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Rural Odisha discovers power of Twitter  

Within three days of trying their luck on Twitter, ration supplies were delivered at their doorstep…reports Naba Kishor Pujari

“Why shouldn’t we try our luck with Twitter?” Tulsi Naik had thought, after having no access to ration supplies during the lockdown in 2020 despite innumerable appeals. Naik, who works with the Nagarik Vikash Sangathan, a people’s collective in Kalahandi district of Odisha, had been trained to use Twitter.

“During the lockdown, the supply of rations was stopped. Despite visiting the panchayat office several times, the issue wasn’t resolved,” says his wife Simanjali, a 21-year-old marginal farmer from a Dalit background. “The office is 20km away and I had to spend Rs 200 to Rs 300 to travel and lose a day’s work, when I already wasn’t earning much due to the lockdown.”

Within three days of trying their luck on Twitter, ration supplies were delivered at their doorstep.

Tulsi and Simanjali are not exceptions. The popularity of the social media site Twitter continues to grow beyond the urban and semi-urban elite classes, even more so since the pandemic struck. Marginalised communities, primarily in developing countries, continue to face challenges in expressing their grievances and concerns due to lack of accountable communication channels. However, since the outbreak of Covid-19, Twitter has emerged as the preferred digital platform in rural Odisha for grievance redressal.

Digital deliverance

The digital platform not only helps people resolve their problems but also save time, money, and energy, as all they need is access to smartphones. In fact, the Odisha government adopted the 5T model to ensure a tech-enabled governance reform system. The 5T guidelines — teamwork, technology, transparency, transformation and time limit — mandate the department concerned to take action on issues within 24 hours of a tweet.

According to Statista, India has the third-highest number of Twitter users, at 24.45 million. It indicates huge potential for individuals to use the platform as a grievance redressal forum and for organisations to adopt digital era advocacy.

In Odisha, the state government has 40 departments, all of which are on Twitter, and it has proven to be the most convenient means to contact government officials.

How Twitter saved the day

Mandila Digal, an 80-year-old from the remote village of Rajupadar in Kandhamal district’s Kotagada block, was overwhelmed when he finally received free ration at his doorstep after over a year of struggles and appeals. At the onset of the pandemic in India, Digal’s family was hit by an acute financial crisis, as most of his family members worked as daily wage labourers, and the lockdown put a stop to their income. At that time, the Odisha government had announced the distribution of 5kg rice and 1kg dal free of cost through the Public Distribution System for three months from April 2020. But his family could not benefit from this provisioning as they didn’t have an Aadhaar card, which was mandatory to avail this scheme.

After finding out about Digal’s woes, Santanu Patra, a local youth who’s been helping amplify the underprivileged voices through Twitter since 2020, visited Rajupadar. He collected all the required information, including Digal’s photos, posted them on his Twitter handle and also tagged Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, the then minister of food and consumer welfare Ranendra Pratap Swain and the district collector of Kandhamal. The very next day, the Gram Rojgar Sevak, Village Level Worker and the area’s Civil Supply Inspector rushed to Digal’s house to provide him with rations.

“As there were restrictions imposed to contain Covid-19, digital platforms were the only way to reach out to authorities,” Patra says. “I had noticed that government offices were responding on Twitter, so I used the medium to help people. So far, I’ve tweeted close to 500 issues, of which over 30 have been resolved.”

To migrant labourers’ rescue

Maheshwar Sunani (42) and his wife Debaki (37) of Muribahal village, under Nuapada district’s Komna block, had migrated to Hyderabad for work. But as cases of the coronavirus were on the rise across the country, they decided to return to their native place in June 2020. Without jobs and no savings, free rations could have been their only respite, as Maheshwar was a ration card holder, but the mismatch of the names of family members on the card had rendered it invalid.

Simanjali Naik, a 21-year-old marginal farmer had spent Rs200-300 on a day’s travel to avail ration during the lockdown. However, the Twitter request got the administration to deliver ration to their doorstep within three days.

