People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 24

June 16, 2013


Odisha Does Deserve Special Status

                                                                   Janardan Pati


THE persistent demand for Odisha's special category status has sparked off a debate in the state’s political and media circles. Heated discussions by different political leaders and intellectuals have taken place in the media. The latest letter written by deputy chairman of the Planning Commission, Montek Singh Ahluwalia, to the Odisha chief minister has added fuel to the fire.


Ahluwalia has argued that Odisha does not deserve to be accorded a special category status as it does not fulfil the required criteria. Interestingly, however, the Congress party ruling at the centre and its ministers have been claiming that Odisha’s application for the status of a special category state is very much in the pipeline and that Odisha deserves to be accorded a special category status. Thus the views of the Planning Commission’s deputy chairman and the central ministers are contradictory to each other. It does therefore seem that the central government is trying to hoodwink the people.


While not going into the past history of Odisha, one can say that before 1936 there was no state in the name of Orissa or Odisha though it was an important area in ancient India, one where a war like the Kalinga war was fought in 261 BC. Odisha’s tribal people also fought the longest rebellion for 113 years against the British rulers. It is something unparalleled in history. Yet the state did not have an identity till 1936.


Since the formation of Odisha as well, the state remained one of the backward states of India. Though Odisha has the largest deposit of minerals, its people continue to be among the poorest in the country. The consecutive five year plans could not eradicate the poverty of the Odisha and could not wipe out the tear from the eyes of the hungry masses. People are continuing to suffer to date.


The demand of the special category status was an outcome of Dr Gadgil’s formula. When Dr Gadgil was the deputy chairman of the Planning Commission, he advanced certain proposals for the development of the backward regions. Accordingly, eleven states of India have been accorded the special category status so far. They are Assam, Manipur, Nagaland, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Arunachal Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Sikkim, Tripura, Uttarakhand and Jammu & Kashmir.


Over the years states like Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Bihar, Jharkhand and Rajasthan have been clamouring for a special category status.


Why is this cry justified?


The gap between the rich and the poor regions, the concentration of poverty and backwardness, the central government’s unequal approach to different states and regions and the all round impact of the neo-liberal economic disaster have forced the people of Odisha to take such a position.


The Odisha government raised this demand for the first time in the year 1979. Since then, the demand for special category status for Odisha has been raised particularly on the eve of every election.


But the ruling Biju Janata Dal (BJD), which today is trying to project itself as the sole champion for the cause of special category status for Odisha, was intriguingly silent on this issue when they were a part of the BJP led NDA government at the centre. The BJD then never raised this issue with the BJP in the interest of the people of Odisha.


At present the centre is in control of the financial powers while several states have been clamouring for a special status to meet their economic and developmental needs.


Odisha's poor economic situation needs immediate redressal for the sake of its people. Odisha's rich mineral resources are being transported to other regions and countries in the interest of the big monopoly houses and multinational corporations.


Odisha's percentage of share in manufacturing (2.05 per cent) is the lowest in comparison to other states; there is not even a single textile mill to provide dress materials to the state's 42 million people. Because of the near-total absence of manufacturing industries and drop in agriculture productivity, four million youth have migrated to other states and countries in search of livelihood.


The average national highway length too is abysmally low in Odisha, as is the percentage share of railway lines.


Thus it is high time to demand that the centre must review its policy in respect to the people's economic situation. It is in such a situation that the demand for a special category status is gaining ground, and it is an eminently justified demand. Montek singh Ahluwalia's rejection of the demand is not going to alleviate the misery of the people of Odisha who do not want any assurances. What they want is that their legitimate right to live with dignity must be ensured.