Special Focus State Status for eastern States deserves acceptance
By Satya Narayana Sahu | PUBLISHED: 28, Feb 2020, 20:07 pm IST | UPDATED: 28, Feb 2020, 22:28 pm IST
Odisha Chief Minister Shri Naveen Patnaik’s demand in the Eastern Zonal Council Meeting, held in Bhubaneswar on 28th February 2020, that States of Eastern India should be accorded Special Focus State on account of recurrent and increasing natural disasters confronted by them is just, valid and appropriate. While addressing the fifth meeting of the Governing Council of the NITI Aayog chaired by Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi in June 2019 Shri Patnaik had demanded ’Special Focus State’ status for the Odisha in view of its vulnerability to natural calamities. He did so without diluting the demand of the State for Special category status for Odisha taking into account the special needs of the State, particularly the extreme suffering of Odisha and its people due to servers natural disasters faced by its people. Apart from pleading the cause of the State he appealed for including natural calamity as a criteria for according Special category status to Odisha. He also took up the cause of other States and asserted by saying that “As an interim measure, states hit by major natural calamities may be declared as Special Focus States and granted benefits of Special Category Status for a specific period,” His reiteration of the same demand in the Eastern Zonal Meeting in Bhubaneswar assumes significance in the context of rising crises caused by frequent incidence of natural calamities which have become a new normal due to climate change and global warming described as more dangerous than thermo nuclear weapons by former US Secretary State John Kerry.
It is instructive to note that the fourteenth Finance Commission in its report had observed “There can be no dispute that the primary responsibility for providing relief to people affected by natural calamities is that of State Governments. Nor can there be any dispute that natural calamities, apart from causing loss of life and livelihoods, leave behind a trail of destruction of public assets and private property that require urgent and expeditious restoration, all of which cast a heavy financial burden on the State Government concerned.” The Commission then stated, “We, therefore, recommend that all States contribute 10 per cent to the State Disaster Response Fund during our award period, with the remaining 90 per cent coming from the Union Government.”
The spirit of the Finance Commission recommendation if interpreted liberally would mean an approach compatible with Special Focus Status which Shri Naveen Patnaik has been consistently upholding.
In his first interview after Fani cyclone hit the State Shri Patnaik had said “Special category status is the need of the hour due to the massive loss to infrastructure which may stall growth of the State. In fact this is one of the main demands before the Union Government. Odisha faces natural calamities almost every year. The assistance we get from the Centre is mostly for temporary restoration of infrastructure. We have to spend a lot from State’s own funds to work for the longterm”. Lack of response to such pressing demands of the State and appeal of the Chief Minister is like blunting of the conscience which Gandhi talked in 1937 when Odisha was facing disaster caused by flood and rest of India did not respond to the appeal for help to the flood affected Odisha.
The blunting of conscience which he talked in 1937 is equally true in twenty first century India and particularly in the context of repeated cyclones and other natural disasters like Fani badly affecting and ravaging the State of Odisha. Thankfully human casualties have been reduced to minimum because of effective governance of Chief Minister Shri Naveen Patnaik in dealing with disasters . In spite of the high acclaim received by the Odisha Government at the national and global level for evacuating 1.2 million people to safe places in twenty four hours before the cyclone struck , the special focus State demanded by Odisha is yet to be considered seriously by the Union Government. In such a grave situation where the catastrophy of the disaster is tearing normal life asunder the rest of India particularly the Union Government should have come forward to render whatever help needed for the affected people. Chief Minister Shri Naveen Patnaik’s demand that special category status to Odisha and Special Focus State deserves to be accepted in the context of the cyclone of severe category pounding Odisha every year and causing devastation of high magnitude.
.The author served as Officer on Special Duty and Press Secretary to President of India late Shri K R Narayanan and had a tenure in Prime Minister’s Office and Joint Secretary in Rajya Sabha Secretariat. Views expressed in the article are in his personal capacity.