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Mainstream, VOL LIX No 22, New Delhi, May 15, 2021

Governance in the State of Odisha: Look beyond the catchword - A Response to Pralay Kanungo & Sitaram Kumbhar | Radhakanta Barik

Friday 14 May 2021

by Prof Radhakanta Barik *

[The below article is written in response to a joint paper by Pralay Kanungo & Sitaram Kumbhar, ’Odisha’s Transformation under the Naveen Patnaik Regime’ in Economic and Political Weekly (EPW) - Vol. 56, Issue No. 8, 20 Feb 2021 ]

Governance is a political cum administrative concept that needs to be located in the context of social and economic processes

Governance is being misused by many. As if it is a part of public administration and experts who are the specialists in the field. Making of public policy is done with the help of input-output model. Governance has been made a catchword by the world bank whereas before that Indian constitution talks of governance in the chapter IV of Indian constitution where agenda of governance is written in a bold letter like provision of education, livelihood, reducing inequality, and ending the exploitation of women and children etc. But the government needs to keep in mind while implementing the catchword of governance. The parameters of good governance by the World Bank can be added in the footnotes to the Constitutional provision. Corruption free or transparency is critical for making governance more citizens friendly. Two scholars are writing of governance in EPW without placing in the context of constitutional provisions.

Furthermore, governance cannot be removed from the political process as India is a democratic country. In the democratic process, various actors play role in making the public policy and also sabotaging the policy. Access to food is very critical to a human being for its survival but some forces work against it as it pays them money. This is where classes and castes come into play for making the policy and implementing the policy. Food is required by each citizen but the Dalits and tribals are landless they need more intensely than others. To make a policy may be an easy task but implementation is furthermore a difficult task. There are forces working on the ground to sabotage the implementation of public policy. A poor landless labour collecting his ration from the ration shop says to me: “ In our country implementing a public policy is a difficult work and complex one.” He understands it and while collecting his monthly ration he finds the cut has been made. Before getting ration card he had to pay bribe and then collecting ration the shop keeper takes a cut. Despite that he is happy that he collects his ration for his family every month.

How at macro level sabotaging used to happen in Odisha. As Odisha does not have ruling class. They do not have industrial class or Landlord class. Then question arises a class of traders Marwaris with their social network have successfully sabotaged the public Distribution system. Before the super cyclone of 1999 the space for keeping grains for ration was in the private hands. These private hands were nobody else than the Marwaris. They keep it there and sell it and distributes among powerful groups such as political class, officials and other influential people like journalists. It is interesting to note here that they used to pay to the MLAs of the ruling party and opposition party and it means both winning candidate and defeated candidates. This makes them do business in silence without making any noise. As officials used to get their share and that Marwaris make their money by trading the Sarkari grains. All dominant social groups make money and poor suffered the pangs of hunger. During the super cyclone when the central government could not manage its ration as in private storage there was nothing to get distributed.

Here the coming of Naveen Patnaik as the chief minister plays an important role and centre was ready to pay money for making storage owned by government. He is a western liberal that works in implementing the policy. He was able to implement the PDS to 75% of people of Odisha. Today it has given him political capital when implementing the PDS he expands his social support to lower classes and Dalits and tribals. MLAs could not reach him because of his background and his inability to speak Odiya made it possible for him to implement the grand project. Bureaucracy implements the policy as they listen to political masters.

Naveen Patnaik took up the second project in his hands that is implementation of the post super cyclone rehabilitation package which got a huge grant from the central government other state governments and World Bank and other foreign foundations. This requires the huge planning and implementation. He allowed his local political workers to share the sanctioned money for construction of the Indira Awash Yojana. It required skilled labour and unskilled labour. Implementation of the project gave them work and which resulted in increase the average wage of labour in Odisha.

