Sunday, March 29, 2009

Orissa as a special catagory state

The Pioneer, March 30, 2009

While inducting former State Youth Congress president Rohit Pujari into his party, BJD supremo Naveen Patnaik said last week how national parties like the Congress and the BJP are not interested in making Orissa a special category State for speedier economic development. It is strange such a realisation has come to him after a decade of his association with the BJP during half of which the saffron party was in power at the Centre. The timing of airing such realisation is undoubtedly self-serving. It is to hammer home his oft-repeated point that only a regional party like the BJD can do justice to the State. But the hollowness of his line of thinking is self-evident. See what happened to the special treatment given by the Central Government for the development of the KBK districts. Selected as a test-bed for economic regeneration by no less a person than PV Narasimha Rao, the former Prime Minister, the districts were smothered with wheel-barrow loads of cash. Though it is difficult to get the exact amount of money that was pump-primed into that area, it can be safely said that not less than Rs 1700 crore of special assistance was spent there during the ten year period from 1997 to 2007. But, economically, the districts remain where they were before the start of the grandiose development plan. If Patnaik wants a similar economic uplift to be replicated throughout the State through his demand for special category status, then the State is economically doomed for all time to come. Funds are not a problem. The problem is commitment to development and a corruption-free administration. Demand for special category status is a political slogan disguising as an economic catchphrase. And again, not much of a disguise, at that!

Friday, March 27, 2009

BJD expects more from Congress camp

Expressbuzz, March 27, 2009

BHUBANESWAR: The Biju Janata Dal (BJD) is waiting for the announcement of the Congress list for finalising candidates for some Lok Sabha and Assembly seats going to polls in the first phase on April 16.

Sources said the BJD expects that some senior leader of the Congress will join the regional outfit after the Congress list is out. BJD today did not announce its candidate for the Kalahandi and Sundargarh Lok Sabha seats. While the Sundargarh seat is likely to go to CPM, speculation is rife on its candidate from the Kalahandi seat.

The Congress is also yet to finalise its candidate from the Kalahandi seat. While Congress working president Bhakta Charan Das is interested to contest from the parliamentary seat, there are also other strong contenders including former minister Bhupinder Singh and former MP Rahas Behari Nayak.

The seat will witness a triangular contest after the snapping of ties between the BJD and BJP. Bikram Keshari Deo of the BJP who won from the seat for three consecutive terms is seeking re-election for the fourth time.

Former State Youth Congress president Rohit Pujari was awarded with the Sambalpur seat after he joined the BJD yesterday only hours after resigning from the Congress. The BJD is now in search of a suitable candidate who can challenge Deo.

The BJD has not announced candidates for the Bissam Katak (ST), Chhatrapur (SC), Aska, Sanakhemundi, Kantamal, Narla, Sambalpur, Talsara (ST), Brajrajnagar, Bonai and Bijepur Assembly seats. Out of these, the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) has announced candidates for the Narla, Sambalpur and Talsara seats.

However, the BJD has objected to the unilateral announcement of the list by the NCP as it does agree with some of the constituencies and candidates.

The BJD was scheduled to announce the list of candidates jointly with the CPI and CPM.

However, seat-sharing talks though going on well are yet to be over indicating that there are some differences on a number seats. While the delay over announcement of candidate for the Bissam Katak (ST) seat is yet to be clear, the Chhatrapur (SC), Aska, Sanakhemundi and Brajrajnagar seats may go to the CPI. The CPM may get the Kantamal, Bonai and Bijepur seats.

Excise collections surge 25.96% till February

Businessstandard, March 27, 2009

The collection of excise duty in Orissa surged by 25.96 percent in the first eleven months of the current fiscal, compared to the corresponding period of the previous fiscal. It increased to Rs 479.35 crore from Rs 380.59 crore during this period. More than 40 percent growth in the collection of excise duty during February has contributed to this growth.

