Roadmap for a prosperous Odisha

Author: Dr. Mrinal Chatterjee

Many wonder, why Odisha, a land of ancient history, rich heritage, vibrating and liberal culture and tradition, remains in a perpetual state of irony. It is one of the richest states of India so far natural resources are concerned with the poorest of people. A state which had trade relations with South East Asia in ancient times presently is known for its migrant labourers. Why so? And are there ways to come out of the poverty spiral? Can Odisha again rise and shine? Can it again be prosperous? What is the roadmap? 
This essay is an ideation on these lines.
Before I proceed further, a small clarification about the word ‘prosperous’ that is being used here. When I am using the word ‘prosperous’, I am not only talking about material prosperity. I am talking about prosperity in a larger and holistic term- somewhat close to the UN definition of development: Development is a comprehensive, economic, social, cultural and political process which aims at the constant improvement of the wellbeing of the entire population and of all individuals on the basis of their active, free and meaningful participation in development and in the fair distribution of benefits resulting there from. When I am talking about prosperity I include material prosperity of the individual and also of the society as a whole. I envisage a free and egalitarian society with an atmosphere of well being, where opportunities of growth are there for everybody, basic amenities are available to all and reachable for all. There is an atmosphere of co operation and trust at individual and societal level.  
I began this essay by saying Odisha is a land of irony, of glaring, often bewildering contrast. With growing industrialization and prosperity, the population’s average income has almost tripled in recent decades. This has been partly boosted by the mining industry and growing information technology development.  Since 2003 its GDP growth has been higher than the national average. In the last one and a half decades it has attracted countless Industrial projects- large and medium. In fact in 2010 it stood second in all India ranking of per capita projects under implementation, which was Rs 88, 020, when the all India average was Rs 43, 572. Exports grew at an average rate of 33 per cent (more than half the exports were minerals and only 3 per cent manufactured items). Mega projects have been envisaged in metal and mineral, petro-chemical and infrastructure sector. IT (Information Technology) and ITES (IT enabled Services) have been promoted in a big way.
However, Odisha still remains the top state in India to have the highest percentage of people living below the poverty line. Almost 40 per cent of all children under three years old in Odisha are underweight and 61 per cent of adolescent girls are anaemic. It has one of the highest infant and maternal mortality rates in India. The majority of infant deaths take place in the first month of the child’s life. 
Odisha has the second highest proportion of scheduled caste and tribal people in India. Tribal communities constitute almost half of the state’s poor. The literacy rate in these communities is among the lowest in the country.  The drop put rate is very high. In fact Odisha has the highest percentage of out-of-school children between ages six and 14 in India. Floods and cyclones repeatedly devastate coastal and riverside communities in Odisha. Drought and crop loss regularly cause migration and starvation in the state’s western and central districts. 
The manufacturing sector is not doing very well. Heavy industries face public ire and policy level hindrances even before they start. Therefore although many MOU (Memorandum of Understanding) have been signed, the larger projects that could actually make very visible changes to the fabric of Orissa and where there is scope for mass employment or creating social infrastructures - projects like Posco, Tata Steel, Mittal-Arcelor have yet to be finalised. 
Now, let me detail the advantages Odisha has. Odisha is blessed with 5 important resources: 
Natural Resources: Odisha accounts for India’s 4.7 per cent of area, 3.47 per cent of country’s population but 7 per cent of its forests and 11 per cent of surface water resources.
Mineral Resources: It accounts for India’s 24 per cent of coal, 98 per cent of chromites and 60 per cent of bauxite, 95 per cent of Nickel, and 26 per cent of Iron ore besides many other minerals and semi precious gem stones.   
Biological Resources: Its vast forests have wide variety of flora and fauna. In fact its extremely diverse biological resources gives the state a reputation for abundance of natural beauty and wildlife.
Agricultural Resources: Odisha is a predominantly agrarian state with Agriculture & Animal Husbandry sector contributing 22.63% to the Net State Domestic Product (NSDP) in 2007-08 (Q) at current prices and providing employment directly or indirectly to 70% of the total work force as per census 2001.
Human Resources: Odisha traditionally has skilled artisans in handloom and hanidicraft sector, skilled mechanics in service and maintenance sector and hard working farm labours. Thanks to IT revolution, it now has fairly large pool of young men and women skilled in IT enabled services.
These resources have accorded the state some advantages:
1. The state’s proximity to the fast growing economies of China and South East Asia and the availability of port infrastructure in the state provides it a strategic economic advantage. 
2. Thanks to its large mineral resources, particularly coal, iron-ore and bauxite, it has the potential to become a major coal based electricity generation, steel and aluminum producing region.
3. Thanks to its rich history and cultural diversities; liberal tradition and rich geographical variety it has the potential to develop religious/cultural, leisure and eco-tourism in a large way.
However, with all the resources and advantages, Odisha still lies at the bottom with large number of poor, hungry, malnourished people. Why? What are the fault lines?
Here, to my mind are the fault lines:
Lack of vision
Poor governance 
Poor Work Culture 
Lack of sound Social Infrastructure (Health, Education, Livelihood)
Environmental degradation 
Backwardness of Agricultural sector 
Regional and Social Disparities, Social unrest, Security problems, especially the  Maoist Menace
Gap in entrepreneurial development congruence between people, ideas, government and financial systems
An aura of negativity and social trust deficit
All of us are probably aware of the fault lines and probably discussing about them for a far too long time.  The important question is: what can be done? We have to think about the solutions. We have to plan, strategize and then buckle our belts and work to effect changes. 
Here are some suggestions and action plan: 
