Dreams on Utkal Divas – 2017

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In the last eight decades and more since we carved our state, our population has grown over 200 percent. Presently with 4.55 Crore population in the state we have approximately 978 females per 1,000 males. Can’t we improve this ratio? My state has about 269 people /km2 and is a youthful and divine land. Youths are the future of India and Odisha and hence our link to the divinity of our land and culture. Half of Odisha is below the age of 25. This is the much-coveteddividend which managed properly is definitely going to make Odisha the ‘un-retractable juggernaut’.
With well-meaning and energetic civil society organisations working in Odisha, let’s pledge to drive in last mile reach in our State. An all-round reach – be it health services, education or accessing government schemes, all of us have to have equal convenience in reaping the benefits. My vision is to have at least 5 youth volunteers per 269 population in the state. These volunteers would be the ‘champions of governance’. They would be government’s emissary and they own up the government schemes and in turn act as both disseminators and the sentinels of development at the grassroots. They in turn work in tandem with the panchayats. A bottoms-up movement is what I foresee. For example, even as skill development has emerged as an important priority in sustaining Indian growth story, it is challenging to provide access to right skills to the marginalized tribal communities living in remote and isolated areas. The champions as mentioned above, with the help of the panchayats need to focus on providing skill development opportunities for all sections of society for faster and inclusive growth. I would work with you to bring together government, industry, private sector, training providers, youth, public representatives, NGOs and civil society in co-designing new skilling tools and scalable solutions to address development priorities in the tribal regions including the entire KBK and contiguous areas. I am sure this will lead to an enhanced access to quality, market relevant and area specific skill development programme and, importantly, align the training programmes with aspirations and competencies of tribal youths. There is no reason why the Odisha Startup Policy-2016, would help in suitably incentivising startups only in the urban areas, incubators and the entire startup eco-system, limiting to cities like Bhubaneswar, Cuttack and the like. The start-ups need to cater to the youth and technology cohort across Odisha and across small towns and even deeper. This will go a long way in encouraging the startups and incubators thereby strengthening the entire innovation and startup eco-system in the state.Odisha has a total of more than 6,500 (6734) gram panchayats at present and I consider this as the arterial road to reach every citizen of the state with relevant benefits for each section of every household of my state.
Despite having degrees in Engineering, Management and Technology, our youths can’t get job opportunities. Those who have registered their names on employment exchange are also moving out of the state in search of jobs as they are not getting jobs in the state. Our youth should become job creator instead of job seekers. State of the art, smart career conselling programmes in the employment exchange offices of every district should be conducted by professionals. Many economists are advocating universal basic incomes for fighting inequality, slow wage growth, advancing automation. While free trade and technological advances have grown state &national incomes, there are winners and losers. Many opine that redistributive government intervention is needed so that no one is left worse off and moreso in Odisha. A time has come to examine whether the demand for Rs 3000 monthly allowance to unemployed youth till they get jobs is a viable option. So is the provision of loans without interest up to Rs 1lakh to the youth who wants to be self-employed, establishment of Industrial Development Centres in every district and providing Rs 50,000 to youth who wants to start their own agricultural business. As per the Labour Bureau’s report, when the total unemployment rate in Odisha, a couple of year’s ago has been slightly over 3 per cent. Skilled jobs are not much on offer in Odisha, even though we are the repository of mineral resources. Industrialisation needs to be linked to real human growth.
Let’s all work on programme(s) to ameliorate the living standards of the poor and improve the happiness index of the State. Odisha as a state is 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 see 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.
There is an urgent requirement to infuse energy in governance in Odisha. Over 235 projects, amounting to an investment of Rs. 8, 84,733 crores been cleared under the single window system in Odisha but we also need to implement the projects on the ground. Mere paper declarations would not feed us. 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. The planned Info Valley (IT SEZ & Township), built with the help of the Modi government 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 sustainable growth is the need of the hour. Besides being stable, the governance of the state must deliver.
Pension should be provided to old people on saturation basis.
Fodder would be supplied at 50 per cent subsidy to improve the income of dairy farmers and more importantly the farmers would be provided with workable, robust market linkages.
Students from poor families should be admitted to residential schools and the meritorious should get an opportunity to pursue education abroad.
We should commit ourselves to provide urban amenities in rural areas.
If Odisha doesn’t have an energetic, dynamic, center-friendly Vision and action plan, it runs the risk of squandering away a great opportunity of joining the drive in India to identify, earmark and nurture geographic belts of economic rapid action. Have a plan and push it vigorously or we run the risk of missing the bus. If we let go this now, Odisha would be pushed back at least by a decade and left to rave, rant and pant till some day we wake up to a different call.
In the next decade, by 2025, India’s GDP is to touch $5 trillion from today’s $2 trillion. There are identifiable clusters of development which are expected to drive this India growth story. They have been developing since the last 3-4 years rapidly and would continue the trajectory with continuous support from the center and the states, both. Nothing can stop this trend. Primarily North India, West India and the Southern India would develop full-fledged corridors of economic development. Where does that leave the eastern part of the country? What happens to Odisha, the state with a coveted coastline exceeding 450 kms, the “perceived” Aluminium capital of ASEAN countries, iron and steel vault of India, good number of profitable MSME enterprises, healthy budgetary allocations for railway lines and all enabling business policies and environment in place.
The National Capital Region (Delhi, Gurgaon and Noida), the Mumbai-Pune-Thane belt and the Chennai-Bengaluru clusters are expected to contribute about 80% of the GDP climb up. Odisha should be aiming at contributing about 6% of India’s GDP in the next 2-3 years. The share of Odisha in India’s production of minerals is profoundly dominant: chromite 100%, iron ore 50.0%, bauxite 35.2%, manganese ore 25.5%, coal 20.1%, sillimanite 19.0% and dolomite 9.2%. The mining sector is one example in many.
The three economic hubs or Regions would be driving the economy of India and if we don’t brace ourselves, Odisha would again be relegated to exporting youths to unorganised blue collar jobs. They would remain wage earners in the fringes.
My take is that in the next 4-5 years, by 2020 Odisha has to impart employment linked skill development training to over 11 lakh youths and annually about 2 Lakhs of trained youths should be ready to work. But where is the work? We have to create work to make migration reduce to the bare inevitable.
Let’s declare that “we will take the responsibility for capacity-building and impart appropriate skills to win the war against poverty,”. My dream is to make development in Odisha people driven and not only dole-driven. Understanding the people, going to them, speaking their language, empathising with the ground realities, providing them with options and linking them with the unprecedented poverty alleviation drives of the Central Government would make Odisha unstoppable, certainly.
VandeUtkal Janani

(The writer is a public policy expert)

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