The government collected Rs 45.47 crore in February 2009 compared to Rs 32.36 crore in February 2008. If the present trend continues, the collections for the current fiscal will exceed the target, sources said. The state collected Rs 524 crore in 2007-08 with the March 2008 collection being Rs 144 crore. Since, the model code of conduct is in force, no license shop could be opened in March this year. Despite that the department hopes to achieve the target set for 2008-09.

“We require Rs 130 crore in the current month to touch the target set for 2008-09. Since the Orissa State Beverages Corporation (OSBC) will pay Rs 30 crore for the renewal of the wholesale license, there will not be any problem in achieving the target”, an official associated with the process said.

It may be noted, the OSBC has already paid Rs 340.1crore upto the end of February 2009 compared to Rs 266.18 crore paid during the corresponding period of the previous fiscal.

Sources said, the growth of excise duty collections up to February this year was 39.45 percent in Nawarangapur district compared to the previous year. While growth of excise duty collections increased by 31.2 percent in Bolangir district to Rs 6.13 crore, Jagatsinghpur recorded a growth of 30.27 percent to Rs 8.79 crore. However, the performance of districts Kandhamal, Kalahandi, Dhenkanal was not satisfactory.

List of candidates reflects void in BJD

The Statesman, March 27, 2009
Statesman News Service

BHUBANESWAR, March 26: Chief minister Mr Naveen Patnaik will contest from his home constituency of Hinjili for the third successive term while as many as five of his ministerial colleagues and 22 sitting MLAs have found place in the list of candidates announced for the first phase polls on 16 April.
The first phase is to be held in the western and southern parts of the state comprising of 70 Assembly and 10 LS seats. This belt was by and large dominated by the BJP which has snapped ties with the BJD, hence most of the candidates nominated by the BJD today were new faces.
The list of eight LS candidates reflected the void in the BJD ranks as it had to pitch in many sitting MLAs for LS seats and even nominate rank defectors.
The BJD has nominated Oriya film actor Sidhant Mohapatra for the Berhampur LS seat which had been allotted to the BJP in the 2000 and 2004 elections.
Interestingly, the dearth of candidates for the BJD in this belt was evident from the fact that a couple of turncoats and relative green horns like Mr Rohit Pujari, the youth Congress president who had joined the BJD yesterday was rewarded with the prestigious Sambalpur LS seat. Mr Nityananda Pradhan, a former CPI state chief, who had deserted the party has been given the BJD ticket for Aska LS seat even as the BJD is in seat adjustment with the CPI.
Surprisingly, the BJD dropped one of its former ministers Mr Nagendra Pradhan from the list of MLA candidates.
Equally, baffling was the omission of any candidate for the Kalahandi LS seat. Speculations are that Mr Bhakta Charan Das, the working president of the Congress is unhappy and he may switch over to the BJD to contest from the Kalahandi LS seat.
Mr Das lost the elections continuously for the last three times as far as Kalahandi LS seat is concerned and the Congress is unlikely to nominate him. So he is likely to join the BJD and try his luck, said reliable sources here.
The eight nominated for the LS by the BJD today are Mr Jayaram Pangi, a sitting MLA for the Koraput LS seat, Mr Dambaru Majhi for the Nawarangpur LS seat, Mr Sidhant Mohapatra for Berhampur, Mr Nityananda Pradhan for Aska, Mr Rudramadhab Ray, a sitting MLA for the Kandhamal seat, Mr Kalikesh Singh Deo, another sitting MLA for Bolangir, Mr Rohit Pujari for Sambalpur and Mr Hamid Hussain for Bargarh.

Politics over aam admi

The Statesman (Kolkata), March 27, 2009

Against the BJP’s last election slogan of “India Shining”, the Congress is desperately trying to project that the UPA’s five-year rule has amply benefited the aam admi and reduced their sufferings.
Congress leaders are certain that these people will remain obliged to them for the welfare schemes launched by the UPA government ~ the NREGP to provide 100 days’ guaranteed jobs to villagers, Bharat Nirman to build infrastructure and thereby create more jobs, the Indira Awaas Yojana to build homes and the Rajiv Gandhi Urban Renewal Mission to facilitate urban infrastructure and ensure jobs in urban areas. These are the major flagship projects of the UPA regime which are expected to yield huge electoral dividends.
Pranab Mukherjee, acting finance minister, could not desist from campaigning for his party while presenting the interim budget by saying that the aam admi will definitely recognise the hand that has vastly removed their distress.


