The first anniversary of the fifth term of Biju Janata Dal Government in Odisha headed by Chief Minister Shri Naveen Patnaik is a historic and momentous event. It celebrates not just the chronological significance of completing a year in office but its numerous achievements rooted in its two decade old governance centered around people and their welfare. The twenty year legacy of BJD Government is firmly anchored on saving life and livelihood from disasters, ensuring food and health security to vast masses of people, politically and economically empowering women, uplifting millions from poverty and ensuring all round development and progress of the State. All such celebrations are of course tempered by multiple challenges which have been compounded by the COVID pandemic which has endangered human, health and economic security.
Global Benchmark of Governance in Disaster Management and Saving Precious Human Lives
The Chief Minister Shri Patnaik commenced his fifth term in office in May 2019 in the backdrop of havoc caused by Fani cyclone the intensity of which was equal to the super cyclone of 1999. In spite of the colossal disaster caused by that cyclone the loss of l human lives was very minimal. It was attributed to high global bench mark of governance in managing that natural disaster and shifting a million people to shelter homes in a record time of three or four days. The world wide recognition of leadership of Shri Patnaik in saving lives from the catastrophic consequences of Fani was best evidenced in the New York Times article, "How Do You Save a Million People From a Cyclone? Ask a Poor State in India." It is rather ironic that on completion of one year in Office the State of Odisha is confronting twin disasters, one caused by the COVID pandemic and the other by Amphan cyclone. In facing these dual disasters the State has emerged as a role model in the country and world in meeting these challenges and even extending services to West Bengal, the worst victim of Amphan, by sending 500 tonnes of polythene and a team consisting 500personnel from Odisha Disaster Rapid Action Force (ODRAF) and Fire Service to take part in rescue and relief operations
The world famous medical journal Lancet in an editorial "India Under COVID 19 Lock Down" specifically referred to the point that excellent track record of Odisha in handling natural calamities constituted the foundatio for launching its frontal attack on corona menace. The exact words of the editorial, "Odisha's exposure to previous natural disasters meant crisis precautions were already in place and have been repurposed" underline the international recognition commanded by the State in the first anniversary of the fifth term of the BJD Government.
No wonder that Chief Minister Shri Patnaik in a video message to the people on 28th May informed that Odisha has been cited at the global level as an example for its fight against COVID pandemic and ensuring one of the lowest death rates in the world.
In fact on March 13th, 2020 , the Union government declared that there was no health emergency in the country because of novel coronavirus. The same day the Odisha government declared COVID-19 a disaster under the provisions of the National Disaster Management Act 2005, two days before the first COVID-19 positive case was reported in the state.
In the afternoon of March 13, Patnaik made a historic statement in the State Assembly where he, for the first time, advocated the ruthless practice of social distancing to protect people from the infection, forcefully stating that: "This extraordinary circumstance calls for an extraordinary response." The State Government took a slew of bottom up measures from Panchayat to State level as opposed to a top down to approach to prevent spread of COVID infection and many of those measures were pioneering and trend setting in the country.
Five T based People Centric Governance
The celebration of the first anniversary of the fifth term of Shri Patnaik also marks the historic adoption of five Ts- Technology, Transparency, Timely completion of work, Team work and Transformation- which remain at the root of the idea of "Mo Sarkar", My Government, for making governance people centric and categorically reaffirming at the practical level that people are the real masters and people's representatives and officials are there to serve them and not to act as their lords. Mo Sarkar mandates that people visiting the Government offices are treated with dignity and their grievances are dealt with and monitored with utmost sincerity. Such ideas of governance leading to service of people with dignity meant bringing about transformation of the way in which the Government functions.It is a historic and landmark initiative for qualitatively improving governance for serving people. The random telephonic calls made by the Chief Minister himself every month to those visiting the Government offices to ascertain the quality of services extended to them has assured people that the Government is there to care for them. Such positive feelings among people spawned by the operation of Mo Sarkar concept testify to the transformation caused by the Five Ts. It is educative to note that Mo Sarkar which came into operation on 2nd October 2019, on the occasion of the 150th birth anniversary celebrations of Mahatma Gandhi, embodies his vision. During freedom struggle it was he who used to say that people are real masters and Government employees as also representatives of people and Ministers are their servants. The celebrations of the first anniversary of fifth term of BJD Government constitute the celebration of the supremacy of people over Government officials and Ministers entrusted with responsibilities to serve people. The New Indian Express wrote an editorial on 12th October 2019 under the caption "Naveen's Gandhian Governance" and thoughtfully observed, "Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik’s latest initiative ‘Mo Sarkar’ (My Government) has created a buzz all around the state. Premised on the very idea of Swaraj of Mahatma Gandhi, the effort to make the government accountable to the people and the drive to get people’s voices heard in every aspect of governance as well as public service delivery, is indeed a very bold move."
