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Deprivation by Design: Koshal Region in Odisha

In the past seventeen years, the political setting in Odisa has completely changed, with little scope for the big national parties to govern the state single handedly. The economic scenario has also considerably changed in the last decade. Odia populace has thrown away the populist politics of the past like Garibi Hatao, Ram Mandir, India Shining, Choose Progress, as these are now relatively ineffective and could not touch the height of former American President Obama’s slogans “Change We Can Believe In” and “Yes, We can”.

The scarcity of water, poor road and sanitation, lack of health facilities, low quality education and pollutant industries are the gift of BJD government to western Odisha. The rapid industrialization had alienated the local inhabitants from their locality by forcing the landowners to work as industrial labors.

Despite of the changing scenario in the national and in the state level, the political honchos of western Odisha could not learn a single bit of it. These chelas, chamchas and cronies of western Odisha preferred to bow to their respective party high commands who use to quote the popular slogan used by the Benito Mussolini’s blackshirts “Me ne frego” means I (we) don’t give a damn to your Koshal Pradesh demand. Invariably the separate statehood for Koshal has been pushed into backseat. Consequently to rein their strength, now all political parties of Odisha have rephrased the popular socialist slogan coined by Karl Marx “workers of the world, unite” into “predators of Odisha, unite” under our umbrella to oppose Koshal demand. Despite of being in power for more than fifty years in Orissa the attitude of the Congress is same what twenty years’ ago. It has always sabotaged the separate statehood demand for Koshal. There is a popular idiom that goes, “A leopard cannot change its spots”. Its last election slogan “choose progress vote Congress” is like ‘a chicken in every pot, a car in every garage’.

Previously the coalition’s politics in Odisha has changed the meaning of opposition and parties like BJP have reconciled to coalitions. Coalition’s politics have forced the parties’ office bearers to act as per their convenience. The coalition government of BJP and BJD in the last decade did nothing for western Odisha except milking it thoroughly and by promising to give a ‘star’ while failed to deliver a ‘moon’. The scarcity of water, poor road and sanitation, lack of health facilities, low quality education and pollutant industries are the gift of BJD government to western Odisha. The rapid industrialization had alienated the local inhabitants from their locality by forcing the landowners to work as industrial labors. The outcome of this process is painful because now farmers are turning into labors. Tragically, there is no admission of this serious blunders committed by the ruling entity, once it assumed power forget everything- the assurance and credibility of the electorates. A major reason for finding the state in its predicament is ruling entity’s inability to recognize those mistakes and to evolve an agenda for not to touch the green farm lands for industrial purposes.

Koshal area is going through its worst policy-making crisis for a separate statehood. The present period is marked by anarchy and nepotism under the present BJD government. The role of this government has been one of joining the bandwagon with the topnotch industrial houses by supporting their unjust and discriminatory demands to provide more mineral, water and electricity facilities with the hope to milking these houses in time to time.

The food grain productivity in western Odisa is on the decline and the financially weak farmers are at the receiving end of both nature’s fury and government’s apathy. The spate of farmer’s suicides in Sambalpur, Balangir, Bagarh, Kalahandi and Nuapada districts had forced the state government to admit the magnitude of the prevailing agrarian crisis. Now farmers can’t find takers for their paddy and vegetables and are selling their produce way below cost. The state’s promise to support the distressed farmers invariably went wrong as a result majority of farmers are abandoning agriculture and moving into the nearby industrial areas for menial jobs. Koshali farmers look with muted anger for some respite to fight the ever-increasing indebtedness, extensive under-nutrition, poverty and deprivation. The state has clearly displayed its indifference to the agrarian crisis by trying to create a make believe world for the common masses, while ignoring the pitiable plight of the marginalized sections and poor farmers in the rural areas. Ironically the rural infrastructure is in very poor condition with roads in bad shape, frequent power cuts, unavailability of safe drinking water and poor sanitation. The Odisha government does not bother about the plight of Koshalis whether it is deficit rainfalls or price rise. It can deny debt waiver to farmers but on the same line gives hundred crores waiver to dearest corporate houses.

The rising stock markets, the strengthening of rupee and the increasing foreign investments in the country hardly touches the lives of Koshalis… And since locals’ purchasing power has dropped drastically, they are consuming much less than they did a decade ago. Loss of purchasing power is reflected in the fact that large sections of rural Koshalis are starving.

The fluctuating incomes and no protection to common man against rising prices now become a serious issue. People are paying more for basic services like health, education and transport. In essence, the crisis is nothing more than a Odisha governments’ various policies having gone horribly wrong. The rising stock markets, the strengthening of rupee and the increasing foreign investments in the country hardly touches the lives of Koshalis. Now the Koshali farmers are not only producing less, they are also consuming less that resultant in malnourishment. Here unemployment levels have risen drastically. And since locals’ purchasing power has dropped drastically, they are consuming much less than they did a decade ago. Loss of purchasing power is reflected in the fact that large sections of rural Koshalis are starving. Rural Koshal is crying out for food and work, but neither is forthcoming. But the state government seems to be unconcerned about the pain and miseries of western Orissa but is happy in counting the rising industrial index.

The state is yet to deliver the desired results of the central flagship like Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act scheme to its target group of the rural poor. It has promised to remove poverty in rural areas by ensuring at least 100 days of employment to rural poor with fixed wages. So far it’s attainment is concerned, money allocated for the poor disappear into the black hole of government bureaucracy. It is reported that only about 10 to15 percent funds reach the ultimate beneficiary as fraudulent or no proper muster rolls prepared and funds have been allocated to NGOs and contractors against the norms. About 85 to 90 percent is siphoned out or misused or diverted or utilized for other activities.

The state government needs to actualize the vast untapped growth potential of Koshal areas, strengthen its rural infrastructure to support faster agricultural development, accelerate the growth of agro-business, create rural employment, secure a fair standard of living for the agricultural workers and their families, discourage migration to industrial areas and the foremost, work out the modalities for a separate statehood for Koshal. The people of western Odisha must cultivate the most defining features of Donald Trump’s campaign for American Presidentship was his slogan “Make America Great Again” on the same line “Make Koshal Great Again”.

The Author: Dr. Panchanan Bhoi  is a New Delhi based researcher and writer. He has been awarded a Ph.D from the School of Social Sciences, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. Also, the author is an alumnus of Indian Institute of Mass Communication and The Indian Law Institute, New Delhi. He may be contacted at dr.pancha.bhoi@gmail.com

 

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