Dear Chief Minister,

It’s high time to act rather than indulge in the act of self-deception by citing statistics on the state’s economic growth as was done by your government in Governor Dr S C Jamir’s address in the Odisha Assembly at the start of the budget session on February 22.

“Odisha has achieved significant success in economic growth and poverty alleviation. In the field of Gross State Domestic Product, Odisha has achieved an annual average growth rate of 6.23% which stands at 22.26 % growth over (2011-12 market prices) in real terms. Per capita income which was Rs 47, 632 in 2011-12 has increased to Rs 61,678 in 2016-17. While economic growth rate was 4.61% in 2012-13 it has reached 7.94% in 2016-17,” the Governor had said.

The question remains should we believe in the rosy picture of the economy as cited by the Governor or take a look at the other side of the coin.

The statistics on speedy economic growth and rise in per capita income as quoted by Dr Jamir may flatter you up and your government but for the majority of the populace of the state there is nothing to cheer up about. These estimates are by and large meaningless for them. Because neither are they beneficiaries of economic growth nor has rise in per capita income brought any qualitative change in their lives and livelihoods.

Official statistics claim that the per capita income in the state has risen to Rs 61,628.  According to official figures, a farmer’s monthly income in the state in 2013-14 was a measly Rs 2,000.

Taking into consideration the growth rate of farmers’ income in the last decade, a farmer’s monthly income in these two-three years would have increased by not more than Rs 200-300. (It took a decade to increase from Rs 1000 to Rs 2000). Let it be on the higher side Rs 2300, and then a farmer’s annual income will be Rs 27,600 which is less than Rs 30,000. Which means a farmer’s annual income is less than half of the state’s per capita income.

It won’t be at all illogical to say that two-third of the state’s population depend on agriculture. Moreover, actual income of most of the farmers in the state is less than the farmer’s per capita income arrived at officially since 75% of the farmers in the state are small and marginal farmers. So under no circumstances can the income earned by this section be by any means close to the state’s average income leave apart being at par with it.

So, therefore this not only tells that the rise in per capita income in the state has no connection with a large section of the population but rather hints at the acute economic disparity-inequality level at large.

A comparative analysis of per capita income with per capita expenditure and the incomes of people living below the poverty line will reveal how terrible the picture is.

According to the NSSO estimates in 2011-12, the monthly per capita expenditure in Odisha’s rural areas was Rs 932 and in the urban areas it was Rs 1961. Even if there is up to 20% increase in the monthly per capita expenditure in the last four years, it is not sufficient as compared to the ratio of per capita income. This indicates that on the basis of income of few high income earners the overall per capita income has increased but there has been nominal increase in the income of nearly 75% of the population. This notional increase in their incomes has failed to usher in any qualitative change in their lives.

It’s being said between 2004-05 to 2011-12 poverty has dropped to 32.6% in the state by 24.2% from 57.27%. According to government’s definition of poor, a person earning less than Rs 27 a day in rural areas and Rs 33 in urban areas comes under the BPL category. So despite whatever increase in the per capita income, it is meaningless from the economic point of view for these people belonging to the weaker sections of the society.

Though officially 32.6% of the state’s population are in the BPL category, in reality the number of poor is much more, otherwise there would not have been so much competition for enrollment as beneficiary under the National Food Security Scheme.

From the above it is now clear that the story of economic growth as told by your government through the Governor in his address is a one-sided view. The so-called growth hasn’t affected about two-thirds of the state’s population. For that reason, monthly income of 86% families in rural areas is less than Rs 5000.  So, therefore these statistics or tales of high economic growth and increase in per capita income is one side of the coin, on the other side remains poverty and shortages.

So you and your government should rather make sustained efforts to make the fruits of growth reach the poorest of the poor than derive self satisfaction from the growth story. Let your government use this to curb socio-economic inequality.

Job creation is the most powerful tool for equitable distribution of fruits of economic growth. But in this sphere your government’s performance has been dissatisfactory. While claims are being made of investments being made both in public and private sector, then why the number of unemployed in the state stands at over ten lakh.

We have a basket full of schemes, but implementation of these is not satisfactory. Let us take the case of MNREGS which aims to provide minimum guaranteed employment of a minimum of 100 days to rural people in difficult times, but even 30% of the registered beneficiaries are not getting work. Again, only 1-6% of the beneficiaries are getting 100 days work.

Well, how then fruits of growth are going to reach all? Further, how do we achieve the goal of inclusive growth? So the story of growth will remain lopsided and incomplete unless programmes meant for delivering the fruits of growth are implemented successfully.

With regards,

Yours

A well wisher