By Arun Bhatt
The commissioning of the Gurupriya bridge last week by Hon’ble Chief Minister is not just an infrastructure related event but an important milestone in the path of progress underlining the political will of the state to address the root cause of poverty and alienation. The bridge literally and figuratively paves the way for mainstreaming tribals of the 150 odd villages who were condemned to live hopelessly in the shadows of Naxal menace. It was the same area which had seen the gruesome gunning down of 38 greyhounds by Naxals in 2008. Today, the decks have been cleared for a much easier outreach by the Government and its welfare schemes to reach to the people giving them an opportunity to be a part of the development narrative.
At the same time it begs a bigger question. How can this development process become sustainable in the long term, especially in Western Odisha which is blessed by natural resources but plagued by the evils of the infamous “Red corridor”?
The state Government, over the last decade, has been making steady progress in its outreach to the tribals in these far flung areas. Better farming practices, marketing of agro products, education, skill development, student scholarships as well the housing schemes both by the Centre and bolstered by the Biju Awas Yojana have opened new avenues for the marginalized sections of the society. But for this development to be sustainable in the long term there needs to be massive employment push both in the agrarian and the industrial sectors of the economy. This is precisely where Bauxite can play a pivotal role.
It is well known that the East coast bauxite, which literally runs through the red corridor, has the potential of making Odisha the Aluminium capital of the world. Odisha is home to 70% of India’s high quality bauxite reserve. If it is seen in the context of the fact that India boasts of having the 5th largest reserve of this crucial raw material, the potential is too obvious to ignore. Odisha is also blessed with good quality coal reserves. This unique configuration of availability of both bauxite and coal in close proximity is a phenomena unique to Odisha in the entire world. It is this geological uniqueness that makes Odisha a hot spot destination for Aluminium producers of the world. Once bauxite and coal are mined in adequate quantities the entire area will witness an economic boom heralding prosperity and more importantly peace.
Mining too is gradually coming out of a reputational crisis. The recently amended Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Act has made the entire process of granting of mining rights a very transparent process. Auctioning is the way forward and very soon the decks will be cleared for it. Apart from the regulatory process it is technology that is making a crucial difference to mining. Modern technology is making the entire mining process less invasive and more environment friendly. Bauxite mining, especially, is a very eco-friendly process and NALCO’s mines have proved it that post mining the area actually becomes much greener and even fertile..
Recently Orissa Mining Corporation (OMC), the Gold category State PSU has started mining in Kodingamali. Even in a nascent stage more than 2500 direct and indirect jobs have been generated and symbols of modern development like solar powered lights, tube wells, better roads and better culverts have started sprouting strengthening the faith of the local people in the development narrative.
In the run up to the elections the question which will be posed by the electorate is the issue of jobs for the youth. The “Make in Odisha” campaign will also gather steam and as a consequence will attract a much closer scrutiny on its promises and its fulfilment ratio. Hopefully, Odisha will have an answer which would be much better than the rest. And the only way to achieve it is to create more industries, more jobs and a more inclusive and sustainable development.
(the writer can be reached at > [email protected])