Archive for March, 2010
The fumbling of State Labour Minister Pushpendra Singh Deo at a Press meet here over the location of the proposed ESIC Medical College and Hospital and the Rourkela district BJD president’s tacit seal of approval of Bhubaneswar being the spot for the institute has raised many an eyebrows here in the district.
After his two-day tour to Rourkela, the Labour and Employment Minister was in trouble at a Press meet when quizzed by the scribes on the hot issue of the proposed ESIC Medical College and Hospital’s venue. He visibly tried to impress that he was interested for Rourkela being the location and the State has been exercising on it, but passed the buck on the Centre saying the latter preferred Bhubaneswar.
“Instead of missing the project forever, the State had no other options than to allot 25 acres in Bhubaneswar within a week and the premium for the land has been received,” Singh Deo said. Justifying his point, the Minister tried to convince showing a news-clip of a vernacular daily published from Bhubaneswar carrying a reply to Rajya Sabha member Pyari Mohan Mohapatra’s question by the Union Labour Minister having said that the IPs of Bhubaneswar and its surrounding are much more than that of Rourkela.
The scribes present contested showing documentary statistics supplied by the Bhubaneswar-based ESIC office on the IPs that Rourkela and its surroundings have and questioned under what circumstances the Rajya Sabha member accepted the figure given by the Union Minister.
When the scribes showed the information furnished by the ESIC Medical Education Cell sought under the RTI (vide letter dt 07.12.2009) clearly mentioned that the Government of Odisha has not proposed Rourkela as a location for ESIC Medical College, the Minister had no other way, but to remain silent. In a bid to control the damage, he said if the Centre considers Rourkela on its own, the State would not hesitate to accept it.
Such an answer boomeranged on him as without a formal proposal from the State to the Centre, the relocation was just impossible following which the Minister was asked to put a fresh proposal before the Centre soon preferring Rourkela. However, intervening, Rourkela district BJD president Ananda Mohanty said there was no need of giving such proposal by the State when Bhubaneswar was already finalised.
Such an unwarranted reply of Mohanty has not only raised eyebrows, but also makes it clear that the BJD does not want Rourkela to be the location of proposed ESIC Medical College, the locals here viewed.
As one of India’s 300 million officially poor people in one of its most impoverished districts, Kantamani Nag bought 25 kg of rice every month at Rs 2 per kg — five times cheaper than market rates — a fine example of the world’s most sprawling subsidised-foodgrain network.
Of the sprawling cradle-to-grave national anti-poverty effort on which the Centre will spend more than Rs 1.18 lakh crore in 2010-11 to create a more inclusive, just India, only the Public Distribution System worked for the Nags — sort of.
Nag (40) kept half the rice for his wife and three children. He sold the rest, creating what is now unofficially called “subsidised-rice income” for the poorest in this western corner of Orissa, where the official poverty line is Rs 356 per month, or about the cost of an appetiser in a metropolitan five-star hotel. When Nag, wizened beyond his years, sold his subsidised rice (sometimes tea leaves and soap as well), it sent him into a death spiral that appears to play out like this across Balangir:
The rice that isn’t sold typically lasts 10 days or less. The family works odd jobs or begs rest of the month. Weakened without enough food, they fall ill for about 100 days each year. They borrow money to pay medical expenses. To repay the loan, they join the 100,000 who migrate to brick kilns and stone mines in Andhra Pradesh.
When they return, they are weaker; many die, not by starvation but from chronic hunger and malnutrition.
Nag’s family ended up working in the kilns and mines for six months every year. These trips took a toll on their weakened bodies. They took more loans to meet medical expenses. The last loan was Rs 20,000 at 10 per cent interest.
“After a time they found it difficult to repay,” said Kasturi Nag (42), Kantamani’s sister-in-law, who narrated their tale on a warm spring day in their western Orissa village of Kurenbahali. “As a result, they started eating less food.”
Growing, gnawing hunger
Breakfast for the Nags was a handful of puffed rice and tea without milk. Lunch was pakhal, watery rice, with an onion.
Dinner wasn’t very different — on the few days the Nags had any.
Hindustan Times recorded similar patterns in journeys to 55 families in 27 villages in Balangir, where 62 per cent of all families officially live below the poverty line across 6,575 sq km, more than four times larger than the National Capital Territory of Delhi.
In interviews, many officials in Balangir confirmed that they were witnessing a deepening cycle of poverty.
