By Charudutta Panigrahi*
As a state steeped in culture, soft skills and social binding, there is no reason to be defensive about the perceived ‘softness’ of the people. On the contrary I would laud this as the ‘soft power’ of the people who strike a balance between religiosity & realism in a sublime manner. Sublime is the key word. And that’s the strength. Riled for a siesta – a short nap taken in the early afternoon, often after the midday meal, which is invariably a heavy and elaborate, we realize that we are content and “within”. I have learnt albeit late in the day, that this practice need not be an important reason for any judgment on the efficiency of people of a specific region, more so Odisha. I am blessed to be born in Odisha, the soul of India. As all-encompassing as a Soul, as original as a Soul and as restrained as a Soul.
It is for nothing that Odisha is the land of meditation, even before the sixth century.
Odisha today is one of the few states in India, literally few, where the soft power of the people has resulted in unprecedented growth. This proves the hypothesis of “brazen aggression being the key to material success”, completely wrong (on a tail spin). About 15 years ago the same people had developed an indurate attitude towards the “decline’ of the state. And as is the wont with my NRO/NRI cousins who are caught in a time warp, nothing still seems to move in the state. Let them be content in the daily push and grind of ever shrinking roads, water & electricity shortage, schools without space, unwarranted and foolish mad rush to participate in civil society. My grand & subtle state should never miss the bus.
Over the years I have been witnessing the sharply changing quality of interaction between the government and the industry, specifically in Odisha context. Today the government edifice is proactively technical, risk friendly and commerce savvy. In many instances, the industry has expressed their surprise in the level of government preparedness in project or program outlays and layouts. This goes out to the world. We need not be ‘loud” and obtrusive like many states, who still nurture the belief that India’s growth story is married to theirs, solely. Development is nobody’s prerogative. It is combined effort of the civil society, the industry under the political leadership in a democracy.
The 80s saw the state under a spell of decrepit, dangerous crony capitalism, rampant and unprecedented corruption, complete erosion of social security, deliberate neglect of underdeveloped areas like the KBK region, and resulting decay in Odia traditional ethics, social culture & self-esteem.
In the last 15 years, we as a state have limped back to normalcy, with some hiccups which are expected as a splinter of the macro national socio-political dynamics. With a budget outlay of Rs 60303.09 Crore in 2013-14, the Non Plan ratio has gone up from about 27% in 2006-07 to about 59% in 2013-14. This is the highest ever ratio achieved by Odisha. A Revenue surplus of Rs 1904.61 crore has been projected in the Budget Estimates for 2013-14 which is about 0.65% of GSDP and the Fiscal Deficit is projected at Rs 5945.13 crore which is about 2.03% of GSDP. Odisha has seen far-reaching changes in the last decade, and the state’s economic growth remains close to 9 per cent despite a global decline and its growth rate is one of the highest in the country. The state has also succeeded in reducing the poverty levels from 57.2 per cent of the households in 2004-05 to over 38 per cent in 2011-12. Between 2004 and 2010, Odisha recorded a 20.1% decline in poverty as against a national rate of 7.4%. In 2000, Odisha had the biggest fiscal deficit and debt: GDP ratio among all states. In 2002-03, Odisha had the worst Debt-GSDP ratio at 55.92%. Since then the ratio has fallen to 17.59% in 2011-12. It has fallen further to 16.55% in 2012-13. Presently, it has become a revenue-surplus state. But the capital account (loans for e.g.) need to fare better. There are areas which need even further improvement. Capital receipts have not been growing. In fact the receipts were much less than the budgeted Rs 6,606 crore at Rs 2,362 in 2011-12; a shortfall of Rs 4,243 crore. There have been consistent overruns on the capital account.
