Voices of India: Odisha
From quite some time, I had been wanting to do a study on how 20 years of reforms affected the people of India. Most of the writing on the impact of economic reforms was of two types either it was the Shining India kind. gushing about the Malls, IT companies, large paychecks, lavish lifestyles, telecom revolution or it went to the other extreme of how reforms were a disaster for India, and the examples of farmer suicides, people’s protests against SEZ projects, agrarian distress all came into the picture. Again both these articles, only depicted one side of the coin, and was way too polarizing.
The problem I saw with the discourse, was both sides were not willing to listen to the other, it was like “If you did not support the reforms, you were against them”. If you raised concerns over farmer suicides, uneven development, consumerist mania you were dubbed a Left Wing Socialist, and likewise, if you did try to show how the reforms did bring about changes in some areas, you were immediately dubbed a cheerleader for the business class.
The problem with the discourse on the reforms was it’s polarizing nature, and the labelling. None was willing to explore the grey in between areas, it was either black or white. Add to it the discourse, was dominated by experts, think tanks, armchair critics, economists, people cocooned in their cosy enclaves, far cut off from Ground Zero.
Most important not many have felt it necessary to really ascertain the actual impact of the reforms, on the actual stakeholders, the ordinary people of India. Yes now and then, the magazines would do a State of the Nation survey, and then breathlessly inform us, this is what the youth wanted. But who were the youth, who were the people? People in a handful of metros- Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Hyderabad, Chennai, Bangalore and maybe Ahmedabad. What about the views of some one living in Bhubaneshwar or Ranchi or Raipur or Gauhati, places in India’s backyard, which more often than not remain forgotten, unless some bomb blast takes place there? To what extent did the reforms impact the lives of shopkeepers or cab drivers? Media often went breathless over the huge salaries of IT professionals and MBA grads, but what about other professions-doctors, civil engineers, research scholars, scientists, after all it takes a whole lot of people to run a nation?
Voices from India, was my initiative, where I primarily wanted to capture, the views of the people who really matter, the working class professionals, the salaried, the smaller businessmen and traders. And my decision to start with Odisha was motivated by a number of factors. Having spent around 4 years in that state, I had a somewhat good idea about it. More important though was the fact that Odisha rarely received a mention in the national media unless some bomb blast, Naxal attack, or protest against industrial projects took place. What I had done was to send a list of questions to people I knew from Odisha, who were articulate, had a very good idea about the issues related to the place and whose views were free of rhetoric, just sticking to hard facts.
I had received response from 3 persons, and they did give me a comprehensive overview of the issues.
- Mr. Ashok Sar, Dean of the KIIT Business Administration Department in Bhubaneshwar. Also my landlord when I was in Bhubaneshwar.
- Mr. Dibyasundar Nayak, CEO and founder of Cricket Tadka.com, a passionate cricketing analyst, and a maturity that goes beyond his age. Twitter Handle-@dibyabttb
- Mr.Swarup Das, IT professional working in Bhubaneshwar, Book lover, with a passion for politics and culture. Twitter handle-@swarupdas.
Over the last 20 years, what exactly you feel have been the changes witnessed in Odisha, both in the negative and positive manner?
As per Ashok Sar ” The changes have been there in developent of educational institutes, businesses in IT & ITES, Steel & Power, Rural roads and highways, large scale real estate development in urban areas particularly. On the -ve side the there is sharp rise in the two major social evils, Dowry & Bribery.”
Dibyasundar however looks at the change in the mindset of the average Odiya as the major factor. In his words ” One prominent change that Odisha has witnessed is that the people of Odisha are beginning to stop living in the past. They don’t depend on others for the development work in the state. In past, it was common to find an Odia start speaking about state’s heritage and culture whenever someone raises lack of development in the state. They often used to blame it on others. Today, however, people of Odisha have begun to understand that the days of ‘spoon-feeding’ are over.”
Swarup Das however feels that development has been restricted only to Bhubaneshwar and it has not been a holistic pattern of development. As per his views, growth has come in dubious ways through mining and construction, I guess in reference to the scams breaking out there “Only the city of Bhubaneswar has developed due to IT industry. All other growth has come from dubious sectors like mining, construction etc. There has been no effort to raise the standard of school education, which in turn has stifled the growth of blue collared workforce with technical skills. Also there has been no addition of new roads or highways.”
What is clear that Odisha still has some way to go, especially in the field of education, needed to turn out skilled workers who can take advantage of the reforms. Else we may just end up with a situation, where the native Odiya people are left out of the process, with the benefits going to outsiders, and we know for certain how ugly that can turn out to be. But going by Dibyasundar, if the change in the mindset of the average Odiya is an indicator, there does seem to be a paradigm shift there. Right now Odisha is faced with a situation, where it’s more talented professionals migrate to Bangalore, Chennai, Hyderabad for better opportunities, there is some kind of reverse migration going on of late though, but still the outflow is larger, leading to a skills shortage.
Do you see Bhubaneshwar as a viable alternative to Kolkata in the Eastern region, with regards to being a business and commercial center?
Both Mr.Ashok Sar and Dibya were positive on this, though Dibya felt that better infrastructure was needed. Swarup however felt that Bhubaneshwar had a long, long way to go still, in his words “all the development in Bhubaneswar has been due to the presence of IT industry. Unless other labour intensive industries are developed that employs large no of blue collared employees, not many workers from outside would come here.”
