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Geography-Poverty in Odisha.

With around 40 percent of Odisha’s population living below the poverty line, the incidence of poverty is highest here followed by Jharkhand (34.8 percent), Bihar (32.5 percent) and Madhya Pradesh (32.4 percent). The Centre for Science & Environment (CSE) in its recent report painted a gloomy picture about likely impact of growth of mineral sector in the State saying that the current model of development has no way benefited the state and its poor over the years.

Even as the State has achieved an average annual economic growth of 7.2 percent during the 10th Five Year Plan, it has shown poor performance in the human development indicators, the CSE report reveals. In fact, Odisha’s per capita income actually declined during the second half of the 1990s when the State went on an industrial overdrive. The per capita income of Odisha, as measured by Net State Domestic Product per head of population, was about 23 percent lower than the all India per capita income (Net National Product) in 1980. But, this difference widened during the period 1980-81 to 2000-01. In 2000-01, the per capita income of Odisha remained as much as 50 percent below that of national average.


Mining districts worst affected

All mineral rich districts of Odisha feature in the list of 150 most backward districts of India as the income from mineral extraction has rarely benefited the region. Surprisingly, in Keonjhar, the most mined hub in the State producing almost 21 percent of India’s iron ore, 62 percent of the population were found to live below the poverty line. Despite a high growth rate of 11.34 percent in the industrial and mining sector in the first four years of the 10th Five Year Plan, the number of unemployed youths too has been on the rise. Pertinently, more than 45 steel companies and 13 power entities have so far signed MoUs with the State Government, with the claim that the public private enterprise in this industrialisation process will strengthen Odisha’s depressed economy. Only time can prove the efficacy of these claims.

Warding off starvation

Despite various anti-poverty programmes, such as National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS) with the provision of providing hundred day’s work, people from KBK seem to be migrating to neighbouring Andhra to work in the brick kilns as there is no limit for work days there. The 2007 Ramon Magsaysay award winning Indian development journalist, P. Sainath, believes that the NREGS is not sufficient to stop migration and hunger deaths in Odisha.

If the report of the 62nd Round of National Sample Survey (NSS) is to be believed it is perceptible that 4.8 percent persons in Odisha do not get enough food between December and April, and over 1.3 percent of the population does not get sufficient to eat all through the year. The NSS has also raised questions about the manner in which various welfare programmes have been implemented in the State.

Despite hundreds of crores of rupees spent on different poverty alleviation programmes, the poverty ratios of rural Odisha has hardly changed, the report remarked. Among the social groups, the percentage of households not getting enough food was highest for the scheduled tribe households followed by scheduled castes. While the survey has exposed the inefficiency of welfare programmes in containing poverty, it also raised questions about different subsidised schemes launched by the Food Supplies and Consumers Welfare Department of the State.


Marginalised groups

The scheduled tribe and scheduled caste population of Odisha, especially KBK, are largely tradition bound, ignorant, illiterate, and dwell in relatively inaccessible areas with poor living conditions. Unable to afford goods and services including food, education and health these poverties driven SC/ST households are disadvantaged and marginalised. Linking poverty with literacy a recent report finds that the impact of rural literacy rate on the percentage of rural families living below the poverty line is significant. So, to reduce poverty, education can work as a powerful instrument. However, the literacy rate of scheduled tribe population was found to be considerably low, in some cases even below 5 percent, in all the three censuses. Although designated the status of primitive tribes, these tribal groups are far from being the beneficiary of sustainable programmes.

Climatic Crisis

Falling in the vulnerable zone of the natural hazard map, Odisha has to constantly combat floods, cyclones and droughts. Causing enormous damage to life and property such occurrences push the State back into the poverty trap. Political turmoil with crores of rupees lost, inhibits further growth, bringing the sufferings of the marginalised community to a head. The super cyclone of 1999 in Odisha swept away entire coastal habitations and devastated portions of a adjacent districts too. Similarly, recent floods have reportedly destroyed properties worth more than Rs. 1000 crore as per a statement of the Government of Odisha.

The vulnerability of the people of Odisha is a proven fact. Its starvations deaths, farmer suicides, female foeticide, drug racket and more are blots on the face of a country that is on the path of creating regions of excellence. It is unfortunate that a beautiful and richly endowed State, Odisha, should fall away from the experience of an incredible India. Sustainable livelihoods for the poor perhaps is the path forward in warding of poverty and raising the standards of living.


January 29, 2021