Debate over Odisha package or industry push takes centre stage - Time to give state its due

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By The Telegraph Online
  • Published 31.05.13
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The special category status came into existence following the recommendation of the 5th Finance Commission in 1969 to devise a formula for sharing central assistance among the states.

This status was accorded for the first time in 1969 to three states — Assam, Nagaland and Jammu and Kashmir. At present, 11 states out of 28 get central assistance as special category states.

Except the international border, Odisha fulfils all other criteria to be included in the special category state list. The 480km coastal line can be treated as a substitute for an international border.

In comparison to several special category states such as Assam, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, Sikkim, Uttarakhand, Odisha’s situation is precarious. Only 10 per cent of the population of Jammu and Kashmir is below poverty line whereas in Sikkim it is 13 per cent and Uttarakhand 18 per cent. More than 37 per cent of people in Odisha fall in that category. The per capita annual income of the people of Odisha is estimated to be Rs 40,412, whereas at the national level it is Rs 53,331. The per capita income per annum of Sikkim is more than Rs 1 lakh whereas in Uttarakhand it is Rs 72,093 and Himachal Pradesh Rs 68,000.

The population of Scheduled Caste (SC) and Scheduled Tribe (ST) population in India is less than 25 per cent, whereas it is more than 38.5 per cent in Odisha. The number of ST people living in Odisha is more than the number of such community residing in any of the special category states. In Odisha, the percentage of Scheduled Tribe is more than 22 per cent whereas it is less than five per cent in Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand. Similarly, the percentage of Scheduled Caste population is 16.5 per cent in Odisha, whereas it is seven per cent in Assam, Sikkim, and Jammu and Kashmir. The population of Socially and Economically Backward Classes (SEBC) is 52 per cent in Odisha.

Most of the SC, ST and SEBC families in Odisha are poverty-stricken. At least 32 primitive tribal groups are found in Odisha. The literacy rate is low and infant mortality rate high. The average life expectancy in the state is far lower here than in Kerala, Punjab, Bengal and Tamil Nadu. Most of the terrain here is hilly and difficult.

Odisha’s economy is agro-based. More than 80 per cent of its population depends on agriculture. But natural calamities hammer the backbone of farmers. Therefore, farmers and agricultural labourers need special attention for which more central aid is required.

In various fields, good governance has led to remarkable progress. However, the state is having trouble repaying a huge central loan. Most of the state’s budget is dedicated to repaying this loan and its interest besides salaries, pensions and so on. Special category status will help rid the state of its debt burden and its rising internal resources will add to the huge central grant to change the fortunes of the state drastically.

Statistics from the Planning Commission reveal that 155 lakh people in the state are suffering from acute poverty. We have to remember that Odisha is an integral part of India. The country cannot prosper without the development of Odisha and states in a similar condition. Therefore, the central government is duty bound to accord Odisha special category status.

Ninety years ago, Mahatma Gandhi had said: “Odisha is the epitome of India’s poverty.” Former chief minister Biju Patnaik too wanted to free Odisha from poverty. He had even demanded special financial autonomy for states such as Odisha.

This state enriches the central government from mineral resources like coal, railway revenue and various taxes. But it is not getting its due. The Centre as well as other states are getting richer from the resources of this poor state.

It is high time that the Centre redressed the grievance of the state by according it special category status. Despite political differences, the Odisha Assembly has passed a unanimous resolution to press for the demand. More than one crore people have raised their voices in support.

BATTLEGROUND: SPECIAL STATUS

Odisha’s demand for a special category state status has triggered an avalanche of reactions while setting it on collision course with the UPA-ruled Centre. The issue has polarised public opinion and made leaders take stands with an eye on elections. Biju Janata Dal, which has been organising rallies and dharnas, has sought to justify its campaign pointing accusing fingers at the UPA for ignoring the claims of Odisha.As the debate heats up, The Telegraph presents views reflecting thoughts and emotions that shed light on different facets of this issue.
Readers are invited to send their views at ttorissa@abp.in