But what is the reality? Are the ordinary people really better off, particularly when the dual economic crisis of inflation and recession has been plaguing their lives for the past three years without any government safeguard? It is clear that the economic growth during the past five years, whatever shine it might have had, has remained mostly jobless.
A comparison of the two decades ending and beginning in 1993-94 shows that unemployment grew from 6.06 per cent to 8.28 per cent a year. As a result, the number of people employed registered a negative growth of 5.02 per cent in the latter decade when it actually increased by 1.73 per cent in the former. In conformity with declining population growth rate, both of labour force and work force grew lowly in the latter decade. But what is more worrying is the fact that although the gap between the two was negative by 0.31 per cent a year in the former decade, it has become positive by 0.22 per cent a year in the latter, implying labour force growth outweighing the work force growth to cause unemployment.
While the fall in employment in recent years is more acute in the organised sector, a fallout of recession, unorganised sector jobs have largely been low paid as well as irregular in nature. Thirty seven crore of unorganised workers countrywide, 93 per cent of the total work force, are still deprived of social securities and a protected national minimum wage law. Suggestions of the Second Labour Commission, National Commission on Enterprises in Unorganised Sector and the National Campaign Committee for Unorganised Sector Workers to bring legislations in these regards were ignored by the UPA government.
Minimal success of providing jobs under the NREGP has grossly contributed to the growing gap between labour force and work force growth in the rural areas. While persons registered under this scheme was only 28.2 per cent in 2007-08, the average job availability nationwide was only 21 days in 2008, with the states varying widely in respect of its success.
Similar is the outcome of other job providing schemes introduced one after another without tightening the operating mechanism at the state levels. This failure has intensified rural people’s distress to accentuate the poverty problem. Mani Shankar Ayer, Congress leader and Union panchayat minister, himself asserts that 84 per cent of the rural people have to live on a paltry Rs 20 or even less. Even a sizeable portion of them can earn only Rs 9 or even less per day.
This is the real condition of the rural masses who constitute the Congress’ aam admi. Against this, India has four in the list of top 10 billionaires in the world. What a glaring disparity!

