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Perspective on Orissa govt’s performance

By DN Singh | Last Updated: Wednesday, January 27, 2010 - 16:49
DN Singh
Orissa Diary

Some of the readers take serious exceptions to the observations made on the performance of the political parties in power. But at no point an author can contest the reactions of readers for they are the ones who kindly read your items and take a position, either good or bad. In response to one of the items by this author, posted on this website, many readers from metro cities reacted with profound contempt and dubbed the contentions of this author as biased and fraught with some personal animosity towards the BJD government in general and Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik in particular. The reader must have his logic and his views may have the mandate of many who think the same way.

Whenever a scribe makes an observation against a system that rules, many readers tend to rubbish the contentions outrightly demanding the evidence. More so, it comes often from the readers residing out of the concerned state – those who are away from the reality at the bottom. Even symbolic yet uncomfortable swipes are often dealt with intolerance by many. All said and done, an author can never shed the sense of gratitude towards any reader, notwithstanding the kind of reactions he or she makes. This, in fact, is the most invisible bond that keeps both bound to each other.

The performance of any government is not something like a stuff of history we can simply inherit with passive equanimity and vote gain. The topic was the performance of the government in Orissa, which came back for the third record consecutive time. When we analyse any past performance, the features that deserve underscoring are the failures or very significant achievements. Else, it is dubbed as an exercise in cynicism or merely given a second fiddle for not being unbiasedly objective. That way, any news analysis tends to become a risky exercise.

As regards Orissa, it is not to say that there has been no performance in the last 10 years, which any government in power is duty-bound to deliver. But it is always one thing to toy with ideas and another to do or not to do anything at all. That is where things under the media scanner.

Perhaps, there is no need of any extra political vision to assess where the socio-economic condition of Orissa stands today. For this let’s not draw comparisons, like what the other state is doing or how corrupt is the government on the other side of the state border. In Orissa, we can well visualise a strange oxymoron of haves and have-nots where the latter remain the usual grain for the politicians. Their condition, backwardness, health discomforts, lack of education or the <i>rozgar yojnas</i> and so on make the collage that serves as the parameter for the next poll – a litany of often-heard schemes purported to be the fuel for real politicking.

<b>Where does Orissa stand?</b>

While a Central report said that 57 percent of the state's population is below the poverty line, a different survey found more than 78 percent fail to make even Rs 20 a day for living. While talking of Orissa the two usual things that strike the mind include a rich cultural heritage and poverty, and the third, of course, is the huge mineral wealth. The state indeed has an abundant deposit of mineral resources, of which the deposit of chromite ore in the Sukinda valley account for 98 percent of the country's total deposits, more than 60 percent of the aluminium, about 34 percent of the country's iron ore, and a whopping stock of nickel that is assessed to be 92 percent. The other minerals found in abundance are graphite, China clay, manganese, dolomite and so on. This portrays a real positive profile of the state. These mineral deposits can independently liquidate the revenue deficit of the state to a great extent if tapped honestly.

However, whatever has come out so far in the name of mining scam in Orissa needs no further glossing – a loot perpetrated for the last two decades almost, with an enviable ease, by a gang constituting officials, mining mafias and politicians. A staggering sum has gone into the black-hole of economy, for which no particular political party or government or individual is responsible. But, the timing of the exposure is such that the party in power, under Naveen Patnaik, should have the fortitude to endure the outcome of an impartial probe and wash away the stench of corruption from the horizon of 'transparency'.

And on the other side of the divide is abject poverty, infant and maternal mortality, malaria deaths, school dropouts – a long list of grim realities in which Orissa, unfortunately, ranks above many of the states, except in one or two sectors. Bureaucrats would argue that a scribe refuses to see the schemes either mulled or in effect to mitigate such problems. Of course, there is a myriad of such schemes that envisage priority-based solutions and when the government spends crores in public exchequer’s money, there are bound to be some results.

But the question here is, to what extent? Sadly, there are always many nagging roadblocks to a scribe's information gathering in Orissa – an air-tight official mindset, even the honest ones refuse to share the information about the rot.

