Odisha's welfare measures

Ahead of Odisha local body elections, Naveen Patnaik on a sound footing

Print edition : October 08, 2021

At the launch of the Biju Swasthya Kalyan Yojana (BSKY) scheme, in Malkangiri district on August 20. Photo: PTI

Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik virtually inaugurates a programme to transform rural school infrastructure, in Ganjam district on August 31. Photo: BISWARANJAN ROUT

Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik launches a slew of welfare schemes and provides timely aid to farmers and marginalised sections in the pandemic, ahead of rural and urban local body elections scheduled for next year.

Odisha Chief Minister and Biju Janata Dal (BJD) president Naveen Patnaik, who has been working from home since the outbreak of COVID-19 last year, is a busy man these days. He has been touring different districts to launch new welfare schemes and projects in the presence of a large number of Ministers and party legislators of the respective regions.

Currently in his fifth consecutive term in office, Naveen Patnaik has in effect started preparing for the elections to three-tier panchayati raj institutions (PRIs) and 114 urban local bodies, which are scheduled to be held early next year. This is in preparation for the 2024 Assembly elections.

The Chief Minister is focusing on agriculture and health sectors, which are crucial for victory in the local body elections. A source in the BJD said that the party was aiming to stay ahead of the opposition in terms of overall vote share in the entire State.

Naveen Patnaik founded the BJD more than two decades ago and has headed it since then; the party has never lost any major election in the State so far. Political analysts who have been watching him grow in stature ever since he entered politics after the death of his father and former Chief Minister Biju Patnaik in 1997 said that as soon as he wins an election, he starts preparing for the next one.

Public health scheme

The bachelor Chief Minister, who turns 75 in October, continues to celebrate his father’s legacy by naming a series of welfare schemes after him. In August, he launched the Biju Swasthya Kalyan Yojana (BSKY), a “smart health card” scheme that the government claimed would benefit about 3.5 crore people in the State.

Also read: Naveen Patnaik says war against COVID not over

The scheme, which came into effect on September 1, provides families with annual cashless health-care coverage of up to Rs.5 lakh, while women are eligible for an annual cover of up to Rs.10 lakh. Beneficiaries can avail themselves of health-care services in 200 hospitals across the country.

While launching the scheme in the remote Malkangiri district, Naveen Patnaik made it clear that the State government would not implement the Central government’s Ayushman Bharat Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana health insurance scheme for low-income earners.

The BSKY health card scheme may be a game-changer in the forthcoming elections just as the Krushak Assistance for Livelihood and Income Augmentation (KALIA) scheme was in the 2019 general election. The BJD won 12 of the 21 Lok Sabha seats that year. It also won 112 of the 147 seats in the Assembly elections in the same year.

Aiding farmers during the pandemic

The KALIA scheme provides assistance to farmers and landless agricultural labourers; as a result, there has been no major farmers’ agitation in the State in recent years. On the occasion of the Nuakhai festival in the second week of September, the Naveen Patnaik government disbursed a total of Rs.742.58 crore to 37,12,914 families of small and marginal farmers for the rabi crop. It deposited Rs. 2,000 in each beneficiary account.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic broke out, the State government has provided more than Rs.3,200 crore to the farmers under the scheme. It has also raised the issues of minimum support price and crop insurance with the Union government.

In the health sector, Naveen Patnaik undertook various measures in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis to improve the health infrastructure at different levels across the State. The government increased the number of COVID-19 testing centres and had administered more than 2.60 crore doses as on September 15. These measures kept the situation under control during both waves of the pandemic.

Odisha also crossed a milestone in the fight against COVID-19 with more than 10 lakh recoveries, although the pandemic had claimed more than 8,100 lives by the second week of September.

Women’s empowerment

Naveen Patnaik’s biggest strength in all past elections has been the overwhelming support from women. In 2001, he launched the Mission Shakti initiative to empower women through the promotion of self-help groups (SHGs) to take up various socioeconomic activities. Now, the mission covers some 70 lakh women belonging to about 6 lakh SHGs who have been given work under a series of schemes across the State. This year, the administration also made Mission Shakti a separate department.

Pramila Bisoyi, an SHG leader, is currently the Member of Parliament from Aska constituency, which Naveen Patnaik represented before he became Chief Minister.

Also read: Cyclone in COVID times

A partnership between SHGs and the Housing & Urban Development Department is driving the government’s community-centric and women-led urban development model.

These SHGs are now involved in a range of urban development programmes—from solid and liquid waste management and water supply to subsidised meal programmes and livelihood generation, both in service delivery and as implementing partners.

The government has also reserved 50 per cent of the seats for women in both rural and urban local bodies. It has also amended the laws pertaining to panchayati raj institutions and urban local bodies to limit reservation of seats for Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and Backward Classes to 50 per cent.