Sunani approached his local sarpanch, gram panchayat executive officer and even the block development officer, but in vain. This was when Surendra Sunani, a local youth and member of Nuapada-based people’s collective Shramajeebee Bikash Mancha, stepped up to help. He posted the family’s plight on Twitter, tagging all relevant officials and line departments — the family received rations at their doorstep within three hours of his tweet!

“I had no idea about Twitter. But now, as I see its impact, I am overwhelmed,” says Maheshwar.

Recalling his initial journey as a Twitter warrior, Surendra says, “Opting for a digital mode of communication may demotivate someone new to it as there’s no surety of a response. Initially, it was difficult to convince people that tweeting was more effective than physically visiting government offices, but after a few issues were resolved, people had more faith in me.”

As recently as May 28, while visiting Bhatapani village in the district’s Sinapali block, Dolamani Bhoi, a 30-year-old Twitter warrior, came to know that all five tubewells in the village were defunct. Bhoi took to Twitter to contact the concerned officials and departments, soon after which the Twitter handle of the Odisha government’s Panchayati Raj and Drinking Water Supply Department responded, assuring him that the tubewells had been repaired and were running smoothly.

Twitter warrior Dolamani Bhoi prompted administrative action on five difunctional tube wells.

When a tweet does not get attention

Given the volume of messages shared on the platform, there’s no guarantee of a response to all tweets, regardless of the authenticity or urgency of an issue. Where the outreach of individual tweets with a lower follower base may be limited, the need for collective digital activism comes in.

“I intend to get a response from the department each time I tweet, but the rate of response is 10 per cent to 20 per cent,” Bhoi says. “Still, it’s much better than people meeting officials in person or filing written complaints. When no action is taken, I contact 12baje12minute, a digital platform that gives voice to rural India. It collects and raises issues for speedy redressal and has considerable reach. This online community helps highlight our local issues. Concerned authorities are more likely to pay heed to an issue when they tweet on our behalf or retweet our post.”

Santanu follows the same pattern in his areas. “I seek support from local sangathans and digital groups, including 12baje12minute,” he says.

Is the future digital?

Given the number of authorities across different levels of the government with Twitter handles, they become accountable when tagged in a post of such kinds that demand attention. This, in turn, prompts swift action.

Block Development Officer of Udala Debajani Bhuyan, in Odisha’s Mayurbhanj district, is hopeful about the use of Twitter to resolve local problems.

“The state government is a pioneer in establishing a technology-enabled governance system. People are already benefiting due to the 5T initiative,” she says. “It’s heartening to see the youth using digital platforms to resolve their issues and also enable us to get through our problems with greater ease.”

Repeatedly tagging a government official or account may get irksome, but citizens have the right to demand answers, especially if their grievances have not been addressed, says Laxmidhar Singh, a tribal rights activist. This is the only way available at the moment to ensure greater transparency and accountability in governance, he adds.

Nityananda Thanapati, the social worker from Bhubaneswar who handles the 12baje12minute Twitter handle, says, “Earlier, a pen was considered mightier than the sword. But now, a tweet is mightier than the pen in many aspects.”

Thanapati has been spearheading a collective effort to create a Twitter warriors’ group in Odisha from village to state level.

“The governance mechanism in future has to be digital. That’s what made us create an e-sangathan, wherein we plan to educate and engage people to use digital platforms like Twitter to reach out to the administration,” he says. “We are happy that more people are relying on the platform as a solution to their problems.”

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India News

Odisha secures US $50 bln investment in 2 years 

During the Investors Meet, a presentation on the “Odisha Industrial Ecosystem” was made highlighting the huge investment opportunities in Odisha…reports Asian Lite News

Riding on the last two years of a high level of investments approved by Government of Odisha, amounting to over US$50 billion since 2021, the state Government of Odisha in India is attracting Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in sectors such as Metals and Metal downstream, Chemicals and Petrochemicals, Textiles and Apparel including Technical Textiles, Food processing including Seafood processing, ESDM, Logistics and Clean Energy.

In this regard, the Odisha Investors Meet was held in Dubai today under the leadership of Shri Naveen Patnaik, Hon’ble Chief Minister of Odisha, India, along with a delegation of senior officials from the Government of Odisha.

