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IIM pie & royalty hope

- Odisha misses Buddhist circuit bus

Bhubaneswar, July 10: The NDA government’s maiden budget presented today by finance minister Arun Jaitley came as a mixed bag for Odisha, which is set to get an IIM and may benefit from the assurance to rationalise coal linkages and revise mineral royalty.

The big disappointment, however, is that the state with a rich Buddhist heritage has been ignored as far as development of a Buddhist tourism circuit is concerned. None of its cities, of which at least two - Puri and Cuttack - boast of a long history, figure even in the plan for conserving heritage cities.

The education sector in the state is certain to receive a major boost with the establishment of an Indian Institute of Management (IIM) as promised by the finance minister.

It was the only elite category academic institute missing from Odisha that got its first IIT in 2008 and also boasts of an International Institute of Information and Technology (IIIT) and National Institute of Science Education and Research (Niser). Eminent educationist S.N. Mohanty hailed the announcement of an IIM for Odisha saying it was Centre’s gift to the state.

The state’s industry and the mineral sector are likely to witness a spurt in activity following the finance minister’s announcement about resolving the current impasse in the field of mining, especially iron ore mining, and revising mineral royalty. Jaitley appeared to be firm in his commitment saying if need be changes would be made in the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Act, 1957 to facilitate the objective.

The assurance means a lot for Odisha where mining activities have witnessed a slump following a multi-crore scam that surfaced in 2009. Aftershocks of the scandal, which was probed by the MB Shah Commission apart from the state vigilance department, are still being felt with more than 100 mines lying closed. The closure has rendered thousands of people connected directly or indirectly with mining activity jobless.

The revision of mineral royalty, which has been due since 2009, has been a long-standing demand of the state government. Chief minister Naveen Patnaik had taken up the issue several times with central ministers during the UPA rule, his last letter on the issue having been addressed on July 20, 2013 to the then Union minister of state for mines Dinsha J. Patel reminding him that the state was losing out on a lot of money because of the non-revision of royalty. Jaitley’s promise on this account may, thus, be reassuring for the state government.

The announcement about coal linkage rationalization to reduce power cost and to ensure uninterrupted supply of coal to industries is also a welcome step as far as Odisha is concerned as the state, despite its huge coal reserves, continues to face power problems.

The captains of industry have also hailed the move to set up a Rs 10,000 crore venture capital fund for micro, small medium enterprises (MSME).

“The assurance of revising mineral royalty is welcome though, at the moment, we cannot be sure of the quantum of gain to the state. The move to set up a venture capital fund for MSME is also encouraging but we are disappointed that Odisha has not been included in the proposed industrial corridor announced by the finance minister,” said Utkal Chamber of Commerce and Industry president Ramesh Mohapatra.

Kalinga Nagar Industrial Association president P.L. Kandoi welcomed the move to rationalise coal linkages. “This will assure industries of uninterrupted power supply,” he said while refusing to comment in detail on the proposal for raising the basic customs duty on basic flat stainless steel products, a move aimed at protecting the domestic industry. “Let’s see how it works out,” he said.

The state, however, has been left disappointed in the field of tourism with its claim to the development of a top-class Buddhist circuit being ignored.

Instead, the finance minister has earmarked funds for the Sarnath-Gaya-Varanasi Buddhist circuit with world-class facilities. Similarly, no city from Odisha figures in the list of six announced for heritage preservation under National Heritage City Development and Augmentation Yojana.

The general feeling in the state is that Puri, which will be hosting the Nabakalebara (change of idols) festival next year, should have been included in the list. “Both this and the development of a world-class Buddhist circuit would have given a big boost to the local tourism industry,” said Benjamine Simon, a tour operator.