Western Odisha: Rangabati & Much Beyond

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I can’t imagine Odisha being a breakthrough state and a $1 trillion economy without harnessing the rich west Odisha. The western part of Odisha has deep-seated cultural identity, rootedness coupled with rich natural resources for the manufacturing sector and veritable traditional agriculture practices. Bargarh possesses everything from Nrusinghnath to rice to fashion. It is one of those zones in India, which in the next decade, should together contribute to more than half of the country’s GDP.

It is good news that paddy cultivation land parcel has increased to 62,815 hectares (ha), this rabi season and production pegged at about 3,95,735 MT and more. Other crops including paddy, pulses, oil seeds, vegetables, condiments and sugarcane are being cultivated in about 1,30,000 ha. But the water management in command areas during the current crop season remains inefficient.

Cotton plantation is healthy in Balangir. Patnagarh is the cotton belt of Balangir district and produces good quality cotton. But unpredictable weather conditions last year (during this time: September and October) had a severely adverse impact on the crop. Untimely rain and cloudy conditions affect the crop adversely as either “boll bursting” does not occur or the bolls turn black. This year, there has been a fall in the number of bolls for each plant. Cotton growers should not migrate in search of labour.

In the 8.4 per cent growth of Odisha in 2018-19, the share of agriculture sector is declining, giving away space to service and manufacturing in that order. If we allow this trend to continue, it will have a harmful effect on the income level of the agrarian families (70% of the state) dependant on agriculture. The small farmers, cultivators and landless agricultural labourers will benefit by  the KALIA scheme but sustenance of farming as a practice is in question.

There are about 260000 farming families in the district out of which about 80% are small and marginal farmers. They survive in spite of a meagre 11 % and 5 % of the total cultivated area touched by the irrigation system during Kharif and Rabi seasons. To enhance irrigation potential and public investment in the agriculture sector, the state has allocated about Rs 9,216 crore in 2017-18 but it is time to assess the impact in the agriculture intensive districts of western Odisha.

Most of the districts follow a single cropping pattern. The capacities of the farmers need to be built in crop diversity. The DPMU in each district should be primarily responsible for preparing the district plans. I have not seen most of the plans.

While most of the districts are agrarian, Jharsuguda is an industrial hub. About 35 panchayats are mining affected and forest cover is only 10 % and net sown area is about 43%. Acute respiratory infection, tuberculosis (TB), diabetes, diarrhoea/dysentery result in high morbidity in the district. District Mineral Foundation (DMF) lies under utilised, keeping the high priority sector projects wanting. Drinking water, education, environment preservation, pollution control, health and sanitation, skill development and livelihood activities need immediate attention.

In 2017, an agreement to undertake Project Monitoring Unit (PMU) for DMF Jharsuguda was signed between the district administration and a big consulting firm. But DMF allocation has not shown the expected improvement in efficiency. Jharsuguda’s contribution to the state economy is dominant. The placement to live register ratio in youth employment is shockingly low. Are the local youths properly trained? If yes, then why are they not getting locally employed? In Jharsuguda, they should all be absorbed in industry-centric jobs. Otherwise, I don’t see any point in local growth, which is sustainable. CSR programmes have been glossy stories for annual reports, not practical hand-holding for the hapless youth.

Nuapada’s listing as the second top ‘Most Improved Districts’ of the country in ‘Improvement in Education’ category is good news but migration for labour continues to plague the district. To prevent distress migration, the state has worked out an Integrated Action Plan (IAP) to pilot in 30 GPs of thee blocks in two districts, Balangir and Nuapada  (Belpada and Khaprakhol in Bolangir district and Nuapada in Nuapada district). Around 8,433 households in two blocks of Balangir district and 719 HHs in Nuapada block of Nuapada district have been identified as vulnerable to migration.

I am not sure how this ‘identification’ has been done. But it is common sense that the family details, land holding patterns, livelihood options and skill maps of these households should have been surveyed. Inter-sectoral linkages are a must for all the relevant departments to pitch in collaboratively and schemes to be stitched together to see the impact on the ground. Agro forestry, poultry, horticulture, micro-irrigation, millet mission, dug well and distribution of pump set and sprinklers, are some of the interventions which can strengthen livelihoods.

In the beginning of 2019, the state had taken up 11,434 projects worth over Rs 6,438.23 crore under DMF in various districts including Jharsuguda and Sundergarh, which are in western part of the state and are top contributors (Sundargarh about Rs 800 crore, Jharsuguda about Rs 300 crore). There is no reason why a social audit should not be undertaken, suo motto by civil society organisations to monitor and help the state in the development of these projects, which included high priority 9,044 projects like drinking water, education, environment preservation, pollution control, health and sanitation, skill development and livelihoods. But where is the civil society movement in western Odisha? Jharsuguda had 508 projects and Sundergarh 4631 and are in need of socio-technical support.

Last year, Kalahandi was adjudged the most improved district in agriculture in India amongst the Aspirational Districts in the agriculture sector. Kalahandi is the turnaround story of India and like India. The blot of hunger has driven farmers to try out new varieties and come out of the poverty cycle. The tenacity of the local farming community in Kalahandi is remarkable. They need technical support in reducing extensive use of synthetic fertilisers, pesticides and high yielding mono-crop, to arrest the loss of crop varieties, erosion of genetic diversity and stop the extinction of local seeds in the region.

Agriculture extension services need to be much more up-to-date. This year, Kalahandi farmers are left with an excess of 25,000 quintal paddy unsold. Last season, they faced both flood and drought and are now surviving with water crisis and pest attack. I will continue writing about the other districts in western Odisha. But what about the civil society and the political leadership in western Odisha? I am not aware of the role the WODC is playing in socio-economic development of the region. The political leadership, cutting across party lines is busy positioning as ‘state leaders’ rather than ‘people leaders’. True development starts on the ground. Civil society organisations are busy implementing ‘projects’. We need programmes and not short-lived interventions, which die before they start.

On Nuakhai , one of the most important festivals in Western Odisha, celebrating fresh harvest, let’s go back to the fields. Agriculture needs fusion of technology and smart market linkages. There is no reason why we should not prevent the demise of agriculture, specifically in western Odisha. Islands of success, smart pilots are good to cite but why aren’t they replicated? 

Nuakhai celebration dates back to the 12th century, encouraged by King Raja Ramai Deo. The King believed that agriculture was an important activity or vocation, which helped in strengthening the societal bonding.

Let’s join hearts and celebrate Nuakhai but not to be blind to the fields and their mentors. 

“Change your opinions, keep to your principles; change your leaves, keep intact your roots.”


[Disclaimer: The views expressed by the author are his own and do not necessarily represent that of the web portal]




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