1. Invest in physical infrastructure. Infrastructure will trigger and then sustain economic activity. For example, improving the connectivity by improving the condition of roads and, improving the infrastructure and facilities of village haats could trigger village economy. Arrangement for proper maintenance should also be made. 
2. Invest in social infrastructure. Ensure people have access to the infrastructure and actually use them. However, we need to shun populism and think long term. Take special care of underprivileged community. However the goal should be real capacity building and not appeasement. Special initiative is required to improve health services in rural and semi urban areas. Average medical expenses are increasing and it is increasingly pushing poor people into vortex of poverty, from which they find no escape route.
3. Prepare for gradual urbanisation. Urbanisation is happening at an ever increasing rate over the last three decades. As agriculture becomes less profitable on one hand and less labour intensive (thanks to the improved technology and implements) on the other- people from villages whose primary vocation used to be agriculture are migrating to urban areas. Instead of fighting this trend, we need to prepare for it. We need to create infrastructure to hold the increasing population and create job opportunities for them. This could be done in manufacturing and services domain. So emphasis should be laid on that sector.
4. Go slow on grant/aid/dole/subsidy. These should be short term measures. Perpetualisation of these will make people permanently dependant on government dole, which will impede productivity in the long run. Accord social safety net for poor and marginalized by transparent mode of financial inclusion.
5. Tackle and contain corruption. Besides it physical damage, it saps the vitals of the society and makes it gradually morally bankrupt. A morally bankrupt society can never prosper in the true sense. One practical way of containing corruption is to make rules transparent and provide information to the end users. Going online could make things easy and relatively transparent.
6. Implement rule of law. Adopt zero-tolerance policy. Act strictly. Act fast. Fix accountability. For example, encroachment of government land is both a menace and a drain. Make the local administration responsible in case of any encroachment. Implementation of rule of law at the ground level creates an atmosphere of trust on governance, which has its positive ripple effects in many areas. For example, it will help tourism sector. Small business will eventually benefit. 
7. Take decision, don’t procrastinate. Accord strict timeframe in implementation of projects. This will contain sloth and bring in the much needed work momentum.
8. Manage natural resources. For example, efficient water management is the need of the hour. Encourage micro level water harvesting and management. Revive tank irrigation system, especially in KBK districts. Revitalize and maintain irrigation projects. Manage forest resources. Provide opportunity for value addition. Look for new avenues. For example: Bamboo plantation and harvesting can go a long way in poverty alleviation.
9. Go for multi-departmental approach in agri-sector. Agriculture, Horticulture, Animal Husbandry, fishery and Soil conservation should be made to work collectively for a holistic intervention. Threats like siltation, loss of salinity, extensive weed growth and depletion of fishery resources ought to be addressed promptly. Take steps to minimize farm waste. Provide storage infrastructure, cold chain, hand holding in marketing, processing and thereby value addition.
10. Odisha is an energy surplus state. Energy, as Ravi Venkatesan writes  “is the new labour in the sense that the cost of energy will significantly drive where things are made.”It has mineral resources and skilled manpower. It could emerge as a manufacturing hub. “Manufacturing is all about creating hubs that are eco systems for innovation, specialized skills and supply chains.” We need to create those hubs with favourable industrial policy and Institutions that can produce skilled human resources to run the machines and factories.
11. Odisha has the potential to become an education hub in Eastern India. Improve and build new infrastructure for higher and technical education. Help maintain and improve quality of education. A strict quality check will go a long way in establishing it as an attractive one and harness the spin off dividends.
12. Use improved technology. Odisha needs drought resistant seeds and techniques like “Gel hydroponics” which will make make plants drought-resistant. Use IT enabled services- especially the ubiquitous mobile to usher in financial inclusion. Use Internet based platforms to disseminate need based information. 
13. Explore New Domains. Think about using Renewable Energy Sources. Encourage Organic Farm Produce, which has a huge international market and slowing catching up in India as well. Establish Handicraft hub, adopt ‘Cluster Approach’ for better marketing. Promote tourism by showcasing our rich traditions and heritage. In Kerala watching Kathakali dance (including watching dancers putting on elaborate make up) is a big tourist draw. Something in that line could be planned involving Odissi or Chhau. In Rajasthan folk performances under the backdrop of old palaces and havelis draw large number of tourists. This also could be planned.
14. Dispel negativity. Many of us suffer from negativity, triggered by a perception that nothing can ever move in this State. We must shun that mind set. Media can play a great role to dispel this perception. It has the power to act as a catalyst in the process of growth. Media should dispel negativity and help growth and development by playing its three major roles: watchdog, pathfinder and friend.
15. Create an atmosphere of trust. Trust at the individual, societal and political level. It is the atmosphere of trust and security that draws people out to try something new. It attracts people from other state to visit our place, to do business here, to set up industries here. In a globalised economy no state can grow in isolation. We all can contribute our bit to create this atmosphere of trust at individual level and collectively simply by working hard and honestly. 
The Government can create this atmosphere of trust by strictly sticking to the rule of law and by framing and implementing policies which will actually help the society in the long run. The Government must shun populism and empty rhetoric. The civil society must raise its voice against this trend and contribute in trust building.  
The most important aspect perhaps is to convince ourselves that we can effect a change. We can make Odisha prosper. Budha had said: We are what we think. All that we are arises with our thoughts. With our thoughts, we make the world.
Let us recognise, understand and use our power to make our motherland prosper. Let us work towards a happy and prosperous Odisha.

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