Governance and education

On the governance front, all government departments have started adopting the 5T agenda—transparency, teamwork, technology and timeliness leading to transformation—under the Mo Sarkar (my government) initiative. As part of this, the administration collects feedback from people visiting different government offices and police stations and takes follow-up action.

On the education front, Naveen Patnaik has started a new programme to transform high schools run and aided by the government by involving the community to strengthen the public school system and make it attractive for the general public.

The standard of these schools had gone down in the recent years, forcing parents to seek admission in private schools for their children.

The schools that are being transformed under the 5T initiative have smart classrooms, e-libraries, advanced science labs, sports facilities and clean toilets.

Naveen Patnaik dedicated the first batch of 50 transformed high schools in his own Assembly constituency of Hinjili in Ganjam district in August. The government plans to transform 5,000 high schools in the next three years. It is also in the process of establishing Adarsha Vidyalayas, with English as the medium of instruction, in all blocks (district sub-divisions) of the State. More than 250 such schools, one in each block, have already been made operational.

In order to ensure supply of potable water, Naveen Patnaik launched the ‘drink from tap project’ in August in the coastal city of Puri, making it the first city in the country where people can access quality drinking water directly from the tap 24 hours a day. The project aims to cover all 114 urban local bodies of the State in a phased manner.

Apart from the Central schemes, the State government has its own Buxi Jagabandhu Assured Water Supply to Habitations (BASUDHA) scheme, which was launched in 2017-18, to drastically improve the drinking water supply situation in the State. The scheme, which covers both urban and rural areas, aims to provide safe water to people for drinking and domestic purposes on a sustainable basis.

Also read: Odisha's plans as a sports hub

The law and order situation also remains largely under control and there has been a decline in the number of Maoist attacks. Also, there has been no major agitation by the people, barring some local issues and protests against different industrial ventures or projects. As a result, the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Congress do not have any major issue in hand to change the political narrative.

The government’s people-oriented schemes and timely aid, apart from an overall improvement in governance, have weakened the anti-incumbency factor against Naveen Patnaik.

On the contrary, his popularity has soared following the laudable performance of the men’s and women’s hockey teams at the Tokyo Olympics that ended in August. Even his critics have appreciated the Odisha government’s decision to sponsor the country’s hockey teams for five years from 2018.

Promoting hockey

Naveen Patnaik has also announced that Odisha will sponsor both the hockey teams for another 10 years. The 2023 edition of the men’s hockey World Cup is also scheduled to be held in Odisha at the Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar and the Birsa Munda International Hockey Stadium that is coming up at Rourkela in Sundargarh district, the cradle of hockey.

In addition, he has announced plans to build 89 multi-purpose indoor stadiums in urban centres of the State within a period of 18 months. The State government is promoting other sports too by establishing various high-performance centres in a bid to make Odisha the country’s sports capital.

Political landscape

Politically, Naveen Patnaik is on a better footing in comparison with the BJP, his main political rival. The BJD ousted the Congress from power in 2000 and also defeated the party in 2004 in alliance with the BJP, but it severed ties with the BJP ahead of the 2009 elections and contested the elections in alliance with the Left parties and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP).

However, the BJD fought the 2014 and 2019 elections on its own. In 2019, the BJP had emerged as its main rival in the State after outperforming the Congress in the 2017 rural local body elections.

However, the BJP virtually lost its status as a serious rival of the BJD in the aftermath of 2019 elections, after Naveen Patnaik extended his party’s support to Ashwini Vaishnaw, the saffron party’s candidate, in the Rajya Sabha elections. Vaishnaw, a former Odisha cadre Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officer, is now the Union Minister of Railways, Communications and Electronics & Information Technology.

The BJD has also successfully prevented the BJP from exploiting any issue relating to the Lord Jagannath temple in Puri, the Lingaraj temple in Bhubaneswar and the Sun Temple at Konark, by taking up massive development work at these places. Naveen Patnaik has also initiated measures to give a new look to many other major temples across the State.

Also read: Odisha to sponsor India's hockey teams for another 10 years

The Chief Minister has also kept his party leaders and workers active at the grass-roots level while handling two cyclones during the pandemic, and strengthened the various arms of the BJD by handing over responsibilities to the younger generation of leaders.

The BJP, meanwhile, is struggling to maintain its support base, which was built on the popularity of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. There is no BJP leader in the State who can match Naveen Patnaik’s stature. The Congress remains a divided house over the issue of leadership, and as a result it is making little effort to regain lost strength. The situation is such that many BJD and Congress leaders are keen to switch sides and join the BJD.

Naveen Patnaik remains a strong favourite to win the coming rural and urban local body elections, which would strengthen his chances of winning a sixth term in office.

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