Political and Economic Empowerment of Women
Another defining feature of the first anniversary of BJD Government is the way in which it has taken measures to politically and economically empower women. The historic decision of the BJD President Shri Patnaik to field women candidates in 33 per cent of Lok Sabha seats during general elections of 2019 heralded a new era of political empowerment of women in our country.Such a bold decision resulted in setting an example for rest of the country and indeed the world. It was in tune with Mahatma Gandhi's deeper and wider meaning of non-violence which embraced in its scope social enfranchisement of women in all spheres. The victory of five out of seven women candidates fielded by BJD in 2019 parliamentary elections testify to its commitment to prove the winnability of women candidates and ensure greater representation of women in the highest legislature. The seven million women members in seven lakh self help groups (SHGs) in the State constitute a massive women's movement in the State and form part of Mission Shakti programme of the Government of Odisha. Each SHG group consisting of ten women members has access to Rupees five lakh interest free loan. Mohammed Yunus, the founder of Grameen Bank in Bangladesh and nobel laureate, has famously said that right to credit is a human right. By ensuring access of women SHG members to credit their human rights are upheld and they are set on path for their economic empowerment.During the first year of the fifth term of BJD Government several decisions for economic empowerment of these women have been taken and one particular decision to outsource so many activities of the Government to these women in self help groups has created huge opportunities for them to stand on their own for their economic betterment. The way in which the members of these SHGs have provided masks to people, supplied vegetables and cooked food to them during the lock down period brought out their invaluable roles as frontline workers in the battle against COVID pandemic.Therefore, the celebrations of the first anniversary of BJD Government affirm its commitment to provide the much needed gender dimension to the politics, political process and economic empowerment.
Converting Jagannath Temple, Puri a World Heritage Cite
The celebrations of first anniversary of BJD Government make us humbly mindful of the unprecedented measures taken to transform Jagannath Temple, Puri, to a world heritage site by clearing commercial buildings and centuries-old dilapidated structures around 75 meters of the sacred shrine.Such measures were never taken in the past by powerful rulers of Maratha and British regimes which controlled the affairs of the sacred temple to generate revenue.The magnificence and majesty of the sacred temple of Lord Jagannath has been restored with the restoration of the expansive space surrounding the shrine which attracts devotees and visitors from across the world. It was done for celebrating the spirituality associated with the enduring legacy of Lord Jagannath and His sacred abode, the temple, which affirms fraternity, interfaith harmony and unity of humanity. What has been done by Naveen Patnaik Government with regards to Jagannath temple is in tune with Mahatma Gandhi's vision articulated by him on April 29, 1933 in his article "Model Temple." He wrote that such a temple should have devout and selfless priests and “Round this will come into being a school, a dispensary, a library, secular and religious.The school may serve also as a meeting or debating hall. It should have a dharmsala or guest house connected with the temple. Each one of these will be a separate institution and yet subordinate to the temple and may be built simultaneously or one after another as circumstances and funds may permit.”
It is worthwhile to mention that Naveen Patnaik Government also undertook to bring about similar transformation of the sacred Lingaraj Temple located in Bhubaneswar. It was in tune with the vision of Utkalmani Gopabandhu Das, a close associate of Mahatma Gandhi. He wrote an article titled "Repair of Lingaraj Temple" in the prominent Odia daily The Samaja on 18th July 1925 and hailed that temple as a symbol of ancient Indian civilisation and described it as an integral part of world heritage. Taking all those aspects into account he underlined the point that the Government had the responsibility to preserve and repair the shrine. It is striking that almost nine decades after Utkalmani wrote that article the Government of Odisha is engaged in clearing encroachments and restoring its spiritual sanctity. All such measures were neither taken during British rule nor by any other Government after India's independence.
It is not that attention of the State Government is focused on making the aforementioned ancient temples as world heritage sites; it has also allotted funds for repair and beautification of several mosques and churches. It affirms the Government's commitment to respect all faiths equally and uphold secularism.
