Expert committee criteria fuel political storm

Bhubaneswar: The Opposition Congress and ruling BJD are once again at loggerheads in the face of central expert committee’s 11-point criteria to indentify backwardness of states.
While the Congress claimed that the new parameters set by the committee, which will submit its final report to the central government later this month will benefit Odisha the most, senior BJD leaders expounded that the recent move of the Centre to prepare a new index, despite the existence of similar criteria was “politically motivated”.
“Definitely, Odisha will gain immensely than Bihar in the 11-point criteria identified by the committee under chief economic advisor Raghuram Rajan to identify backwardness of the states,” Union Minister Srikant Jena told OTV .
“This is because, in all the newly added parameters viz., education, health, poverty rate, monthly per-capita consumption, share of Dalits and Adivasis in population and rural infrastructure, Odisha stands next to Bihar, enabling our state to get maximum Central assistance,” stated Jena adding that we should not indulge in “petty politics.”
On the other hand, Health Minister Damodar Rout countered that since the Centre was eyeing political gain in the ensuing polls with the help of Bihar’s Nitish Kumar government, after the recent turmoil, it wanted to mend the criteria in favour of Bihar, so that the funds accruing from special status will further boost the state’s growth.
“It was intentionally conveyed to Odisha in May by the planning commission deputy chairperson Montek Singh Ahluwalia that Odisha’s request for special category state does not meet National Development Council’s (NDC) five criteria. I want to point out that Planning Commission wrongly interpreted the ‘international boundary’ point when we have 450 km long coastal line. What more they need to justify the point?” Rout questioned.
“Besides, Odisha’s tribal population stands at 24% while with Bihar the figure is 1%. In addition to that Bihar’s SC population is 15% and we have 16%. Keeping aside all these population data, if we’ll examine the health sector, official figure shows that 22% new born babies in tribal areas are seriously underweight and, infant mortality rate (IMR) and maternal mortality rate (MMR) both are high in Odisha compared to Bihar ,” stated the minister.  
“We are pursuing our rightful demand and not seeking the same as alms,” Rout said.
Political observers however feel that, the vital point is weightage of the criteria fixed by the government to classify the states on backwardness. 
“In the recently set parameters, giving weightage to each criterion would determine a state’s position and will assure central assistance for its overall growth,” said an expert.  
Notably, on Tuesday chief minister Naveen Patnaik shot off a letter to prime minister Manmohan Singh seeking his intervention to take expeditious steps for declaring Odisha as a special category state.