The Investors Meet was jointly organised with the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) and the Embassy of India in UAE. It was attended by more than 150 companies based out of the UAE and the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region from sectors comprising of Minerals and Metals processing, Petrochemicals, Chemicals, Plastics, Heavy Industries, Clean Energy, Food Processing including Sea Food Processing, Electrical Equipment and Electronics Manufacturing, Logistics and Warehousing, Real Estate, and Hospitality. Leading industry associations from the region including Indian Business and Professional Council (IBPC) also participated in the event.

During the Investors Meet, a presentation on the “Odisha Industrial Ecosystem” was made highlighting the huge investment opportunities in Odisha.

Highlighting the various advantages of Odisha state, the Hon’ble Chief Minister Shri Naveen Patnaik addressed the gathering underlining Odisha’s Mineral advantage; Odisha’s human resource advantage; Odisha’s use of enabling technology in delivering efficient and effective investment facilitation and Odisha’s progressive policy and governance advantage.

“Odisha holds the lion’s share of India’s mineral reserves with 96 percent of the country’s chromite reserves, 92 percent nickel, 53 percent bauxite, 45 percent manganese, 35 percent iron-ore, and 23 percent coal reserves of India. This has made Odisha the largest producer of Steel, Stainless Steel, Ferro Alloys, Alumina, and Aluminium in India. Odisha also has 11 percent of India’s water resources. The state has a 480-km long coastline making it a natural choice for setting up ports, and for international trade,” he said.

The State is home to a large and highly skilled workforce. Highlighting Odisha’s human resource advantage, Shri Patnaik said, “We have made good investments in setting up technical and professional institutes at all skill levels – ITIs, Polytechnics, and engineering and management colleges. Eleven of India’s top 100 Industrial training institutes are in Odisha. With the assistance of the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the Institute of Technical Education Services (ITEES), Singapore, the Government of Odisha has recently established the World Skill Centre in Bhubaneswar to prepare the Odia workforce for modern and new age Industry.”

On Odisha’s use of enabling technology in delivering efficient and effective investment facilitation, he said, State’s Single Window portal for investors, GO SWIFT has transformed the B2G interface with its user-friendly features which provide time-bound clearances for over 50 G2B services. Odisha is also home to over 1200 start-ups, many of which are in the technology space. 

Underlining Odisha’s progressive policy and governance advantage, the Honourable Chief Minister said, focusing on 5Ts – Transparency, Technology, Teamwork, Time, and Transformation, the state Government has taken up several proactive measures for the development of industries and infrastructure. This has created an industry-led ecosystem of value addition, sustainable employment generation, and revenue augmentation in the State.

The Hon’ble Chief Minister also announced that the State would be conducting the third edition of its flagship Global Investors Meet – “Make In Odisha 2022” during Nov 30-Dec 04, 2022 at the state capital Bhubaneswar, India. The event would focus on sectors including Metals and Metal downstream, Chemicals and Petrochemicals, Textiles and Apparel including Technical Textiles, Food processing including Seafood processing, ESDM, Logistics and Clean Energy. The Chief Minister extended the invitation to businesses in the MENA region to attend the Make In Odisha 2022 Investor Meet and witness the opportunities the State offers.

The team Odisha also conducted one-on-one B2G meetings with major companies of the region such as LuLu Group, NBTC Group, Sharaf Group, Twenty Fourteen Holding and Tablez Group, ERAM Group, Sobha Group, Arab and India Spices LLC, Tabreed, etc. The State Government invited them to explore Odisha in their future expansions and apprised them of the huge Indian and sub-continent market. The government also assured all the companies of unmatched facilitation and support.

The team Odisha also included a high-level business delegation from the top companies who have invested in Odisha. The business delegation included Parth Jindal – Managing Director, JSW Cement, Saroj Poddar – Chairman, Paradeep Phosphates Limited, Satish Pai – Managing Director, HINDALCO, Dilip Oomen – CEO, AM/NS India, Rahul Sharma – CEO, Vedanta Ltd., Subhrakant Panda – Managing Director, IMFA, Sujoy Choudhury- Director, IOCL, Jagadish Naik – Chairman, and Managing Director, DN-Homes, Bhabatosh Sahoo, Managing Director, B-One Business House Pvt Ltd., Prashant Mallick – Managing Director, Tata Steel SEZ and Mr. Chanakya Chaudhary – Vice President, Tata Steel Ltd.

