Heritage Cabinet 2017 Remains A Non-Starter To This Day
They said it was a historic day and indeed it was. For the first time, the Odisha state cabinet sat out of the capital city of Bhubaneswar, in the temple town of Puri. The date, December 26, 2017, coincided with the 20 years celebration of Biju Janata Dal (BJD), the ruling party of Odisha for the last 22 years. On that particular day, the state cabinet, under the chairmanship of Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik accepted a few important proposals to preserve the state’s culture, language and literature. Five years after that historic day, we must review and ask a few questions about the “historic declaration.”
To counter the aggressive cultural nationalism of the Bharatiya Janata Party, the ruling party at the centre, BJD on that occasion rolled out a roadmap blended with the idea of language and ethnic nationalism. Odia identity was the core component and to further this idea state cabinet decided to:
- Set up a ‘Heritage Cabinet’ to preserve the relics and monuments in the state and enrich its rich culture and language.
- Set up an Odia Language Commission.
- Bifurcate the tourism and culture departments. The cultural wing would be renamed as Odia Language, Literature and Culture Department.
- Amend The Odisha Official Language Act, of 1954 and strictly enforce the act as law.
- Madke mandatory for all shops and business establishments in the state to display signboards in Odia language within a stipulated time. There would be a provision for punishment in case of violation of this rule.
- Organise World Odia Language Convention every five years and waive off tuition fees for students pursuing Odia courses at the graduation and post-graduation levels.
- Provide scholarships, stipends and incentives to those securing high marks at the intermediate and graduation levels.
- Encourage students to pursue research in Odia as per the UGC pattern and increase the number of PhD seats.
- Organise state and district-level book fairs every year, besides setting up “smart libraries” with Odia books in all district headquarters and high schools.
- Take steps to facilitate the translation of Odia literary works into other Indian languages and vice versa. To conduct all government functions in the state in the Odia language.
- To give non-resident Odias access to learn Odia, and to reply to letters and complaints received from the public in the Odia language.
- Doubling the maintenance of grants provided for the revival and popularisation of ‘Bhagabat Tungis’, small huts in the villages where religious texts are narrated to the people.
A few proposals that got a Cabinet nod on that day were expected to be implemented by the government. Six months after the Puri Cabinet meeting, the first “Heritage Cabinet” sat in Bhubaneswar on July 27, 2018, and resolved to set up an “Odia University” at Satyabadi. In that meeting, it was decided to:
- Convert the Ananda Bhawan Museum and Learning Centre (Biju Patnaik’s birthplace in historic Cuttack city) into a Trust and create a corpus fund for this purpose.
- Create a separate post of Director, Public Library for the smooth and smart functioning of all the public libraries.
- Formulate one Odia Culture & Heritage Policy for the preservation and proliferation of art, culture and classical Odia language.
Except for a few token gestures, nothing from that night has seen the light of the day. There is no sign of the Odia Language Commission and Odia University. The university construction is hopelessly slow and the Language Commission is a non-starter. The Culture & Heritage Policy of the state is nothing but a bundle of copy-paste junk ideas.
Forget about state and district-level book fairs, the Department of Odia Language, Literature and Culture (the change of name is the only thing that happened immediately) stopped all the existing private book fairs in the state capital. English continues to be the dominant language on signboards and signposts. The Odisha Official Language Act, 1954 has not been enforced; Odisha Sahitya Academy and Odia Bhasha Pratishthan etc are almost defunct. The Sahitya Academy is running like a headless chicken and the language institute is in deep slumber.
In reality, not a single proposal of that “Historic Cabinet” of December 2017 has seen the light of the day. It was a high political drama to play the Odia identity as fodder before the 2019 general election.
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