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‘Special’ demand at NDC meet
Revisit rules for Odisha, says CM

Bhubaneswar, Dec. 27: Chief minister Naveen Patnaik today reiterated his demand for a special-category status for Odisha.

Speaking at the National Development Council meeting in New Delhi, he said: “The state should be declared as a special-category state because it is one of the poorest with a high concentration of ST and SC population. It also has very adverse socio-economic human development indicators and its per capita income is still two-thirds the national average.”

Stating that Odisha satisfies all criteria of a special-category state except having an international boundary, which should not act as a limiting factor, he urged upon the Centre to “revisit and redefine” the criteria for according this status to Odisha.

Naveen, who heads a regional outfit, has been repeatedly demanding special-category state status for Odisha.

Earlier, he had placed this demand before Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at the 99th Science Congress in January. However deputy chairman of the Planning Commission, Montek Singh Ahluwalia, had rejected the demand saying that the state did not satisfy all criteria.

A special-category state enjoys 90 per cent central grants and special financial assistance packages. Eleven states have been accorded this status.

At the NDC meet, Naveen reiterated the demand while expressing concern at the steadily-falling share of central assistance to less-developed states. The share of central assistance has fallen from 34.61 per cent in 10th Plan to 24.9 per cent in the 11th Plan, he said, suggesting that the Centre should devolve earmarked funds to the states for centrally-sponsored schemes, to free the state’s Plan funds for implementing other key programmes according to local needs.

He also requested the council to extend the Special Plan (revised long-term action plan) for the backward Koraput-Balangir-Kalahandi (KBK) region for a period of another 10 years with enhanced funding.

Raising the issue of direct cash transfer scheme adopted by the central government, Naveen said it needed a careful reconsideration in view of the inadequate rural banking infrastructure and connectivity.

He suggested that the objective of food and nutrition security could be more effectively addressed at present by bringing improvements in the public distribution system and in other cases, by improving the banking infrastructure first.

Naveen’s remarks are significant in view of the fact that his Biju Janata Dal government’s decision to provide Rs 2-a-kg rice to the poor people in the state has helped him create a formidable constituency among the poor in the state.

Although rice and fertiliser are not part of the direct money transfer scheme of the Union government, Naveen’s government is worried that if the Centre decides to pay subsidy directly to people, the state would find it difficult to keep the populist rice scheme going.

The chief minister also drew the attention of the council to the “supernormal profits” being enjoyed by the mining companies operating in the state and strongly advocated the imposing of mineral resources rent tax on mining companies, to be charged at 50 per cent of the surplus rent.

He demanded that full amount of levies imposed by the Centre on export of iron ore and chrome ore be passed on to the states that have these deposits as compensation for bearing the brunt of pollution and depletion of natural resources.

In addition, the Centre should review the current policy on allocation and regulation of natural resources for providing a greater say to the states in matters of assigning mineral concessions.

Naveen also sought 25 per cent free thermal power to the host states, as in the case of hydro power, to compensate for negative externalities inflicted on coal-bearing states such as Odisha.