Op-Ed: What Has Changed in Odisha?

By Ashutosh Mishra

Bhubaneswar: Has Odisha changed for the better in the last 20 years? With chief minister, Naveen Patnaik setting a record of sorts by winning five back to back elections any discussion on the state is bound to revolve around this question.

While ruling Biju Janata Dal (BJD) leaders can be biased about the achievements of their government and opposition leaders can be equally prejudiced their assessment independent observers maintain that there has been some positive change in the state during the last two decades.

Odisha has emerged as an investment destination and Bhubaneswar is fast turning into a sports hub with new state- of-the-art infrastructure being put in place at the Kalinga stadium. Bhubaneswar has become country’s first smart city and plans are afoot to develop Puri as a world class heritage city.

The capital city now has an international airport which is expected to boost tourism. The mention of Odisha no more draws blank stares, it now enjoys a certain cachet at the national and international level. Ruling party leaders appear convinced that Odisha has metamorphosed from a poverty-ridden doomed state to a modern and progressive one where the people are happy. “Why else would they vote for the government so consistently ?” they argue.

But the same Odisha continues to report cases like the recent suicide of 45-year-old widow from Malkangiri who unable to feed her two sons also poisoned them. One of them was pronounced dead at the hospital along with his mother while the other is battling for his life. Eversince the death of her husband, a daily wager, she was struggling to make ends meet. Left with no means of running the family she decided to end her life and also that of her two young sons.

This is not a one-off case. It has happened before in other parts of the state as well. Even Malkangiri has reported such cases. The scale of hunger and poverty might have come down in Odisha but the state is yet to conquer these problems. We have places like Nagada where sometime ago a string of child malnutrition cases were reported. Malkangiri district was stalked by Japanese encephalitis a few years ago with several children succumbing to the disease.

People are yet to forget the case of Dana Majhi, the Kalahandi tribal who was forced to carry his wife’s corpse on his shoulders for about 10 kms after failing to get an ambulance. Cases of pregnant women giving birth to babies by the roadside and outside hospitals are still reported from the interior areas of the state.

Odisha is struggling to put in place a proper healthcare system with adequate doctors available in hospitals and primary and community health centres in different areas. Despite schemes like rice at Rs.1 per kg and other welfare measures we are yet to eliminate poverty and hunger. This means either the schemes are faulty or they are not being implemented properly with benefits not reaching the people who need them most. Odisha’s image will truly change only when no one goes without food in the state, there are no malnourished children, no woman delivers her baby by roadside and no impoverished woman is forced to take her own life.

(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are 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.)