August 10, 2021 10:16:58 am
With Panchayat polls scheduled early next year in the state, the Odisha government is considering a proposal to form a new department which would exclusively overlook all-round development of the western part of the state. The proposal, though in a nascent stage, is expected to be brought before the state cabinet for consideration ahead of the Monsoon Session of the state Assembly – to be held in September.
The western part of the state, bordering Chhattisgarh and and Jharkhand, comprises 10 districts – Bargarh, Balangir, Boudh, Deogarh, Jharsuguda, Kalahandi, Nuapada, Sambalpur, Subarnapur, Sundargarh.
Often considered as the neglected parts of the state, these districts often report high migration, inaccessibility, lack of health and education infrastructure, aside from social problems such as child marriage. A recent audit report by the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) had stated that 34 of the 89 blocks in the region were still very backward, while 25 were backward.
“A lot of work is being taken up in the region by the present government. But different departments are working separately, which reduces efficiency at times. We are aware of the issues plaguing the region which are similar across. So it is being considered to introduce a separate department which will solely focus on the area,” a senior leader of the ruling BJD said.
In 2000, the state government had set up a Western Odisha Development Council (WODC) to focus on the region. In the budget announced for this fiscal year in February, Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik had announced doubling of WODC’s annual grant to Rs 200 crore from the existing Rs 100 crore. Since the establishment of the council, Rs 1,615.93 crore have been sanctioned for the overall development of the region.
Minister for rural development, Sushant Singh, did not comment on the government’s proposal but said the state government is focusing on the region. “In the last couple of years, our focus has been on the western part of the state. Schemes have been introduced, money is being spent for better implementation,” he said.
The opposition BJP, meanwhile, has been demanding that WODC headquarters be relocated from state capital Bhubaneswar to the western region.
“They first introduced a council for the region but no major changes have taken place. The lack of development still remains. Now they want to introduce a separate department, but we do not think it will be of any good. They must first be transparent about the spending of the council and what their vision is for the region,” Deogarh MLA Subash Panigrahi said.
The timing of the move to float a new department is also being considered politically driven – as Panchayat polls loom close.
In 2019, as BJP tried to make inroads in the state, it managed to win six of the eight parliamentary constituencies in the western region, also recording an increase in overall vote share. The party had also managed to win three Assembly seats in the region.
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