideal locations for such a facility to come up. Establishment of a big paramilitary training institute with a large number of men in uniform would prevent activities of organizations and groups that cause damage to the environment and forest resources of the District. The state should strive for securing from the central government fiscal concession like holiday on central excise for at least ten years on new industries in the areas of pharmaceutical products; floriculture and food processing. This would promote appropriate industrial activity in the District; create employment opportunities and expedite economic growth of the population. A few centres like Belghar, Daringbadi, Chakapada, Kotgarh should be developed to modern tourist townships.
Such a comprehensive treatment would generate enough economic activities that would have a holistic impact on the economy of the District. This model of disruptive approach to development could be under the charge of the District Collector who in Backward Districts like Kandhamal, Deogarh, Boudh and all Districts in the KBK Region should have a long uninterrupted tenure of five years to ensure grounding of the various projects.
We have had long years of conventional development programmes through different schemes. But holistic development and prosperity have eluded these Districts. It is time we had a different strategy.
(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are the author’s own and have nothing to do with OTV’s charter or views. OTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same. The author can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)