Universal Health Care and Conversion of SCB Medical College to a World Class Institute
During this one year the State Government has adopted Biju Swastya Kalyan Yojana (BSKY) for providing free Universal Health care facilities to people.The provision has been made to provide annual Health coverage of Rs.5 lakh per family and Rs.10 lakh for thewomen members of the family to over 70 lakh families who are poor and economically underprivileged. Apart from providing free universal health care services the Government has taken a major decision to transform the premier Government medical college of the State, Srirama Chandra Bhanja Medical College and Hospital (SCB Medical College) to a world class medical institute and allocated Rs. 1000 crores for this purpose. Such a decision would enable people of the State to look for world class medical facilities within the State.
World Habitat Award for Odisha Government
During this year Odisha Government has created history in winning the prestigious World Habitat Award for successfully implementing its Jaga Mission which provides land rights to those living in slums and securing their access to other entitlements such as water, electricity, sanitation and education. "Jaga" means land space and by guaranteeing land tights to slum dwellers the Odisha Government r has generated hope among them to live a life of dignity. This coveted award which earlier was conferred on individuals, public trusts and activists world over has been conferred for the first time on a State Government. The jury while selecting Odisha Government for its commendable work specially noted and admired the speed and accelerated pace of the implementation of the project which is backed by an enabling legislation titled Odisha Land Rights to Slum Dwellers Act 2017.
Challenging Vision of Poverty Free Odisha
During these twenty years of BJD Government Odisha has uplifted millions of people from poverty and has improved infant and mortality rates substantially. In the last two decades Odisha has set a record at the national level for highest rate of reduction of poverty. It has resulted in multiplier effect and it is best reflected in the reduction of infant mortality rate of the State In fact such reduction has been better than national average.The brand value of Odisha in reducing poverty rate and infant mortality needs to be underlined.Combined with the globally recognised brand image of Odisha to save life from disasters, the record of Odisha in reducing poverty and infant mortality rate can create a new brand of governance for safeguarding human resources and promoting human development.
In the Governor's address to the Assembly in 2019 the BJD Government made a bold announcement of making Odisha poverty free by 2024. We should be mindful of the fact that 69 per cent of population of the State were living below poverty line during 2000 when Shri Naveen Patnaik assumed office as Chief Minister of the State. During these twenty years poverty rate has improved and it stands at 29 per cent in 2020 The State Government deserves compliments for articulating an audacious vision to make Odisha poverty free by 2024. It is doable and is in consonance with the vision of leading economists of the world and Nobel laureate Muhammed Yunus who got Nobel prize for peace for his role in giving micro credit to women self help groups. He said in his nobel prize acceptance speech that in twenty first century poverty should be there in museum and not in society.Jeffrey Sachs, an eminent economist, in his book "End of Poverty : Economic Possibilities of our time" wrote in 2003 that poverty could be eradicated through bold and imaginative economic measures. He quoted the famous British economist Keynes who had said that extreme poverty in the UK could be eradicated during the time of his grand children. A country like Britain which had colonies in large parts of the world and used their resources and energy, had to wait for the time of grand children of Keynes to eradicate poverty. That time for eradication of poverty has come. Therefore, Shri Naveen Patnaik's vision of a poverty free Odisha by 2024 is not a just vision alone but an economic possibility. To achieve that goal we need good and quality governance. The Five Ts for providing quality governance to people and transforming their lives in a substantive manner is a step for making Odisha poverty free. A separate agriculture budget for Odisha started since 2013 has enabled the State to give special focus to the agricultural sector. Its sensitive package for the farmers in the form of KALIA(Krushak Assistance for Livelihood and Income Augmentation) scheme provides cash transfers worth Rs12,000 to not only to farmers but also for share croppers and agricultural labourers for their economic empowerment and for providing additional income to them.
Special Focus State Status for Post COVID Odisha
However, there are now insurmountable challenges to achieve that goal in view of the COVID pandemic which has shattered economy and economic activities and destroyed livelihood of people.While positively looking at the catalogue of accomplishments during the first anniversary of BJD Government's fifth term in office we need to be mindful of the gloomy economic fall out of the COVID pandemic which would have disastrous consequences on economic, health and human security for the foreseeable future.The Government must prepare a blue print to address the challenges of post COVID economic architecture and regain its strength in all fronts for the all round progress of the State. It requires a New Deal and recognition and intervention from the Union Government to grant it a special focus State status taking into account recurrent natural disasters which cause all round havoc.
.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.