What do you feel needs to be done more in Bhubaneshwar?
Dibyasundar and Swarup, were both emphatic that infrastructure was the number one priority for Bhubaneshwar. Swarup also pointed out that lack of public transport was another hurdle, something I had pointed out in my article on the Bhubaneshwar-Vizag growth corridor. People are still dependent on the shared auto rickshaws in Bhubaneshwar, though the fledgling bus service that has been recently started of late is doing well. And in Swarup’s words “What is needed is metro style Taxis that address commuter’s privacy and safety concerns. And also a sub-urban train system around Bhubaneswar-Jatni –Khordha –Cuttack-Chowdwar region is needed.”
Has the development in Odisha been limited only to coastal areas, and the Western, tribal regions remain as neglected as ever?
Near uninamity on this aspect, and it has been a major feeling across Odisha, that the Western region has always been a step child compared to the coastal regions. While there has been no Telangana style movement yet in Odisha, attempts are being made to revive the demand for a Koshal Pradesh. The Western part of Odisha differs from the coastal region in many aspects, the culture, the language, the traditions are vastly different. In fact most of the areas in that region speak Sambalpuri, somewhat similiar to Odisha, but different in other ways.
It happens to be one of the more backward regions, especially the districts of Kalahandi, Bolangirpart of the infamous KBK region, other being Koraput. Drought and starvation deaths has been a common aspect in that region. The problem is most of the political elite in the State, hail from the coastal region, which ensures that part more often than not gets the raw deal. As per Swarup “The fact is that tribal areas have been neglected both in infrastructure development and educational development. Many of the tribal areas also happen to be beautiful nature spots; they could be developed as tourist spots by upgrading physical infrastructure. “Though Dibyasundar has a slightly different take “Part of the blame goes to the existing structure and policies. But the locals of the area will have to take the blame as well. There’s still a sense of distrust among the residents of the western Odisha for the people from the eastern part.”
What is your view on the protests against the mining, heavy industry projects in Odisha? Do you see the need for a balance between industrialization and environment?
Contrary to what many outside Odisha feel, all the 3 respondents Ashok, Dibya, Swarup feel the protests are justified, and all offer the same reason “Hirakud Dam”. Hirakud was constructed mainly to prevent the annual flooding that affected coastal Odisha, but it was a major blow to Western part. 22,0o0 people were displaced by the project and about 1,50,000 affected by it’s construction. The original compensation amount of Rs 12 crores was whittled down to Rs 9 crores, and of that only Rs 3.32 crores, was paid to the affected people. I guess that explains the reason for the resistance towards major industrialization projects, the issue of rehabilitation, the Indian Govt, has generally not covered itself with glory there, making people distrustful of such projects.
From 1956 onwards a large number of people were evacuated for the project, and 6000 families are yet to receive compensation still. Massive protests have been made in recent times by affected families, for the compensation which they are yet to get.
Dibyasundar-“The historic failure of govt. in rehabilitation of the people who had to leave their land/villages for building Hirakud dam has made it easy to stoke fear in the minds of the simple villagers who will be displaced because of an upcoming project.”
Ashok Sar –“All protests are very valid considering the fact that the people displaced for Hirakud Dam are yet to get their dues, and large scale open violation of rules have been reported in media.”
Swarup also felt that most of the proposed projects have been benefiting the babus and netas more. In his words “Govt has not been very transparent in acquiring land for industries. Many politicos and Babus have used insider information to buy up land around a proposed site and made a killing by selling the same land back to the govt. In my opinion mining should be reduced to minimum and govt should quit the business of acquiring land for private business. Theyshould fend for themselves.”
Do you feel that Odisha has been a victim of neglect by the Center, and in what ways?
A common grouse which I did hear from many average Odiyas, and true to some extent, has been the discrimination the state faced from the Centre. Many Odiyas have felt that the centre has been discriminatory against the State, from long, and it is a feeling that cuts across political boundaries. Ashok Sar, however feels that this is not really much of an issue. n Dibyasundar feels it is a valid point and for 3 reasons “Small no. of MPs in parliament, hence less power at center,People of Odisha doesn’t like to be seen as fighting for funds and party politics”.
Swarup feels though Odisha has been denied it’s due share in royalty for minerals or non development of railway infrastructure, “Regional parties like BJD as well as BJP (which believe in federalism) should work for greater devolution to states and lower down so that this competitive begging at Delhi durbar stops.”
Going ahead, what do you see as the major challenges facing Odisha?
Ashok Sar, feels the ability to govern effectively is what is needed, while Dibyasundar feels that “infrastructure,education and healthcare ” are the 3 major issues the state is facing. Swarup though once again puts it effectively
The challenge is how to impart industrial skills to a populace which is largely pastoral (If we look beyond the twin city). Otherwise people of Odisha would never be able to fully participate in its economic boom.
I guess Swarup’s answer in a way reflects the path Odisha has to take going ahead. Odisha is a state that is rich in natural resources, tourist potential, and a largely educated workforce most of them outside the state though. If the Government and people, do begin to work on the potential, one just might see an even better future. Thanks to Ashok, Dibyasundar and Swarup here for their valuable inputs.