It could explain how millions of hungry people are slipping through the cracks nationwide; how shoddy implementation imperils well-meaning, ambitious national anti-hunger programmes; how mothers become malnourished, giving birth to more malnourished children than anywhere else in the world.
Every year, 3,000 pregnant women are admitted to Balangir’s hospitals. “More than 50 per cent are anaemic, malnourished,” said Dr Purnachandra Sahu, Balangir’s chief district medical officer. Theoretically, help is available, through the Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS), the world’s largest programme for nutritional and school needs of children younger than six, administered through 1.4 million centres nationwide.
Though 80 million children are theoretically covered, one in two Indian children is malnourished, the world’s worst rate.
In Balangir, there are free vitamins, proteins and medicine available.
The Nags appear to have used these centres at some point. The evidence: Their children are alive (though their condition isn’t clear). For severely malnourished children, there’s Rs 500 to be had from the Chief Minister’s relief fund.
Sahu opened registers of Nutrition Day — held on the 15th of each month to provide dietary support to children — to show how about 3,000 malnourished children under age six are brought to Balangir’s 14 primary health centres every month. Sahu said 53 per cent of all children at his centres are malnourished.
In 2009, official ICDS figures say 87 children, or 0.04 per cent suffered the most severe malnourishment, grade IV, which means they needed urgent medical attention.
“The children are malnourished because in most cases the mothers are malnourished,” said Pratibha Mohanty, Balangir district’s social welfare officer.
The death rate of children under six is worsening. In 2006, 48 children died in every 1,000, rising to 52 the next two years; in 2009 it was 51, according to district health records. Balangir’s cycle of poverty continues into adulthood.
Most patients who come to Balangir hospitals today are anaemic, have gastrointestinal infections or are directly malnourished, according to district health records.
Stopping migration would certainly help already weak villagers. Theoretically, the Nags need not have migrated.
The world’s largest jobs-for-work programme, the National Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS), is supposed to help people like them, assuring them 100 days of employment every year. The national NREGS budget for 2010-11: Rs 40,000 crore, more than a third the size of the defence budget.
Here in Kurenbahali, there were no NREGS jobs in 2009. Thus far, there’s no sign of work this year either. “People would not migrate if NREGS works are done regularly through the year,” said Paleswar Bhoi (35), a villager.
Instead of the required 100 days, Orissa has provided no more than 35 days of work each year. Across most of Balangir’s 1,792 villages, NREGS work isn’t available for a full month in a year, HT’s inquiries revealed.
Sanjay Kumar Habada, project director for the district rural development agency, has another set of figures to share: NREGS projects across Balangir employ more than 30,000 people, whom the administration pays “We pay them Rs 30 lakh every day,” said Habada. It isn’t much use to the poorest.
Of the 240,000 people registered under the NREGS in Balangir, only 476 (0.2 per cent) live below the poverty line, according to the website of the Union Ministry for Rural Development.
Like a number of Balangir villagers dying in their 30s and 40s — the exact numbers are uncertain — Nag died in February 2008, officially of fever. His wife Kulbati (32) lived for 18 months more before dying of tuberculosis.
The statistics will not record the chronic hunger or malnourishment that possibly made the Nags susceptible to disease.
Officially, they died natural deaths.
Theoretically, the Nags’ children should, even at this stage, have been able to claim help from the state.
When the sole earning member dies, the family is eligible for Rs 10,000 under the National Family Benefit Scheme, created after a Supreme Court order.
The grant is supposed to be paid within four weeks of death: More than 15,000 applications are pending with the Balangir district administration “over years”.
No one can say how many years.
Nag’s sister-in-law, Kasturi, has never heard of such a scheme.
“I gather that many people fail to provide death certificates,” said Balangir Collector Sailendra Dey. “I have instructed officials to help people in submitting the death certificates so that the amount can be disbursed to the beneficiaries.”
Local lawyer Bishnu Prasad Sharma said the grant needed only an authorisation from a local ward member or sarpanch.
Bisnu Sahu, a naib sarpanch (village headman), said he never knew he had such authority. “No one ever told me,” he said.
The district collector, the chief administrative official, implied this was indeed the case. “I have asked officials to make people aware of the scheme,” Dey said.
Back near the Nags’ abandoned hut, Kasturi explained why a severe pain in her leg didn’t allow her to join her husband, son and daughter-in-law in the desperate migration south.
