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Cyclone Fani aftermath: Naveen Patnaik seeks special status for Odisha; Opposition parties, experts say demand unjustified

In the aftermath of Cyclone Fani that battered Odisha, Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik has demanded special category status for the state.

“In fact, this is one of our 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 the state’s own funds to work for the long-term,” Patnaik told PTI.

“This puts too much stress on our finances. Precisely for this reason, Odisha should be considered for special category status. In the last five years we had Phailin, Hudhud, Titli and now Fani. In addition to this, we had massive floods,” he added.

Patnaik also said, "We are maintaining a growth rate higher than that of the country. We are doing so well in all our economic indicators. Providing special category status will help us accelerate growth.”

Earlier, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who had conducted an aerial survey of the state on 6 May, had announced an assistance of Rs 1,000 crores.

 Cyclone Fani aftermath: Naveen Patnaik seeks special status for Odisha; Opposition parties, experts say demand unjustified

File photo of Odisha chief minister Naveen Patnaik. PTI

Incidentally, this is not the first time that Patnaik, who has been at the helm of affairs of the coastal state since 2000, has registered such a demand.

However, Opposition parties do not see any merit in the demand. The Congress and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have termed it a political stunt.

“It’s a political hoax by Naveen babu,” says BJP national secretary Suresh Pujari. Senior Congress leader and former finance minister in Patnaik’s government, Panchanan Kanungo says, “There is no justification for such a demand. It is nothing but pure politics.”

Citing the example of Assam, Kanungo says, “Look at the changes that Assam has witnessed. I never believe in special category status; it needs to be done away with.”

Even experts aren’t convinced. “The government claims it has already developed the state. If that’s true, why is the chief minister demanding special category status?” asks veteran journalist Rajaram Satpathy.

Odisha Congress’ social media chief Abhishek Mahananda agrees with this position. According him, the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) government has been boasting about uplifting Odisha in the nineteen years of its rule. He argues that the government has continuously made unrealistic expenditures by distributing freebies only for political gains, as a result of which the state is staring at a huge debt trap.

“The reality is that no progress has been witnessed in the state in the last two decades,” Mahananda asserts. He also claims that though a lot of MoUs have been signed, due to the lack of serious intent and follow up action, the government hasn’t been able to hold on to investments. “The government is not serious about the development of Odisha,” he adds.

Pujari says that existing guidelines do not allow states like Odisha to get such assistance. He argues that the the state government should ask for a special package instead of special category status, but prior to that, the government must streamline the delivery mechanism.

According to Pujari, the NDA-led central government has given greater assistance to each state as compared to past governments. He asserts that the Union government is ready to extend all support to the state.

However, the BJD justified the demand for special category status saying that the state, apart from being prone to natural calamities, has a high concentration of people from the SC and ST communities. Former minister Amar Prasad Satpathy says, "It’s a realistic demand. We have made a lot of progress, yet poverty continues. The figures are with the central government. They (read Opposition) live in ivory towers, and are far removed from reality."

Regarding the required parameters for special category status, Satpathy, who is also the chief whip of the government, says, “Parameters change as per situations and needs.”

Rajaram Satpathy, while referring to former Planning Commission deputy chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia’s letter in 2013, which rejected the state’s demand for special category status, says that any state desirous of development can submit a demand for a special package seeking exclusive assistance from the Centre.

“You will appreciate that under the existing criteria for approval by the National Development Council, Odisha does not qualify for grant of Special Category Status,” Ahluwalia's letter to Patnaik had read.

Ahluwalia had described the state’s finances as stable and viable with sound indicators of fiscal deficit, outstanding liabilities and interest payments to total revenue receipts.

Ahluwalia’s communication was in response to Patnaik’s letter to then prime minister Manmohan Singh on the matter of special category status for Odisha, written on 24 November, 2011.

Ahluwalia, in the letter, had mentioned that there were five features required for a state to get the status of Special Category State Status. They were: Hilly and difficult terrain, low population density and/or sizeable share of tribal population, strategic location along borders with neighbouring countries, economic and infrastructural backwardness and non-viable nature of state finances.

In response to the Odisha government’s request, the Planning Commission deputy chairman said, “Odisha does not satisfy the criterion of hilly and difficult terrain, although forests in some areas do pose some difficulties...The density of population of the state relative to general density of population in special category states is not low."

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Updated Date: May 16, 2019 18:20:24 IST