By Biswajit Mohanty*
The ongoing debate on net neutrality had an unexpected participant last week when Chief Minister of Odisha Naveen Patnaik wrote to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) and made a strong case for “un-throttled, equal access to the full spectrum of the World Wide Web.”
Naveen’s reaction was both surprising and unexpected because he rarely makes his stand known on subjects of far greater national importance.
Shooting off his letter as the head of a state, Naveen claims… “Odisha, which is at the forefront of IT revolution in the country.” He continues to state….. “the growth rate of IT exports from the state is more than the national growth rate for many years.” Now this is obviously a bluff. The Electronics and Computer Software Export Promotion Council (ESC) Statistical Year Book (page 21) for 2011-12 (www.escindia.com) reveals the truth.
The software export growth he might be talking about is actually negative growth. Software exports from Odisha, which stood at a measly 0.57% of the national total in 2009-10, declined to 0.53% in 2010-11 before rising marginally to 0.55% in 2011-12. Talk of an ounce of statistics being used to make a mountain of data!
Nothing proves the fact that the IT sector in the state has failed to take off better than the deserted halls in the IT parks in the state capital and the large-scale migration of software graduates outside the state. Odisha has been a traditional exporter of daadan labour. We have now moved one step ahead, supplying educated work force to Bangalore, Pune and Hyderabad! The state has no unicorn start-up in IT or the internet sectors as is the case in our neighbouring states.
Another cause that he takes up enthusiastically is the ‘’Freedom of choice.” “While the under-privileged deserve much more than what is available, nobody should decide what exactly are their requirements. But if you dictate what the poor should get, you take away their rights to choose what they think is best for them. You cannot force a person to use a certain mobile application because the telecom company believes that it should be doing so,” he argued in the letter.
Now, this is as good an instance of short-term amnesia as any. Contrast this with the populist scheme “Aahar” providing cheap lunch launched by him last month. The state has arm-twisted the PSUs to provide subsidized lunches of rice and dalma in five cities—Cuttack, Bhubaneswar, Rourkela, Sambalpur and Berhampur.
If we substitute “mobile application” with “food combination,” and ‘’the telecom company” with “the government,” the statement in fact could turn to be the most potent argument against Aahar.
Wouldn’t it be better if the government simply provided enough employment opportunities to the underprivileged than deciding on a menu of ‘’rice-dalma” and making the poor dependent on subsidies and doles? Don’t the poor even have the right to earn their livelihood in dignity, in this regime?
A glance at the employment scenario in the state during Naveen’s regime paints a dismal picture.
Organized Sector Employment in Odisha (2000 to 2013)
|Year||Public Sector( in lakhs)||Private Sector(in lakhs)||Total(in lakhs)|
Source : Directorate of Employment, Government of Odisha
Average growth in population has been in the range of more than 15 % in the 15 years that Naveen has held power. However, the total organized employment provided has stayed at 7.95 lakhs compared to 7.98 lakhs when he took over. It has fallen by 3,000 persons during the period while it should have gone up to at least 9.17 lakh persons! The public sector has seen a rapid decline in jobs since at the end of thirteen years, the government employed nearly 5 % less people. Naveen was not able to give the educated youth jobs in the government and nor could he ensure adequate private sector growth to cater to the growing unemployment!
In light of the facts, shouldn’t Naveen be a little less concerned about lofty ideals like “Net Neutrality” and focus on “Livelihood Neutrality” instead?
* Biswajit Mohanty Ll.B,FCA, Ph.d, is well known for his work on wildlife conservation and is a former Board member of Transparency International India. This article is based on an excerpt from his upcoming book.