AS PART of its “whatever-it-takes” policy to ensure that government services reach people in India’s poorest district, Odisha has posted two young IAS officers and filled a number of key vacancies in Nabarangpur.
The first step in this direction, said a senior state government official, was the appointment of 2013-batch officer Gavali Parag Harshad as sub-collector and 2012-batch officer Poma Tudu as project director of the District Rural Development Agency (DRDA).
Harshad, 31, has worked as an assistant secretary in the Ministry of Defence and Tudu, 36, as sub-collector in neighbouring Koraput district. Both are MBBS doctors and took charge in Nabarangpur on December 1.
“Both will work under district collector Rashmita Panda and together form Team Nabarangpur,” said the top official, who did not wish to be named. DRDAs manage the anti-poverty programmes of the Ministry of Rural Development.
The official said that the government has also filled a number of vacancies at various levels in the local administration: district nodal officer (irrigation), executive engineer (irrigation), assistant block development officer (panchayati raj), assistant engineer (panchayati raj), district officer (fisheries) and four assistant officers (fisheries).
Nabarangpur is the subject of a one-year assignment by The Indian Express, titled District Zero, after the region was found to be at the bottom on most development indicators, including literacy, power and health services.
Apart from improvement in these critical sectors, the state government has identified irrigation, agriculture and fisheries as focus areas to improve living conditions in the district.
As The Indian Express reported on November 26, not even a fifth of Nabarangpur’s total area under paddy cultivation is irrigated, with the ratio even lower for maize, ragi, millet and other crops largely cultivated upland.
“Earlier, irrigation used to be defocussed with separate officers for minor irrigation, lift irrigation and other forms of irrigation. The nodal officer will help the different sub-departments to work in tandem,” said Panda, the collector.
Working on a mission named “Jal Kranti Abhiyan”, irrigation officials have set their first target to energise all of the district’s 839 borewells by the end of March 2016.
In areas where it is difficult to get electricity connection, the administration is in talks for operating borewells through solar energy. Within the next two years, 106 minor irrigation projects are also expected to be operational, official said.
Officials have also identified maize processing, horticulture and pisciculture as engines of livelihood, aware that any “parachuted developmental plans” will not work for a predominantly agricultural economy like that of Nabarangpur.
“The intervention for bringing permanent change has to be in agriculture and its allied sectors. We are trying to bridge the critical gaps,” said Panda.
Maize cultivation, which is the strength of Nabarangpur despite reduction in crop area, would get a boost with the administration planning to set up a maize processing unit. Officials said a cattle feed plant that uses maize “would be a good template for maize processing units”.
When contacted, Odisha’s Additional Chief Secretary (Finance), R Balakrishnan, who has been tasked with monitoring development in the district, said he expected to soon see “winds of change in Nabarangpur”.
“If change has to achieved, the delivery edge in grassroots has to be sharpened. We are confident that this Team Nabarangpur, headed by the district collector, will deliver the goods. Our job is only to aid and facilitate the engines of delivery,” Balakrishnan told The Indian Express.