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Orissa Dream: Naxalite Way or Government Way

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Arun Sharma:

This is part 2 of our 5 part series on Indian States.

Orissa, one of the poorest states of India with a per capita GDP of about Rs 22,000 as compared to the Indian average of Rs 32,000, is the second state that we will discuss in this series. The main reason for picking up Orissa for analysis is its low per capita GDP but its high growth rate of 8.7% in 2008. This was accompanied by 4% rise in the electricity capacity of the state to ensure that the growth of the state was not hampered because of the infrastructure problems. But still, a low rise in the income levels of the Orissa citizens and their poor living standards are a cause of worry to the entire nation.

Citizens of a country that is in its phase of evolution, expect financial security ahead of the social security so that they can survive the realities of food, shelter and clothing. In comparison to Bihar, Orissa’s growth rate of 8.7% is on a lower side and still there’s a lot that the government needs to do in the state. The major focus has to be on the Agriculture that contributes more than 27% of the total GDP of Orissa. Because of the saline land, agriculture in Orissa has shown a slow growth rate and lower productivity. What makes the matters worse is that this 27% GDP contributor provides employment to more than 60% of the Oriya population. This explains the poor lifestyle in the state.

But an even bigger problem faced by Orissa is Naxalites. I do not have an opinion on the Naxal movement because I try not to understand the philosophy of the groups who use violence as a tool to gain power. But from whatever I’ve been able to learn from the media reports, this movement has created a lot of mess in the state and has hampered the steep growth path that the state got on in 2004 and 2005 at over 13%. I remember reading a report recently that 74 security personnel and 22 civilians were killed in 56 different incidents across the state due to the increasing Naxal menace in Orissa.

Naxals constituted themselves as Communist Party of India (Maoist) that does not believe in the democratic system, by philosophy. Now they have reconstituted as People’s War Group (PWG) and have formed a corridor in the poorest of the states including Jharkhand, Orissa, Madhya Pradesh and some parts of Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh. The big question here is — Whether Orissa will follow its path of growth laid down by the Maoists (I don’t want to use Naxalites) or by the Democratic Government?

Orissa is a hub of natural resources of metal ores and hence, attracted a high amount of investment and employment generation in that sector. Steel and Aluminum producing capacities, along with the power projects and ports are the major industrial sectors that contribute to the Orissa’s economy with a growing inclination of the state towards the IT services these days. Though these developments are targeted for the good of the citizens, the benefits have not been able to trickle down to the bottom. I visited Orissa in January last year when I saw the ladies carrying water from the water pools somewhat far from their residence. Something peculiar that I observed was that they did not wear blouse and wore saries as it is. When I enquired from a friend, he told me that it’s not the culture but the scarcity of clothes that has forced the Oriya women to dress like they were.

In such a scenario, I believe that it is imperative for the people of Orissa to adopt alternative ways to make a living for themselves. And no force can unite humans better than hunger. That’s where the Naxalites fill in the gap. They assure growth, basic amenities, equitable wealth distribution and above all, food. Some reports suggest that almost half of Orissa is under the influence of Naxal movement and the major reason is that 48% of the population lives below poverty line. So, in a way they act in favor of the public and not in the favor of the corrupt officials and the ministers who make policies from their air-conditioned offices after exchanging bags of money.

But at the same time, news like ‘A day after Maoists shot dead a trader-cum-contractor in Malkangiri’, ‘Maoists behead CITU leader, put up poster at Rourkela’ and ‘Maoists raze outpost, torch BSNL tower at Malkangiri’ are disturbing enough to create a threat for the companies to set up their plants and facilities in Orissa. The very confidence that the Naxals initially set on to build in the poor people, is being assassinated brutally by themselves. Alongside this shift in the social perception of Naxals, the government has become more efficient and has started focusing on the inclusive growth. The development has been based on the infrastructure and real assets rather than the ones that might be high growth sectors for time being. This will provide a unique support to the upliftment of the society in Orissa.

In such a situation, will the Naxalite movement be able to sustain itself for very long? All said and done, the people of Orissa will realize that the government has been elected by themselves and will voice their demands to make that government more responsible. But the Naxals will lose their popularity very soon owing to the extent of violence and disruptions caused by them in the lives of the people of Orissa. So, the growth will be the People’s Way that is the Government’s Way.

The writer is a Special Correspondent of Youth Ki Awaaz and holds special interest in Social Entrepreneurship.

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  1. faiza

    Statistics can be misleading. Let’s not confuse financial growth with real development. The growth rate might be 13% but if that is at the cost of displacing thousands of tribals, taking away their land at gunpoint, literally ( poisoning the rivers and destroying the local ecology, then I’m sorry but that’s way in the red on my growth meter! If you really want to calculate growth, factor in all social, cultural, environmental not to forget human costs. Won’t be such a gleaming figure then.

    Btw, the state gets only 1% from the profits that the mining companies make. 99% goes into the coffers of Anil Agarwal (of Vedanta) and friends. So much for that.

    And anyway, what do we mean by development? Personally I think in a ‘developed’ city like Bombay, we lead highly unsustainable lives. The tribals have had a harmonious, symbiotic relationship with nature for thousands of years. Unfortunately through our urban lenses, we see that as ‘uncivilised’. They’ve been completely self-reliant till some urban idiot came up with a plan for development for them. We’d actually benefit if we did a bit of role-reversal here.

    As for your argument about Orissa attracting high levels of investment and consequently generating employment, I’m afraid that rings hollow. The companies promise employment but the reality is very different. The rehab plans are a total sham. From a 2006 Indian Express article – “From 87 families evicted for setting up Mesco steel plant, only five persons got jobs. In Neelachal Ispat Nigam Limited, only 53 persons out of 634 displaced families found employment. Out of the 430 families displaced to make way for Visa Steel, only 42 persons got jobs.”

    Most of the media gets paid to keep its mouth shut(read advertising) which is the reason you will always hear of Naxal atrocities but hardly ever of those perpetrated by the State.

    As for your statement “the government has become more efficient and has started focusing on the inclusive growth”, refer to aforementioned Kaling Nagar article. The government is in cohorts with the mining companies, often abetting illegal mining.

    Alas, the people’s way and the government’s way are two divergent paths and we’re headed for BIG trouble if we don’t get the government to change tracks.

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