Micro Planning Is Must In Post-COVID-19 Odisha


I am not sure when COVID-19 will end or if it has an end at all. The virus attack from high-risk groups is now entering into the general population and its menace is getting bigger every day. Not only the spread, but its ‘easiness’ in contagion, is paralysing. One need not do anything complicated or severely risky to get the attack. A mere touch or proximity even without a touch is enough to kill. So uncannily it resembles the remote killing button often seen in sci-fi movies. Population and communities are getting wiped off as we gather momentum to resist. This requires individual restraint in movement. But in many ‘supposedly’ disciplined countries, the communities have so far been the most unruly. They have been responsible for the morbidities to spread, and killings, to a large extent.

In Odisha, the ground-breaking idea of panchayats handling the registration and monitoring of the migrants actually puts the management in the hands of the community.  During a pandemic, I would rate this move as one of the most audacious and progressive. While the panchayat is going to be the repository of data of the last mile, it makes sense for them to plan and implement youth development programmes. After the migrants’ homecoming, the next immediate challenge would be livelihoods. Panchayats do not have the capacity to prepare livelihood blueprints and would need help. Most of the civil society organisations of Odisha are only welfare programme managers and that too, short term. Handling more than half a million migrants needs a large number of localised micro plans.

Odisha should be the first state to demonstrate that Gandhiji’s Gram Swaraj model works because the state has a strong panchayati raj system, which is working despite the challenges of proxy leadership by husbands of women panchayat leaders and sporadic financial leakages. However, compared to many other states in India, rural Odisha is well set for development programmes. These need to be initiated from Bhubaneswar through the district collectorates. 

The 6798 Gram Panchayats (GPs) of Odisha and the identified 7276 Temporary Medical Camps in all these GPs should continue to be the outreach centres and eventually made permanent. COVID’s aftermath will be long term and would need a lot of behavioural changes and risk mitigation to be adopted by the people. These centres could operate as multilevel service centres because going forward the youths would need constant engagement. Their joblessness will create destabilising social and economic problems. 

The State Planning Board should be put into action to make micro plans (ML) for the panchayats. The Board can make the plan with the help of the local organisations/agencies. Think tanks can assist the government in making professional plans, which would be acceptable by banks, government agencies for subsequent funding and business support to the youth.

NABARD would need viable proposals to support agriculture activities. This year’s Rabi harvest lies waste and could not reach the market and Kharif preparation looks uncertain. Outward migration would reduce if  initiatives are immediately taken to make the agriculture and allied sectors more viable and sustainable for the farmers. 

The state has a cultivated area of 61.80 lakh hectare with more than 91% of these belonging to small and marginal category and the average size of land holding is 1.04 hectare. So, a careful plan, with adequate financing, involving technology and smart marketing is required to increase productivity and farmer income. Per capita availability of land, water and other natural resources is diminishing along with the various biotic (insect and diseases) and abiotic stresses (natural disasters – flood, drought, cyclone etc.), increasing poverty and migration. This is the best time to gear up, make micro plans, influence banks, and proliferate rural agri-entrepreneurship. It is not farming but also selling and making profits. 

Jajpur district, which is expecting more than 50,000 migrants to come back has about 1,30,000 hectares in paddy land during the forthcoming Kharif season and is also known for high quality groundnut and horticulture. The rehabilitation of the migrants is of immediate concern and agriculture is the sector, which they can get absorbed in before the other industries in Jajpur area reopen. Resumption of manufacturing units would take some time. In the meantime, agriculture could prove to be a gainful employment. The same could be done in Ganjam.

In other places of Odisha with access to IT/ITeS and reasonable Internet connectivity, the youth should be oriented to online learnings in artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning. After COVID, cybercrime and impingement would be a growing area of work, much bigger than what it is today.

The days of the human intermediaries are numbered, even if they exist in some sectors now. COVID-19 made the grounds more fertile for AI and ML service centres to grow faster and voraciously. As the COVID-19 outbreak continues to proliferate and gets entrenched, researchers are looking to use AI as a way of addressing the challenges of the virus. Many research projects are using AI to identify drugs that were developed to fight other diseases. These could now possibly be repurposed to fight COVID-19. AI helps in  studying the molecular setup of existing drugs and identifies the ones, which could disrupt COVID-19’s attack. So, after COVID-19, we cannot but completely rely on AI to save us from pandemics and attacks. In the near future a lot of requirements would come from this sector along with the specialised pharma. Our boys and girls should be prepared for that.

Besides agriculture, IT and pharma industries are promising in the post-COVID-19 days. This might look daunting but can be done by setting up rural BPMs. The Impact Sourcing model not only reduces adult digital illiteracy rates drastically, it also creates thriving rural communities. Half a million migrant workers are heading the Odisha way soon and the state has so far created 2.27 lakh beds in 7276 isolation facilities. All returnees will be mandatorily sent for 14 days of quarantine to these facilities. Every quarantined person will be stamped with a date in indelible ink. The government is ready to bear the cost of food, health, and accommodation of the people. Upon completion of quarantine, each person will be given an incentive of Rs. 2000. The same level of preparation is necessary for the engagement of the people who would now stay back in Odisha, mostly permanently. They would have nowhere to go for at least a couple of years.

From now on, Odisha needs to step up agriculture, engage the youth and retain power with the panchayats to minimise the menace of COVID-19 on its economy. Micro planning is the first step.


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