Rajya Sabha: Odisha Elders give thumbs down to Tribal/backward districts!

60% RS members opt for developed districts in the State. In MPLAD, Prashant Nanda fared poorest in utilisation, whereas Achyuta Samanta didn't recommend a rupee during his near 1-year term

Bhubaneswar: In Odisha, when the Rajya Sabha polls have increasingly becoming a rehab exercise for the Men Fridays of the ruling party, the State’s tribal and backward districts emerge as the biggest loser in this type of politics.

The equitable representation of districts was not the only casualty. But districts starved of development failed to avail the MP Local Area Development (MPLAD) fund, they fervently needed.

Consider this. When only three districts  – Rayagada, Mayurbhanj and Sundargarh –coming under the Tribal Sub Plan (TSP) were being represented in the Upper House by Bhaskar Rao,  Sarojini Hembram and Prashanta Nanda; a high of seven sitting members represented non-TSP districts.

In the indicator of how many Special Focus Districts are adopted by RS MPs, it was observed that only 4 (Rayagada, Mayurbhanj, Sundergarh and Nayagarh) such districts were adopted from a total 18 such districts in the State.

In contrast, 60 per cent of the sitting RS members represent economically vibrant districts.

This shows the Elders from the State choose districts on political considerations, rather than on development parameters as expected while selecting a district under RS MPLAD guidelines, though it left to the discretion of an elected MP.

The big fallout then is: As per the data available with Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation (MOSPI), during the last five financial years (2014-19), a total expenditure of Rs 310 crore had been incurred under the RS –  MPLAD in the State. But the data showed a sum of Rs 74 crore were spent for SC welfare from the total expenditure incurred over the years. The biggest nagging fact to the fore is not a single rupee was spent on the welfare of STs.

Moreover, what looks niggling is vibrant districts like Khurda, Cuttack and Jagatsinghpur avail a bonus MPLAD of RS members, besides a Lok Sabha member each. Khurda district had blessings of 2 RS and 1 LS MP, Cuttack had one each from LS and RS; whereas backward districts like Koraput, Nabarangpur and Ganjam have no MPLAD benefit from RS members, they have to stay contented with MPLAD from one LS MP each.

Here is an instance of how TSP districts lose out to their better-off counterparts in Odisha.

Nabarangpur was formerly represented by Baghban Majhi (1994-2000) and the district had an unspent balance of around Rs 1.17 crore. Post-expiry of the term, none of newly elected RS members from BJD deemed it fit to adopt the district.

The fallout: As per MPLAD guidelines, unspent amount in respective TSP districts would be equally divided between new elected RS members. As none has chosen Nabarangpur district, the consequence is MPLAD funds had seen diversion to the better-off districts.

Significantly, the 55th Public Accounts Committee (PAC) in the 15th Lok Sabha had criticised Odisha for saddling with high unspent balance of RS MPLAD.

Data with MOSPI showed that Odisha, though, has only 4 per cent of total RS MPs, but account for a whopping 13 per cent (Rs 33 crore) of the total Rs 243 crore unspent balance nationally till mid June 2019. High unspent balance of worth Rs 10 crore was seen in districts like Keonjhar and Ganjam, both special focus districts, where till date no successor RS MP were found. And the unspent balance were now diverted to the better-off districts chosen by sitting BJD RS MPs.

Performance of sitting RS MPs reveal that only 40 per cent MPs have over 75 per cent MPLAD fund utilisation in the State. RS MP Prashanta Nanda, who adopted Sundergarh district, fared the poorest with utilisation of mere 11 per cent of MPLAD fund. Among MPs elected to RS from Odisha last year, Achyuta Samanta fared poorest by not recommending a single rupee from the MPLAD during his around last one-year term.