Where are the surviving Nags, the two daughters and a son, aged between seven and 16? Gone, said Kasturi, to that brick kiln in Andhra Pradesh.
For another generation, Balangir’s death cycle has started.
(The Hunger Project is a Hindustan Times effort to track, investigate and report every aspect of the struggle to rid India of hunger. You can read previous stories in this series at www.hindustantimes.com/hungerproject)
SAMBALPUR: Members of the Koshal Kranti Dal (KKD) have resolved to hold Koshal Chad Maha Samabesh (Quit Koshal mega convention) on the lines of Quit India Movement on April 1 at Sambalpur town demanding separate Koshal state.
Speaking to mediapersons yesterday, KKD president Pramod Mishra said similar conventions will be held across the region to intensify the stir. Mishra also threatened to oppose exhibition of Oriya films, operas, CDs, literature and imposition of Oriya culture in the region. Castigating the industries in the region for initiating development activities in other parts of Orissa rather than in the area, he warned the industrial houses to quit the region by 2014 if they don’t rally behind separate state demand.
He also advised the peoples’ representatives to change their attitude for the sake of motherland and asked them to raise the separate state issue in both Assembly and Parliament. Disclosing that many politicians cutting across party lines have evinced interest in joining KKD, Mishra said that inhabitants of Koraput, Phulbani, Nabrangpur and Rayagada have also expressed their desire to join the proposed Koshal state. He even asked the people to enrol their mother tongue as ‘Koshali language’ during the census process and urged them to join the movement.
State government urged the Centre for the conversion of the Food Craft Institute, Balangir into an Indian Institute of Hotel Management (IIHM) and to set up a new IIHM at Rourkela
The Orissa government has urged the Centre to develop Digha-Talsari tourism circuit to attract more tourists to these locations. It is proposed to be developed in public-private-partnership (PPP) mode.
Since the state government has already identified 700 acres of land for the project, the state has urged the Union ministry of tourism to initiate measure for the development of this circuit.
It figured in the discussion of the chief minister Naveen Patnaik with the visiting Union minister of state for tourism, Sultan Ahmad in the state secretariat today.
Ahmad is reported to have agreed to provide Central support for the international convention centre being planned in Bhubaneswar.
“The chief minister has proposed the setting up an international convention centre to attract tourists to Orissa. We will consider the proposal”, Ahmad told the media after meeting Patnaik.
He said, the progress of the on-going projects along with the new projects to be taken up figured in the discussion with the chief minister. There is ample scope for the development of Budhist tourism in Orissa. However, there is lack of marketing initiative and publicity in this area.
On the extension of the ‘Maharaja Express Classical India’ train to Bhubaneswar, the minister said, the ministry would consider and hold discussion on it after the state government sends its proposal.
State tourism minister Debi Prasad Mishra said, the state government has sought the extension of Maharaja Express train to Bhubaneswar. Since the existing packaging of the train is for 12 days and 11 nights, it can come from Delhi via Bodhgaya-Kolkata to Bhubaneswar by extending the package to 12 days and 12 nights.
Similarly, the state government has sought the conversion of the status of Food Craft Institute at Bolangir into an Indian Institute of Health Management (IIHM). The state government would provide additional land for it. Besides, the government has also urged the Centre to set up a IIHM at Rourkela, Mishra added.
India needs at least 800 more universities in addition to its current number of 480 to boost higher education, Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal said Wednesday.
“Currently the gross enrolment ratio (GER) in India is 12.4 percent, and we intend to take it to 30 percent in the next few years,” Sibal said at an education conference organised by the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco).
This means, he said, only 12.4 students from every 100 students eligible are pursuing higher education in India. The effort is to take this tally to at least 30 for every 100 students in the age group of 18 to 24.
“For this, there is a need for 800 more universities and 35,000 more colleges,” he said. The minister said India was far behind the global average of GER, which is 23 percent.
“In developed countries, it is above 40 percent. In some countries it is 53 percent,” he said, adding that for economies growing at 8-9 percent per annum the demand for quality manpower is high.
Unless there is a huge pool of qualified human resource, there will be “mismatch between economy and the potential that serve the economy”, he said.
This is the first ever contact group meeting of parliamentarians on education organised by the Unesco for countries like India, Bangladesh, Bhutan, the Maldives, Nepal and Sri Lanka.