2019 Vox Populi: Aska

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By Charudutta Panigrahi
Asika sugar factory is Asia’s first, established in 1824 and driven by one Fredrick Josheph Vivian Minchin (popularly known as Minchin Saheb even today). Asika town is often referred to as the Sugar City.

One of the most prosperous and progressive towns in Odisha, it has a deep running colonial connect, being close to Berhampur, an important hub for Britishers, as a part of the Madras Presidency. Aska now boasts of sizeable population (
exceeding 1,000) of blackbucks, which are called as Bali-Harina or Krushna Sara Mruga (କୃଷ୍ଣ ସାର ମୃଗ) in Odia. But the recent Titli cyclone has wrecked the vegetation, the crops and the forest life in and around Aska.

Asika is a Vidhan Sabha seat (Assembly constituency) and Aska is a Lok Sabha constituency since 1977. The Assembly constituency includes Asika, Asika block and 12 GPs (Subalaya, Kaniari, Barida, Paikajamuna, Sunapalli, Sialia, Nandiagada, Borasingi, Ambapua, Baliasara, Bolasara and Sunarijhola)of Kabisuryanagar block.

With slightly over 1,97,443 voters, youth constitute more than half, (below 35). Migration of youth to other states continues to be high, increasing the vulnerability of the population to HIV/AIDS. About three years ago Aska had about 470 AIDS patients, a disturbing figure. The engagement of women in self-help groups (SHGs), loaning and repayments (NPAs less than 13%) in Aska (constituency region) has been one of the best in India. Out of the total no. of SHGs , about half of the SHGs are active with loan outstanding as in 16-17 (average loan outstanding in the range of 60,000). Bootlegging and desi liquor business has spurred mafia in the area and regular gang killings and criminal activities are on the rise. Once known for their honesty, candour and hard work, the local youths are
sucked into the criminal world.
Aska is the agri-powerhouse of Odisha. But in the last three years, agriculture production has slid down by about 17%. This year Titli has devasted the harvest of the entire block and NAC. Sugarcane, Cotton and maize production have shrunk.
People expect: (top five in the pecking order)
– Peaceful civil life: administration to clean the area of criminals
– Special focus on agricultural development – restoration of soil condition, availability of fertilisers, boosters and
guidance in new methods. Land usage needs to be enhanced.
– Subsidy on farmer loans – to tide over the damages from Titli
– Employment – youth need local engagement. Migration is not the answer. Skilling program needs a review and
more intensive mobilisations at the village levels.
– Development of local industry – agri-based industries supported by a vibrant SHG collaborative can provide sustainability to the household incomes Aska if tended properly, can contribute remarkably to the state GDP.

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