Odisha Prepares For High Speed Growth With New RI Circles

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After a long time, not since the major Panchayati Raj reforms were undertaken in the 90s, the plan to create 450 new revenue circles came as a bold governance step to prepare Odisha for mega growth plans. By 2030, I foresee the state to contribute much over 6% to the national GDP. If we can manage the investments, skill our youth to get absorbed in Odisha, particularly in the minerals, SME and services sectors, there is nothing that can stop the state to assert itself by sheer contribution to India’s growth story. Odisha holds the key to the national vision of $5 trillion economy.

Big ticket investments are flowing in and many are in the pipeline. Investment needs a basic core or a foundation to help it achieve triple bottom line. Odisha should exhort the investing corporates to work sustainably in the state. The three bottom lines or the three P’s — people, planet, and profit — have to be assured. With the auction of mines, growth in manufacturing, specifically in the SME sector, implementation of the Kalia scheme to cover more than 16% of the population, we need efficiency in governance. The PRI (Panchayati Raj Institutions), Zilla Parishads and Panchayats are still underutilised.

Odisha is a gifted land in the world because it has a mix of all – the natives who are rich with mineral resources, the unique art and crafts of skilled people with unbelievable piety and unparallel soft skills and invaluable land mass to foster rapid industrial growth (480 kms coast, large numbers of water bodies, reasonably higher ground water table, over 310 sunny days yearly, increasing forest cover) and trouble free labour force. The long coastline contains Asia’s second largest eco-system of mangroves and some of the world’s richest biodiversity.

We are aiming at making Bhubaneswar the skill capital of India and ideally Odia youths should be employed there. But industrialisation has to be rapid. The perennial question arises — can we or should we abandon the globally unique and superabundant flora and fauna and run the rat race towards destruction, pollution and contamination? I would not have been worried about industrialisation if we knew how to tackle development along with clean environment, if we knew how to enforce ecological discipline among the companies playing with natural and mineral resources, if we knew how to respect the PVTGs and if we knew how to handle exploitation of land, labour and faith. Because Odisha should not, at any cost lose its pristine wealth, its blessed existence and benediction. From Puri, the seat of Odia spirituality, to Rayagada, the woodland of Odia economic growth, tribality is the profound underline. It’s all about tribals, from the Lord to mining, but they are the most deprived, utterly neglected and severely cornered.

Odisha is the treasure house. No other state in India has comparable wealth — large reserves of bauxite (65%), china clay, chromite (98.3%), coal (27%), dolomite (20.7%), fireclay, graphite (76.67%), gemstones, iron ore (26%), limestone, manganese ore (31.7%), mineral sand, nickel ore (95.1%), pyrophyllite, diamond and quartz. The stack of other minerals includes copper ore, lead ore, titanium bearing magnetite, talc/soap stone and high magnesia igneous rocks. Odisha possesses almost all of India’s chromite, graphite, nickel, bauxite, high quality coal iron ore and beach sand. Yet Odisha’s contribution to the national GDP is unconvincingly low.

For investments to fructify in the state, we need to have a fast track system of handling land settlement efficiently and timely. The government schemes are not reaching people adequately due to eligibility bottlenecks and clearances at the last mile. If the social security aspect is taken care of, then it is expected that the investments would not result in wanton commercial growth at the cost of the happiness and all-round growth of the people.

So far, the role of the civil society has been queasy and limited. We are aware that investment-friendly policies, good governance, robust infrastructure, mineral resources and agriculture resources and access to the market can make Odisha a complete development destination. But it all starts with the opening of the lock at the community level. We are talking of development of the state and do we forget that development means ‘of the people, by the people and for the people’. In this discourse of development, the only word scarcely used is ‘people’. Only a Gram Sabha reminds us of the rights of the people to decide about themselves. But who works towards sensitising the communities who constitute the Gram Sabha? Where are the civil society organisations, the NGOs? On the one hand, we have activists promoting their ISMs in the name of being pro poor and on the other hand, we have CSR programs of industries engaged in tokenism in the name of development. Gram Sabha is the only key to development, bottoms up. This is because Gram Sabha is where the action lies. It is the council holding the key to the development of the country. If Odisha is the gold mine and the global repository, then Gram Sabha is the door to the treasure. It’s more so when we are discussing rental economy. But how do we strengthen the district and the below district governance which would have a direct bearing on the wellness of the State?

The creation of new RI circles would take the total number in the state to 2729, after 450 more circles would be added. The RIs would be separate for rural and urban areas — in rural areas, one revenue circle will be created for three GPs (gram panchayats). In the municipal areas, one RI (Revenue Inspector) would be placed for three municipal wards. The urban centres include Bhubaneswar, Cuttack, Rourkela, Berhampur, Puri and Sambalpur. There can’t be an absolute measurement of the contribution of this governance exercise to the state GDP, but it won’t be an exaggeration to conclude that we can term the investments successful if the output boosts Odisha’s economy and human development index.

The scaling up of RI circles is a great and timely enabler, but deployment of officers could be a challenge and so the selection and recruitment boards need to be concurrently empowered and mandated to go for large scale recruitments.

Odisha is preparing big time and if we don’t get ready with strong below district governance, we might as well forget trillions in economy.

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