Odisha Sun Times Bureau
Bhubaneswar, June 28:
It sounds straight out of Ripley’s Believe It or Not: in terms of per capita income, Kandhamal district ranks second only to Jharsuguda in Odisha with a per capita annual income of Rs 40,729.
But what this rosy picture hides is the ugly truth that tribal kondhs and dalits, who constitute the overwhelming majority of the population in the district continue to wallow in poverty even as traders and middlemen make merry.
The district lags far behind others in practically every development indicator: infant mortality, literacy rate, use of fertilizer in agriculture, private toilets, nutrition, road connectivity, electrification and food security. Per capita income has increased, but it has not brought about any change in the lives of the majority.
Kandhamal district has held on to its top position in Infant Mortality Rate (IMR) in the state with the current figure standing at 82, 26 more than the state average.
While per hectare use of fertilizers in the state is 57.11 kg, the same in Kandhamal is a meager 9.85 kg, the lowest in the state.
While the private toilet rate in the state stands at 56.5, it is just 25.4 in Kandhamal district, again the lowest in the state.
Besides, 550 villages in the district do not have electricity while the gap in literacy rate between females and males is 25%. In these two areas, the district ranks third from the bottom. The district’s literacy rate is 64% which is 9% less than the state average.
While the district doesn’t even have a km of railway track, road connectivity is minimal. This reflects Kandhamal’s deplorable social infrastructure.
The report “Food Security Scenario in Rural Odisha” jointly produced by United Nations World Food Programme (UNWFP) and Human Development Foundation (HDF) and prepared by then Planning Commission member Prof Abhijit Sen with several renowned economists in the team has ranked Kandhamal district the lowest in food security among the 30 districts in the state.
In the use of safe drinking water as well as irrigation, the district ranks 29th in the state.
In short, Kandhamal is the poorest district in poor Odisha.
Predictably, Kandhamal’s anointment as second ‘richest’ district in the state has raised eyebrows in several quarters, not least because it has left districts like Angul with a host of industries and mines and Khurda, which includes the state capital of Bhubaneswar, far behind.
However, the Planning and Coordination department of the state government, which did the ranking, has ruled out any error in the computation of data. The fact that population density is Kandhamal is the lowest in the state could be the reason behind the high per capita income, said an official of the Planning and Coordination department.
The main contributors in state domestic product, viz manufacturing, service and trade, are virtually absent in Kandhamal. But turmeric, which has been cultivated for generations here, has proved to be a boon for the district. Turmeric cultivation has received global acclaim. Currently, turmeric from Kandhamal is being exported to US, countries of European Union and Japan. The high demand for Kandhamal turmeric can be attributed to the fact that fertilizers are rarely used by Kondhs in its cultivation. The turmeric produced here is organically grown, has a special flavor with the highest concentration of curcumin, which has disease inhibiting properties. The district produces about 25,000 tonnes of turmeric annually, which is 57% of the total turmeric produced in the state.
Kandhamal also leads in cultivation of ginger. One fourth of the ginger produced in Odisha comes from Kandhamal.
More than 70% of the 7.33 lakh population of the district is tribals and dalits and the majority among them are the Kondhs.
According to an official of the Planning and Coordination department, Kandhamal’s second position from top in the per capita income stakes could be due to stagnation in mining and industrial growth affecting Keonjhar, Angul, Sudargarh and Khurdha districts in the last few years. On the other hand, spices trade has grown globally and the turmeric grown in Kandhamal has now become a rage in the global market because it is organically produced and is of superior quality.
It is alleged that middlemen and traders are taking away the lion’s share of the profit earned from exports while it’s not benefiting the ordinary peasant.
Despite several social welfare schemes, including Biju Kandhamal Yojana being introduced in the district, things have not improved much. Community and area-specific schemes are now being planned for the district, officials said.