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Disaster Loss Ignored

While addressing the Eastern Zonal Council meeting on 28 February, Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik thanked the Union Government for supporting the state during the very severe cyclone, Fani. He also urged the centre to declare Odisha as a ‘special focus state’ taking into consideration its vulnerability to natural calamities. The state government had also earlier approached and submitted documents to the XV Finance Commission (FFC) on the state’s vulnerability to natural calamities. The assistance from the centre is mostly for temporary restoration of infrastructure. The state has to spend a lot from its own resources to build long-term infrastructure, which puts pressure on state’s finances.

Precisely for this reason, Odisha should be considered for special category status. In the last five years, the state experienced severe cyclones like Phailin, Hudhud, Titli, Bulbul and Fani. In addition to this, the state faced massive floods almost every alternate year. Therefore, everybody expected that the XV Finance Commission will certainly come to the state’s rescue as the NDA government at the centre and Prime Minister Narendra Modi have been considerate towards the state. However, the XV Finance Commission in its recommendation for the year 2020-21, though admitted Odisha’s vulnerability to calamities, did not make any satisfactory recommendation to bail out Odisha from the huge financial loss it incurred due to disasters.
 
Regarding Odisha’s demand of state-specific grants in view of its vulnerability to natural calamities and its large tribal population, the Commission deferred its recommendation, given the financial constraints in 2020-21. “We propose to make appropriate recommendations on such grants in our final report,” the Commission said, thus making Odisha wait to address its genuine problem. It said, cyclone as a hazard is limited to coastal states. The higher score of 15 is assigned to Andhra Pradesh, Odisha and West Bengal, which include very high cyclone-prone districts.
 
Unfortunately, the Commission preferred to ignore the fact that of the three states, each given the full score of 15 for its vulnerability to cyclones, Odisha tops the list by experiencing the highest number of cyclones. The state has faced about 100 cyclones in 131 years. In the Disaster Risk Index (DRI), Odisha tops the list with 0.900 points while Andhra Pradesh got 0.650 points and West Bengal’s score was 0.750 points.
 
Though all other states remained much below Odisha in terms of DRI, the Commission did not recommend any special grant for the state, leaving the state government to manage its own problem. Odisha is the lone state in the country which faces floods, cyclones, droughts frequently though it has no such record for earthquakes.
 
The Commission in its report also mentioned that the scores for hazards and vulnerability have been added to assign the risk score for each state to arrive at final DRI for each state. It is the first attempt to include state-level disaster risk scores in resource allocation and address a serious deficiency in the previous state-level allocation for disaster management. As more experience is gained, the disaster risk index may be refined further.
 
With the Commission holding this view, Odisha has to wait in order to get justice. The very severe cyclone Fani has alone caused loss amounting to more than Rs. 50,000 crore, but the central assistance, though a little bit higher this time, was not enough to meet the requirement of infrastructural loss being sustained by Odisha every year.   
 
While making allocation of State Disaster Risk Management Fund (SDRMF) for 2020-21, the Commission made a provision of Rs. 2,139 crore comprising the centre’s contribution of Rs. 1,604 crore and the state’s Rs. 535 crore. The highest amount of Rs. 4,296 crore was allocated to Maharashtra, followed by Rs. 2,578 crore to Uttar Pradesh, Rs. 2,427 crore to Madhya Pradesh, Rs. 1,975 crore to Rajasthan, Rs. 1,888 crore Bihar, Rs. 1,765 crore to Gujarat and Rs. 1,360 crore to Tamil Nadu and Rs. 1,348 crore to West Bengal. Though Odisha scores 0.900 point and remained at top of disaster risk index, Maharashtra and other states get more allocation. Thanks to the population and area criteria which get weightage of 15 per cent each.
 
In addition, the Commission made additional allocation of 11 per cent to North-Eastern and Himalayan states to pay greater attention to infrastructure resilience, in view of the continuous disruption of their transport network by flash floods, landslides and other mountain hazards.
 
It is seen that Odisha’s achievement in disaster management, though appreciated across the globe, has indirectly come as a curse, which has been proved from the allocations made by the Commission. Had the Odisha roads, rails and other communication network remained disrupted for a long time, the Commission might have allocated an additional 11 per cent.
 
Another factor which posed problem for Odisha is its success in stabilizing population growth. The Commission has taken 2011 census data into consideration and given 15 per cent more to the states which failed to control their population. While Odisha successfully controlled its population growth got less, the states that failed to contain population growth received more because of high population density. The Commission should reward the states which contained population growth.
 
It is time Odisha’s political leadership and policy makers effectively put forth its advantages and disadvantages at the proper forum in order to avail more allocations and ensure that the loss incurred due to disasters should be a major criterion for allocation. Odias are now well placed in major institutions like the Reserve Bank of India and the Prime Minister’s Office.
 
Some senior Odisha cadre IAS officers are heading different Ministries in the Union Government. The State Government should make a serious attempt to convince these people to bat for Odisha. They should ensure that Odisha’s genuine demands are fulfilled. All MPs, both in the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha, should also take personal initiative and ensure that the state’s interests are not ignored. Unless people from Odisha in responsible positions at the centre do not rise to occasion the state will suffer, pointed out a senior Mandarin serving the Union Government.
 


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