Today Odisha is written as a balanced, growing state/society where there is all round stability. But we are so submerged with negativity that we think it is fashionable to be a perennial doubting Thomas. “We cannot be so good” is still a pervading popular sentiment. Unfortunately some quarters fuel such thoughts to demoralize the youths of the state. Let’s start believing in ourselves, our government and our growth. Odisha is the most preferred destination in India in the Metal sector, in Energy & power, in cement, in mega infrastructure projects not for no reason. I am running a campaign to counter question the naysayers about the veracity of their “assumed beliefs” and their authenticity in terms of research and data source. They have none. There is a constant squabble with the doomsayers when their theories and propaganda is based on nothing or in some cases “personality driven”. If I don’t like someone, it is no way going to change the reality of the functioning of government machinery which is much bigger than any individual.
When has 235 projects, amounting to an investment of Rs. 8, 84,733 crores been cleared under the single window system in Odisha ever? And these 235 projects cover a diverse set of industries like air products, aviation, cement, food processing paper and paper products and do not contain only metal projects. The next big and expanding IT/ITeS stop in India is Bhubaneswar. Many hardware majors like Lenovo, Dell are showing early interest in Odisha for investments. How many of us are aware that the planned Info Valley (IT SEZ & Township) houses the largest integrated IT park in eastern India and an upcoming Bhubaneswar Knowledge corridor would have IIT, NISER, IMA and IT SEZ. This mix of manufacturing & knowledge sector development is unique in India. But we don’t care to know about this and leave aside “feeling good” about the growth. “Negativity” is a malaise deeper & many times detrimental than left wing extremism in Odisha. Being deliberately counter-productive and anti-development is definitively anti-nationalist. But it is often difficult to give it a tangible character and hence it escapes cunningly below the radar and without interventions. This is a slow poison.
Now the time has come for all of us to disseminate the truth. With all the skill building programmes running in the state by the non-profit agencies I would strongly suggest that they should implement soft skills/life skills courses. This should be a regular curriculum to sensitise youths about their state, the players, the economic balance sheet, the expenditure and revenue patterns etc. Even being selfish is pardonable as long as we endeavor to make our state self-reliant and an economic hub for our next generations to live proudly in the state whose resources belong to them. When we move from a rental economy to a “creating” economy, we need to empower our next generations with the skills and abilities to use their own resources (their Odisha where the land and other natural resources belong to them). The potential impacts of renting/leasing as a long-term trend, though, are worrisome: renting and sharing could lead to lower values and net worths. Though, realistically we cannot avoid renting for few years initially. But the ripple effects of renting could be catastrophic: adjusting to a consumer who does not necessarily buy, but rather rents, would necessitate a shift in production, sales, and even employment structures. As an example, everything interesting in economics happens at the margin, so if so many consumers choose to rent an apartment instead of buying a house or managing with a car-share program instead of purchasing a new vehicle, then demand for new houses and cars drops. And with dropping demand the creativity and value chain would concurrently get destroyed. It is imperative to attract the youth now to build their skills, give them a career path, handhold them to be entrepreneurs and most significantly educate them about their own state. This is probably one topic (about Odisha) which they lack the most, today.
Odisha, the silent beauty, the unobtrusive juggernaut is well on its path, in its characteristic self-effacing manner. Only those who are committed to serious economic activities in the State know the true quality of the content of the state. The bureaucracy (nee technocracy) is extremely well groomed, dynamic, sparring no efforts to organize and disseminate information for the investors and prospective stakeholders in the country and outside. They investors today feel the strength of a concerted, well-coordinated solidarity in the government, which is often a suspect in many states in India. As one prospective investor remarked, “we never knew this side of Odisha”. I smiled wryly and pledged silently that we, as the civil society, would take the cudgel up and amplify the outreach to a global level. This need not be an unrealistic imposition but would certainly be factual and an economic manifestation of the “shy and reticent” we.
Odisha is now transitioning from a historic high to an economic high. We should learn to savor this and move forward fast.
At least, let me give my best to make Bhubaneswar, already one of the best places to live in India, a formal Smart City.
*Gurgaon-based Charudutta Panigrahi is the chairman of FIDR and a commentator on social and political issues. He may be contacted at [email protected]
The views expressed in the article are solely those of the author and do not in any way represent the views of www.odishasuntimes.com