Implementation of such a grand project brought interplay of various actors such as local politicians, bureaucracy and political leaders. There was a cut of twenty percent of allocated money by local workers which benefited the party to grow at the grassroots level. In a presentation, I made in front of international experts who agree to the point that leakage of twenty percentages is very low in comparison to international standards. Furthermore, implementation was possible as participation of common people in the grand project. It was a felt need to have a pucca house and turned into real need as the kutcha houses got washed away by the cyclone. It was realized by people that they could defend themselves against the cyclone in the pucca house. They took personal interest in the construction of the housing project. In most of cases, they supplemented their income to have a better pucca house. It required a massive trained manpower which resulted in a huge hike in their daily wage. Daily labour got Rs 100 and skilled labour like masons got Rs 500 for the first time. Till 2019 wage of labour continuously started increasing which has reached Rs 350 in coastal belt of Odisha. Rise in income made them to spend on their food, education and health of their children. Managing the cyclone Naveen Babu learnt from his father who confronted the rehabilitation of 1972 cyclone in his constituency of Raj Nagar which was a part of Kendrapara. Till today Kendrapara remains as the fort of both father and son. Odisha did have the super cyclones in every ten years before 2000 but after the super cyclone the climate has changed so drastically and every two years the state is experiencing the cyclone. The chief minister shows his guts to manage reasonable well. Summer heatwave is another disaster that resulted in killing many people across the state. Anybody who dies of heatwave gets compensation of a Lakh rupees. This has resulted in working day getting reduced in summer to 12 PM and having four hours working day in both the rural and urban India. A great loss to the human wealth of Odisha. PDS and other financial package have saved the situation to some extent.

The third most important project he took in his hands for implementing is the procurement price for the rice in Odisha. Odisha had a distress sale of grains which resulted in pauperization of farmers. As Odisha has a small and marginal farmers who need protection from the free market. Although it is a central government project but never got implemented. He started it with the help of Civil Supply Department of the government of Odisha but today it is a well-organized system of procurement of grains. There was a popular protest against the distress sale in Baragarh which inspired him to implement the project. It improved the productivity of agriculture and with procured rice, the government implements the PDS in the whole of Odisha. Here the procurement is not done by FCI but by the private agency fixed by the government. While procuring grains the agent takes one KG per quintal of rice but it is tolerable by the farmers. The administration sees that leakage is within control. Governance without corruption is possible in heaven. World Bank’s concept of Governance is without corruption is a big joke in public administration.

Naveen Patnaik initiated mid-day meal scheme in the schools of Odisha which has had a reasonable success. All surveys conducted by scholars show that mid-day meal with egg plays an important role in improving the health of children of Odisha. The government has decided to provide food with fish now. During the covid time the dry food was getting provided to the children in their houses. A child complained to the District collector of Kendrapara that his ration had been gulped by his parents which deprived him food. It compelled the DM to intervene in the family to settle the problems of the hungry child. Anganwadi are providing food to children below five which has improved the quality of health small children. The study conducted by Ritika Khera says that it has made a reasonable success in district of Mayurbhanja in providing meal to children below five and to lactating mothers. In an interview with a child in our village who says that he is going to Anganwadi to have a meal there. Although he is from a rich Brahmin family as food cooked in the Anganwadi’s are nutritious and of good quality. It has employed a large number of women workers as Anganwadi’s who supply cooked food. It provides the jobs to thousands of women workers. They are all from the Potter community and I did a survey long back regarding the Anganwadi’s and found that those women got employed were either relatives of the Sarpanches or concubines of these powerful people. That created fear in the minds of children belonging to lower castes to have a meal there and these women from high castes have created fear in their minds. Today the situation has changed as women working in Anganwadi’s come from lower backward or Dalits.

The fourth one is the formation of women Self Help groups who employs lakhs of women who get engaged in various productive works such maintaining poultry and fishery and women horticulture in common land of the village. The provision of loan at cheap interest rate has helped women’s financial needs. These workers provide political support for the ruling party. Some of them work as members of the panchayats. In my study of the Tritol Block where Women Self Help groups are very active and I found it is a fact that women are active in the activities related to various programmes like fishery or horticulture or poultry. Their main interest was to collect money at the very low interest rate which serves their financial needs. Otherwise they would have gone to local moneylender for getting loan at a higher interest rate. But the products they make having no market as the cheap products produced by the factories are easily available. One woman activist cried for lack of work in the rural society and they are facing extreme poverty. As they are landless family to take care of school-going children. Unless the policy for the protection of the products produced by the Women Self Help Groups is made there is no hope for the future.