The ordinary Indian citizens are mostly farmers whom our leaders forgot while signing the agricultural treaties under the WTO; this paved the way for unrestricted import of agricultural produce, preventing farmers from getting supportive crop prices and thereby pushing them, hugely indebted, towards committing suicide. This is no doubt the saddest event since independence; the much hyped dazzling economic growth over the years pales into insignificance.
In the decade since 1997 as per the National Crime Records Bureau, 1.83 lakh farmers committed suicide, while it is more than 1 lakh in the past five years. Maharashtra, the home state of Union agriculture minister Sharad Pawar, who is one of the prime ministerial aspirants this time, heads the list with more than 5,000 suicides, followed by Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Kerala.
The much publicised loan waiver scheme of Rs 60,000 crore has only benefited the rich farmers and the banks without reaching the needy.
The UPA leaders are feeling relieved that a huge sum of Rs 2,29,341 crore has been spent on rural economy, apart from fertilizer subsidy and special packages, to boost agriculture and infrastructure, including roads, health, water and sanitation. In it, NREGP and Bharat Nirman, the UPA’s two mostly favoured job providing schemes, took Rs 30,000 crore and Rs 40,900 crore, respectively. But where has the money gone?
A Wardha farmer says that the money has travelled to the city markets through the village rich to be mostly used in urban real estates and has never reached areas like Bundlekhand, Kalahandi, Vidarbha, Telangana, Hassan or Wynad where incidence of suicides is growing alarmingly.
P Chidambaram in the past four years and Pranab Mukherjee this year have provided enough sops and freebies to the agricultural sector without any noticeable uplift. The problem lies more in marketing the crops than production. This simple truth has never been understood by our leaders. Our farmers have never got the assured markets and lifting the quantitative restriction on imports of major farm crops has put the last nail in the coffin.
Another very vulnerable sector is hand weaving which has also been pushed to the brink of ruin by the unrestricted import of cheap silk or imitation silk cloth from China and embroidery machines under the liberalised import regime of the WTO. Already 47 weavers are reported to have ended their lives in the Varanasi sub-division of Uttar Pradesh, being unable to meet the basic needs; government schemes have only helped the rich traders to prosper instead of the weavers.
Unorganised farmers in search of a voice seem to have found one. Kalavati, an uneducated village widow, is now a very famous name as she leads an association of farmers’ widows in Yavatmal district of Vidarbha in Maharashtra under the banner of Vidarbha Janandolan Samiti. It is now a growing army of 1.6 lakh-plus widows. The samiti members are demanding compensation from the government for the death of their husbands. It also wants proper facilities of marketing instead of government doles, without which, as Kalavati has rightly realised, farmers will refuse to sell food, making agriculture a losing proposal. Then half of the farmers will flee the villages, while the other half will stick to farming only to ensure survival of their families.
It’s high time our leaders took this warning seriously and acted without delay to strengthen and extend cooperative societies, so that agriculture is sustained for the real benefit of the aam admi and economic growth becomes an inclusive one.
(The writer is Reader of Economics, Durgapur Government College)

Why should we vote, ask Balangir villagers

Merinews, March 27, 2009
Satyajit Nayak

Balangir district in western Orissa is fast heading towards an extreme shortage of both food and water. Balangir needs special attention. At the government level, it needs quick release of funds and execution of programmes on a war-footing.

IF IT was Kalahandi in the mid-1980s that was known for its abject poverty, frequent droughts and stark hunger, it is Balangir’s turn now to cry for help. This district in western Orissa is fast heading towards an extreme shortage of both food and water. The continuous drought has resulted in over 80 per cent loss of paddy crop. And the drinking water sources are fast drying up. There is a surfeit of only despair and desolation.

A vast majority of the people do not have money to buy food. Even government statistics admit that more than 87 per cent of the people in the district are below the poverty line. With the paddy harvest lost to drought and no other work to be found, over two lakh people from Balangir have migrated to other states.

The situation is worse in Balangir because only five per cent of the land is covered by irrigation. Drought and migration may not be new to Balangir -- this season has seen the largest migration since 1960s. At least 40,000 people have left Balangir this year by train alone, according to official figures.

Balangir’s present plight is the result of years of neglect by the State Government and the lack of initiative on the part of those who represent the district in Bhubaneswar and Delhi since Independence. The region has bad roads, poor irrigation, degraded forests and little industry.

Since decades, Balangir has been continuously represented by the royal family members both in State Assembly as well as Parliament. They are millionaires but still their district is the poorest in India. They prefer to work from there bunglows in Bhubaneswar and Delhi rather than opting to stay in their own constituency.

They might be doing some developmental work for the people but it is insufficient as they have ruled for decades, much more was expected from them.

Lakhs of people from Balangir are forced to migrate in search of livelihood. Be it pulling rickshaws in Raipur, slaving at brick kilns in Vizianagaram or working at great risk on high-rise buildings in Mumbai. They are all devoid of their basic rights.

A villager from Bongomunda village in Balangir district told me a year back: “These politicians only remember us during elections. They will send money, desi liquor etc to get our vote; but after winning we again becomes strangers for why should we vote? Nothing has changed since decades.”

Balangir needs special attention. At the government level, it needs release of funds within hours and execution of programmes on a war-footing. Help from voluntary agencies is also required. Two international agencies -- CARE and UNDP -- have already come forward to help on the request of the district administration.