Western Odisha Development Council (WODC) was officially formed in 1999 during a Congress Government in Odisha. Shri Narasingha Mishra became the first chairperson of it. The foundation of WODC was to improve the socio-economic condition of the people in the Western Odisha region and boost their cultural ethos by stimulating infrastructure development in irrigation, agriculture, education, health, and communication. Since it was established by the then Congress Government in the background of the upcoming state assembly election, the performance of WODC under a congress regime can not be properly evaluated.
The actual functioning of WODC began in 2000 when Shri Ainthu Sahoo was appointed as chairman and afterward served six long years. The political dominance of Naveen Patnaik in Odisha in the past 20 years had never seriously tried to quantify the failures and successes of WODC earlier. Interestingly, from time to time opposition political parties have been flagging WODC or issues related to the functioning of WODC but in practicality, political opposition in Odisha has become irrelevant over the two decades due to the convergence of bureaucratic, political and money power of the ruling class.
Thankfully, the recent evaluation of the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) on the functioning of WODC is very heartening and the miserable failures of the past 20 years is evident. Some of the findings of CAG include WODC initiated private medical colleges. In 2014, WODC proposed three private medical colleges at Kalahandi, Balangir, and Rourkela. One in Rourkela is still struggling, the other two failed.
Interestingly, CAG has noted that Odisha Government approved Selvam Educational and Charitable Trust (SECT) of Tamil Nadu for setting up the medical college in Kalahandi as per the recommendation of WODC, though initially it had rejected SECT due to lack of experience for the setting of a medical college. CAG has concluded that this medical college became defunct due to a lack of proper scrutiny of the background of SECT by WODC.
However, one important aspect which is beyond the evaluation of CAG but under public scrutiny is that the Odisha Government was well informed multiple times by the local population of Kalahandi even after 4 years of getting approval, since 2008, through various petitions and memorandum to cancel the MoU with SECT due to lack of commitment and seriousness.
Nevertheless, Odisha Government continued to believe SECT and waited more than a decade losing public funds, land, resources and valuable time to serve the population in the health sector. Therefore, the Odisha Government cannot wash its hands saying WODC was solely responsible for the failure of WODC sponsored private medical college in Kalahandi. CAG has also questioned the spending of a huge amount of funds in misplaced priorities.
For example, the WODC fund spent on a community center in Rourkela municipality could be avoided as these projects could be viable using the smart city fund allotted to Rourkela by the central Government. It has added that during 2015-2018 a substantial portion of the fund was allocated to developed and developing blocks instead of giving priority to very backward and backward blocks, which are 66 % in the region.
CAG has further confirmed diversion of the fund by WODC from priority projects to other unimportant projects of WODC, such as preparing welcome gates, badminton court, crossed drainage, boundary wall, repair of old age home, an extension of the college building, library, etc.
Perhaps taking CAG report, it is undesirable to continue WODC in this way. However, whom should one blame for all these failures? After a critical analysis, one would find that in the past 20 years WODC has served as a political rehabilitation center for the ruling party. Except for Prof. Niranjan Panda and the temporary appointment of two IAS officers for a couple of months, the rest of the appointed WODC chairmen came from the party line.
Moreover, the political rehabilitation/need of the ruling party is so detrimental that not even a single individual from the backward and a major constituent of WODC like the Kalahandi-Nuapada region has been appointed as a chairman since the establishment of WODC. Recently after the death of Shri Subash Chandra Chauhan, who was politically rehabilitated after switching over party just before the election, no new appointment of chairman for WODC has been made.
Many member positions have been vacant since a while. Diversion of the fund to unimportant areas is also political in nature. The projects in WODC are sanctioned based on the recommendations of local MLAs and MPs where the ruling party has the greater influence. Except for a few MLAs and MPs in opposition parties who serve as the member in WODC, it is an open secret that the projects are distributed and sanctioned as per the ruling party’s wish and based on party supporters and/or contractors.
Additionally, CAG report has discovered a huge amount of unspent money by WODC. Since 2008-09 Odisha Government is allocating annually 100 crores for WODC. This amount is equivalent to the cost of a major bridge today.
Currently, the annual budget of Odisha is approximately 150,000 crores for 314 blocks in the state, thus, the amount allocated to WODC for 89 blocks in the region is less than 0.07 % of the total budget. Many blocks of Western Odisha till now do not have sufficient irrigation facilities and lack basic all weather road infrastructure, which are high priority area of WODC.
Many irrigation projects in the region are not moving as desired due to a lack of funds. There are possibilities of check dams in the Tel river. 100 crores are not sufficient even to make one check dam in Tel river. Despite many unfinished projects due to shortage of fundsin western Odisha and a huge potential to start many new irrigation projects, such a relatively small amount like 100 crores going unspent for a huge region, roughly 1/3rd of the whole state, completely exposes the lack of good governance and a broken system.
Indeed, this is not the failure of WODC rather it proves a lack of sincerity and lack of commitment of the Odisha Government towards Western Odisha’s overall development to fulfill the mission of WODC.
(The views expressed are the writer’s own)
Digambara Patra, M.Phil, PhD
Professor Department of Chemistry
American University of Beirut
( Images from the net )