Basically the government has concentrated on food and work for children women in rural Odisha. This has enlarged his support base. Post-1866 famine hunger is a critical factor in mass psychology. This psychology gets satisfied with the projects implemented by Naveen Sarkar. All his lessons have come from his father who was a tall political leader but his support base was very narrow that was middle-class for whom he won the general election by facing conjectural politics be it 1977 or 1991. He could be the chief minister of the state for two terms one during congress rule and another by himself in 1991. This lesson guiding him to work for people and people would support him be it Dalits or kisans and women these three important groups are the backbone of his politics.

All these projects require a well-organized public administration to bring various stakeholders for consultation and help in implementing the projects. This requires a sensitive administration to deliver the basic services. This has happened in a way one can find at the level of Tehsil where the works have been organized and monitored. If one sits in the office of BDO who is playing the nodal officer at the Tahsil level to work out these projects with a small staff. But inviting the stakeholders and holding discussions with them and reaching a conclusion by which the stakeholders themselves get involved in the process of implementation. The BDO is discussing with the leaders of Women Self Help Groups to work their activities and coordinating with the rural bank officials in chalking out the plans. District administration needs to provide sufficient backing in working out these projects. In monitoring the execution of these activities the BDO plays a key role who is a provincial civil service person. In the process of implementation and getting inputs in handling the new projects the PCS play a creative role. The real theatre of activities has shifted from Secretariat to Tehsil level where an exhibition of administrative acumen is being shown. In delivering better rural roads to implementing the PDS all these activities are organized at the block to panchayat level and in the process, IAS is getting marginalized. Civil services need to be organized to get involved in the developmental activities it is not too far to be the states may go without All India civil services.

He is a shrewd politician who keeps his antenna to the ground. He knows what is happening on the ground by keeping in touch with his local leaders. He plans to settle those problems by which he does not lose his support. Those who argue that he is guided by civil servants are absolutely wrong. He has a sense of political judgment which works out in the case of Odisha. By going with the BJP in the first two terms and throwing them to the dustbin in a gentle manner without creating ruckus is his sophisticated political style.

He has this sixth sense which guides his political action. Furthermore, he does not depend on dominant groups to collect financial support for his party. As Odisha is no more under the control of mercantile capitalism and it has moved to industrial and mining capitalism which finances his party, not small traders. This is the strength and weakness which got exploited by the mining owners by going beyond their limits to exploit the minerals.

His challenge is coming from improving the school education although the literacy rate has improved the quality of education has not improved yet. The health facilities need to be provided by creating health infrastructure which requires better PHC to district hospitals to medical college and this is a plan to be worked out in coming days. He succeeds then it will be a wonder in providing health services to all its citizens. During the Covid-19 he had to depend on private hospitals that exploited ordinary citizens. His plan to create more medical colleges may improve the supply side but not better quality of health services. Health administration needs to be streamlined where the doctors are working as a powerful vested interest group in the delivery of services.

His challenge in providing jobs to the unemployed youths in Odisha is experiencing a high rate of unemployment more than the national average. With the closing of many industries, he is facing the challenge of reviving the industries. Furthermore, he needs a cultural policy to confront the Hindutva project of Ram, Hanuman, and Ram Charita Manas otherwise they are destroying Odiya culture. Odisha is working as a political fort with its arms like Bhagavat plus fish can protect them from the onslaught of the Hindutva politics. The Saraswati Vidya Mandirs built by RSS are breeding grounds for fascists which need to be closed by the government as Odisha has better common schools.

* (Radhakanta Barik is a retired professor from the Indian Institute of Public Administration, New Delhi)

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