Voices of India: Odisha

Arun Joshi

Feb 08, 2012, 08:07 PM | Updated May 02, 2016, 04:08 PM IST

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, 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.

Get Swarajya in your inbox.