A 480-km long coastline with fantastic stopovers for a nature lover's delight at several points and a number of beaches stand to offer rich treasure troves all along – a sure source full of promises for immense tourism revenue. Orissa is one of the few states which still preserves, in a way, a vast forest wealth dotted with over 18 wildlife sanctuaries, which can play the role of a real catalyst for money spinning through wildlife tourism.

But, for good things we refuse to look at the neighbours. What Andhra Pradesh is doing in the field of tourism with its minimum heritage is something Orissa can take a lesson from.

Imagine the short-sightedness that the state apparatus suffers from. There is very little one can see in the name of promoting its tourism potential through either newspapers, channels or other mediums at the national level. The theme of tourism remains merely confined to Puri and Konark.

And now, as regards the dirt poor figure Orissa has cut for itself after the surfacing of the huge scam in the mining sector, it has driven many to the back-foot. The shameful episode has pushed the entire political community on the defensive and the bureaucratic class seems to have coiled back into its cocoon. After the appointment of the Central Empowered Committee by the Supreme Court, everyone has nurtured a fear for the infernal heat that an honest probe might unleash.

As regards poverty or backwardness, let’s not go into their definitions but, in Orissa the GDP is still half of the national average. There is very little for the poor and out of that, there are about 28 percent who dwell in the hills or forests and nothing trickles down from the often touted development schemes for them. After a remarkable initiative by late Biju Patnaik, in the early ‘90s, the trend of visionary politics has suffered the worst setback and now it appears as if personal gain in politics has served the fatal blow to politics through vision.

The very recent report of the Planning Commission has virtually pilloried the image of the people in power. The report, in essence, has summarized the performance as disappointing, though not disastrous. Since 2005 there is no marked improvement in <i>Sarv Shiksha Abhiyan</i> to elevate the state from the 28th position it was on then. There is a shortfall of about 3,500 primary schools in the state and about 21,000 posts of teachers are lying vacant. Thus, the teacher-student ratio has fallen much below the national average.

On the road communication aspect, the PMGSY has not been able to help Orissa implement more than 67% projects.

The Commission's findings on the state of the health sector have very little for consolation. Despite being considered a 'high focus' state, the implementation of the NRHM schemes has been very unimpressive. Orissa still ranks third in infant mortality in the country as in 1000 infants, 71 die and the ratio is a whopping 1000:123 in Naxal-hit blocks. To quote the report’s essence would be too lengthy for this item.

Deprivation at the grassroots has opened the dangerous floodgates for the intruders in the shape of Maoists, who have succeeded in knitting their bloody designs there and today, almost 23 districts out of 30 now bleed with Red terror. Scenes in many places like Malkangiri, Sundergarh etc indicate a silent acquiescence with the district administration towards Naxals. During 2007-08, there were about 58 Naxal attacks in the state in which more than 80 security personnel were reportedly killed.

In the last six months, there has been a campaign through the media that the Orissa government has taken the resolve to wipe out Red infiltrators through an offensive called 'Operation Godavari'. But, the drive has been halted due to the non-arrival of five platoons of additional paramilitary forces from the Centre. What else can be a worse dampener for such an operation than a top man from the intelligence wing saying, “What is Operation Godavari? I don’t know!” during an informal chat with this author. Even former top cops of the state have serious reservations about the operation with only five platoons of paramilitary personnel!

With the scribes being the intermediaries, it becomes all the more binding to reflect the failures which should not necessarily be read as an affront but an observation open to criticism. Mere promotional publicity or promises can neither be used as a powerful influence on the common man of Orissa to make them believe what men in power say, nor can the government resort to means to numb the critical faculties in the media.

There has been an attempt in the corridors of power in the recent months to build a barrier (albeit an invisible one) between the media and the officialdom (including the police) when officials steadfastly refuse to divulge many information to the people. Hence, an effort is on to create a parallel propaganda machinery, thus leaving a larger section of the media facing overwhelming odds.

First Published: Wednesday, January 27, 2010 - 16:49

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