Governance innovation and green recovery for Odisha: Useful insights from the latest Human Development Report 2020

By Jyotiraj Patra

The 30th anniversary edition of the Human Development Report was launched in December 2020. Titled The Next Frontier – Human Development and the Anthropocene, the report highlights the urgency to shift and move away from the current unsustainable and inequal production and consumption systems towards a more sustainable and inclusive system. An unique feature in this edition is the adjustment of a country’s carbon dioxide emissions and its material footprint while calculating the overall human development index. With this, many high ranking countries in the overall HDI have dropped out due to their reliance on fossil fuels and high material foot prints.

This adjustment is an attempt to capture the complex interactions between planetary and social imbalances have resulted in unprecedented challenges. The compounding effects of a global pandemic like Covid 19 and climate-induced natural hazards like floods, droughts and cyclones are devastating. Faced with unprecedented challenge of this nature, many governments found their institutional  capacity to assess, analyze and address such complex compounding risks either unprepared or overwhelmed. Existing socio-economic disparities further exacerbated people’s vulnerabilities and disproportionately affected the poor and other marginalized groups in many countries.

Analyses and findings in this edition of HDR underscore the urgency to understand the people-planet relationships and ways these interactions impact overall human well-being and development in a given context. While the data and analysis in the report are from a country perspective, the findings and suggested actions are relevant for sub-national level governments and their governance systems.

For a natural resource rich state like Odisha, with high degrees of climate vulnerabilities, the Human Development Report’s  findings and recommendations carry much significance. Much of the state’s economy is derived from natural resources driven by agriculture, manufacturing and mining. Building on this year’s HDR insights, we identify two specific opportunities for the state of Odisha to help the government further improve its policy initiatives and strategies to tackle compound risks of pandemic and climate change impacts.

Inclusive and transformative governance: The state’s overall governance system and corresponding policy strategies and approaches have seen a dramatic shift over the last two decades. The overall governance approach has gradually become more participatory, integrated, consultative and accountable which once used to be more siloed, top-down and often followed an one-size-fits-all approach in spite of significant regional and cultural diversity in the state. Notable among these transformative governance shift are the government’s recent 5T framework (Teamwork, Technology, Transparency, Time – leading to Transformation) and the Mo Sarkar (My government) initiative to bridge the divide between government and citizens, improve transparency and openness in decision-making. Both these governance innovations are now mainstreamed across many state government departments and their sectoral policies. As part of this, affordable ICT-based interfaces like mobile apps and e-services are developed for easy access and timely service to citizens. For example, the recently launched PAReSHRAM portal will provide timely information to laborers and factory workers and help address their grievances. Initiatives like these offer unique opportunity for the state to further strengthen its governance approach to make it make inclusive by providing safe spaces for deliberative dialogue, consultation and participation of citizens and other stakeholders such as businesses, civil society, think tanks and political coalitions in the state’s human development policy strategies and decisions. Given the critical role business and industries play in creating employment opportunities and revenue but also impacting the environment through their resource extraction and production practices, a state-level multi-stakeholder dialogue forum on sustainability will help identify and address some of these complex and systemic challenges of poverty amidst plenty in some instances.  Specific initiatives to further support and promote participation and leadership of women, indigenous communities and youth, who often remain marginalized in the whole development agenda, are required. Social impact innovation platforms, built on the core principles of equity, innovation and nature stewardship, could help mobilize more citizen and youth engagement and environmentally responsible development initiatives at the panchayats, cities, and districts levels. Ten districts of Odisha have been identified as Aspirational Districts by the Niti Aayog and this provides additional opportunities to further develop and integrate more inclusive governance practices. Initiatives to cater to region-specific development needs such as the Western Odisha Development Council (WODC), which covers ten districts of Western Odisha and one sub-division of Angul district, could further capitalize on the additional financial and technical resources and the political will for more inclusive governance mechanisms. The council could also become a SDGs Localization Hub  by facilitating more convergence across various departments, promoting meaningful participation of citizens and other stakeholders, including the private sector, and in the process building more inclusive and innovative governance mechanisms that Leaves No One behind.

Green and nature-positive recovery: While the state’s overall Covid 19 preparedness and response was pro-active and well managed, the post-Covid recovery and rebuilding remain a daunting task for the government. Amidst the Covid 19 pandemic large part of the state and its population were impacted due to natural hazards.  While the Super Cyclone Amphan (May 2020)’s impact were minimal in the state, more than 14.5 lakh people in 3256 villages in 20 districts of the state were affected due to floods during the months of August and September. Last year most of the coastal regions, including the state capital of Bhubaneswar, were severely impacted due to Cyclone Fani (May 2019). Most of the post-Fani infrastructure reconstruction and livelihoods rehabilitation programs which were underway were impacted. The state’s unique coastal location and vast biodiversity, including diverse cultures, offer the much required natural capital for a green and nature-positive economic recovery and create pathways for more sustainable development in the state. Key to this will be more emphasis on and promotion of nature-based solutions, in addition to traditional engineering solutions. This would include restoration of vital ecosystems and their services, combating pollution and degradation of soil, rivers and water bodies, beating plastic pollution, switching to low-carbon and more energy efficient solutions in buildings and industries, more renewable energy sources and shift to a circular economy pathway. There is growing empirical evidence on the critical role of nature and natural capital in economic growth and build back better efforts.  Natural capital accounting and Green Skills Development are some useful initiatives in this direction.  In India, such a state-level pilot assessment is being undertaken in the state of Karnataka as part of the global Natural Capital Accounting and Valuation of Ecosystem Services (NCAVES) project. Insights and approaches from these could be used for a similar assessment for Odisha, led by the Odisha State Planning Board with technical and financial support from think tanks, research institutes and other development agencies. The other opportunity is with regard to the state’s blue economy opportunities linked to its unique coastal environment and marine resources and maritime infrastructure. An Odisha Blue Economy Strategy and Roadmap could be developed to analyse the opportunities and mobilize investments in the state’s blue economy for more sustainable development and green jobs in the state.

As the HDR 2020 argues to reimagine the human development journey and leverage the human development approach to support transformational change, we hope the on-going governance innovation and Covid-19 recovery initiatives in Odisha will capitalize on these unique opportunities for a more inclusive governance system and green recovery pathways in the state.

 (Jyotiraj Patra works for an international development organization. Views expressed are personal.)