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Nitish rally reminder to ‘backward’ states

New Delhi, March 17: The convergence of thousands from Bihar in the capital today demanding special category status could be a wake-up call to people and leaders of other states languishing at the bottom of national development indices.

The classic case in point is Odisha. The state constantly competes with Bihar to occupy the last slot on all development indicators. (See chart)

Birendra Nayak, a retired mathematics teacher of Utkal University, said Odisha’s situation was worse than Bihar. According to the estimate of the Planning Commission, over 60 per cent people were Below Poverty Line (BPL) in 2009-10 in Odisha against 57 per cent in Bihar. In 2002, the commission had estimated that 47 per cent of households were BPL in Odisha, while the corresponding figure for Bihar was 42 per cent.

“People are categorised under BPL if they fail to live a dignified life. The picture of 60 per cent poverty rate in Odisha proves that majority of the people are deprived of living a dignified life. The rise in the BPL rate between 2002 and 2009 also shows that the condition of people has further deteriorated,” Nayak said.

Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar today acknowledged how many states fare badly compared to the national average on many development indicators and felt that all such states deserved special category status.

A state with special category status is entitled to better funding on central government schemes. They get significant excise duty concessions, facilitating industrialisation. At present, 11 states have been granted the special category status. The list includes all the eight states in the Northeast, Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand.

States are accorded special status on the basis of criteria like hilly terrain, density of population and length of international border. Nitish said the existing criteria for special category should change.

Kamalkanta Raul, a student from Odisha pursuing PhD in Delhi University, said Odisha had been ignored by the Centre all along, while the state governments remained weak.

“The present state government and the previous dispensations have never raised the issue forcefully before the Centre,” Raul said.

If Nitish Kumar is able to hold a big meeting in the national capital, where is the people’s mobilisation for this cause in Odisha,” Raul said.

BJD MP Bhartruhari Mahtab, however, said Odisha chief minister Naveen Patnaik had written to the Prime Minister on a number of occasions to raise the state’s demand. “Odisha has been repeatedly demanding special category status. Our chief minister raised the issue at the National Development Council meet in December also,” he said.

Raul was still not impressed. He said the state government’s letters or raising the issue at certain official meetings is nothing more than “eyewash”.

“There has to be people’s mobilisation. There should movement at the grassroots to build up pressure on the Centre. But that is not happening because there is a leadership crisis in the state. All the leaders are bothered about their own vote bank, not the larger interest of the state,” he said.

Union finance minister P Chidambaram in the budget speech proposed to change the criteria for backwardness without mentioning any timeframe when it would be done.

Mahtab said Chidambaram did not give any details and any timeframe. “He has not said what should be the ideal definition of backwardness. We will step up the pressure on the Centre,” he said.