Bhubaneswar(PTI): After Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and his Andhra Pradesh counterpart N Chandrababu Naidu, Naveen Patnaik too has once again raised the demand of special category status for Odisha, citing its backwardness and high percentage of ST and SC population.
Though Patnaik did not attend the 4th Governing Council Meeting of the Niti Ayog held at New Delhi on Sunday, he apprised Prime Minister Narendra Modi of the state’s demands including that of special category status for it through a letter.
The letter dated June 16 was made available to the media yesterday.
Nitish Kumar and N Chandrababu Naidu had vociferously reiterated demand for special category status for their state at the meeting of NITI Ayog chaired by the Prime Minister.
Bringing back the demand for special category status by Patnaik is being seen politically as a potent weapon for the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) ahead of the ensuing Odisha assembly and the general elections in 2019.
Patnaik, in the letter, has pitched for the special category status citing high percentage of ST and SC population in Odisha.
“With high percentage of population belonging to the Schedule Tribes and Scheduled Castes and the state facing frequent natural calamities, Odisha deserves to be accorded ‘special category status’ to fast-track its ongoing development and may be treated at par with North-Eastern and Himalayan states for the sharing pattern of Centrally Sponsored Schemes,” Patnaik said in the letter.
The demand for a special category status for Odisha is almost four decades old.
It began in 1979 when Nilamani Routray was heading the Janata Party govenrment in Odisha.
Non-Congress parties, mostly Janata Dal and its modified version – the Biju Janata Dal (now ruling the state), continued to make demand for the special category status for Odisha.
The subsequent Central governments, however, have been rejecting Odisha’s demand.
According to former state Finance Minister Panchanan Kanungo, Odisha’s demand was partly fulfilled when A B Vajpyee was the Prime Minister.
The Centre had then provided for special allocation for the poverty prone KBK (Kalahandi-Bolangir-Koraput) region. Like provision for the SCS states, the Centre was providing funds in the ratio of 90:10 ratio under Centrally Sponsored Schemes for the KBK region. This facility, however, was withdrawn after the fall of the Vajpeyee government, Kanungo said.
Patnaik, during his 18-year tenure as the chief minister of Odisha, has dashed several letters to the prime ministers beginning from Vajpayee till Narendra Modi to accord Special Category Status to Odisha.
Apart from passing an unanimous resolution favouring SCS for Odisha in the assembly, the BJD government has also undertaken a massive signature campaign in Odisha to further intensify its demand. The signature of about one crore people (of the state’s 4.11 crore population) was sent to erstwhile President Pranab Mukherjee seeking his intervention.
In a bid to make the signature campaign non-political, Patnaik had invited freedom fighter Purushottam Nayak to put the first signature on the memorandum. Nayak was followed by another ageing freedom fighter Bhabani Patnaik (92). Patnaik’s signature came only at third place.
Besides these measures, the ruling BJD had also organised a public meeting in the national capital to mount pressure on the then UPA government in 2013 and ahead of the 2014 general elections, seeking SCS for Odisha.
Former Minister and BJD vice-president Debi Prasad Mishra said, “Odisha satisfies all conditions to be a special category state except that it has no international border with any country. No positive step appear to have been taken by the Government of India so far.