Populist schemes reignite debate on Odisha’s rising debt burden

Bhubaneswar: In the crucial election year, Odisha government seems to be firing all weapons in its armoury to woo voters with several new populist schemes. Be it the KALIA scheme, Ama Gaon Ama Bikash, Food Security Act or the Biju Yuva Bahini, CM Naveen Patnaik-led BJD government is rolling out sops and schemes at an alarming rate. Such conspicuous populism has been criticized by opposition parties and experts alike who have cited that the State is neck-deep in debt which has touched Rs 93,000 crore resulting in a per capita debt of Rs 23,000.

The ‘Ama Gaon Ama Bikash’ yojana, which was launched in March 2018, ended today while Rs 1,454 crore has been earmarked for nearly 62, 857 projects in 314 blocks of the State. This is not the first scheme as Odisha government has announced Rs 10,180 crore-KALIA scheme, Rs 450 crore-Biju Yuva Bahini, Rs 1200 crore-Biju Swastha Kalyan Yojana while earmarking Rs 220 crore for its own Food Security programme and Rs 54 lakh for disbursal of mobile phones and seed money to 300 women SSGs.

It is pertinent to mention here that Finance Minister Sashi Bhusan Behera in the Odisha Assembly had informed that Odisha’s debt burden will reach Rs 91,943 crore by the end of the current financial year.

“There is no dearth of funds for welfare schemes. Our debt is in line with Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Management guidelines,” said Behera.

However, opposition parties have trained their guns on the State government alleging that the Odisha government is rolling schemes with complete disregard to financial discipline and in view of the upcoming elections.

“If Odisha government goes for additional borrowings, then the total debt will shoot up further,” said senior journalist, Dilip Satpathy.

Odisha BJP vice-president Samir Mohanty said that Odisha will certainly face problems due to the rising debt burden.

Congress MLA Bibhu Prasad Tarai questioned Odisha government’s intention and stated it is not clear whether it wants to usher in development or lead the state to bankruptcy.