The Odisha Investors’ Meet was a platform for presenting the vast array of opportunities Odisha offers to businesses in the UAE and the MENA region. It has generated a huge interest among the business community as it is the first time that a state like Odisha which has received significant domestic investments has also reached out to UAE to attract FDI.

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India News

Koya tribe woman Jayanti Buruda now eyes politics

The 32-year old woman from the indigenous Koya community is contesting the Zilla Parishad elections in the state’s panchayat polls, which begin on February 16…writes Tazeen Qureshy

A journalist for over half a decade, Jayanti Buruda from Odisha’s Malkangiri district has covered all sorts of grassroots news around health, women and development. But, the tables have turned now, and Jayanti herself is set to be on the other side of the news story. The 32-year old woman from the indigenous Koya community is contesting the Zilla Parishad elections in the state’s panchayat polls, which begin on February 16.

“As a journalist, I raised issues which concerned the public. As a social worker, I often forced the administration to sort it out. Now, I want to enter the system and bring change. I want to ensure schemes are implemented and people get the required support from the officials,” Buruda said.

A rebel is vindicated

Born into a family of 11 siblings, Buruda has local politics in her blood; her father, now retired, had also served as the Zilla Parishad chairman in the past. He was her sole support as she grew up facing discrimination for being a woman and an Adivasi. He wanted his girls to study, even when the objections came from within his family. Her elder sister, she said, is the first graduate from her community.

Buruda wanted to pursue higher education at Central University in Koraput, the closest option at 150 km away from her village, Serpalli. The daily commute of nearly three hours was a costly affair and her elder brothers also objected to a young girl staying away from home for too long.

“I ran away. There was no other option at that time. My friends helped me a lot those days, even paid for my admission. Since I couldn’t afford a separate house, my friend’s family took me in. I completed journalism and worked as an intern for some time before landing a job at a local, Odia-language Kalinga TV channel,” Buruda said.

Buruda knew she made the right choice, taking up journalism. She said she enjoyed the respect and responsibility that came with her role in society. “During my college days, I always felt I was not being taken seriously as I was a woman and came from a less-represented background. Joining the media industry helped me get people’s attention and get them to respond too.”

A lone, busy face from Malkangiri district, where Maoist rebels remain active, her work attracted national attention and in 2017, she became the first recipient of the Network of Women in Media, India fellowship. Using the grant, she purchased a laptop and a camera.

Problems to solutions

Buruda’s shift into local governance was organic. It seemed like the logical next step and her father too was a huge source of encouragement. But both father and daughter were adamant about one thing she would contest independently.

“I was approached by political parties but I didn’t want to join them. I didn’t want to be a remote control who will have to follow the lead of people sitting back in the capital city. I am a local girl and am aware of the issues. I can handle things well on my own,” she said.

Buruda is pitted against seven contenders for the Malkangiri zone-3 which has six panchayats under it. Though she might not have the power and money that her contenders have, she said, her electoral advantage is that she has seen knows the people and their struggles.

Her election symbol is a simple image of a boy and a girl. “Everyone loves children. So, people would be able to connect with this symbol easily,” she said. The symbol is also meaningful to Buruda because she does a lot of work with young children, especially girls in health and education under the ‘Bada Didi’ (elder sister) initiative.

Issues that matter

In the run-up to the elections, she campaigns every day for up to 12 hours. She is out on the roads by 8 a.m. every morning, usually accompanied by her father and two volunteers. She visits different villages and conducts meetings till afternoon and informs them about her plans, mainly focused on health and education.

Later in the afternoon, she goes on a door-to-door campaign, meeting mostly women voters and listening to their grievances. By evening, she conducts another round of meetings, before calling it a day.

“My main focus is to uplift the women from my community. I want them to have a voice of their own. Women have been a part of the electoral process for a long time now, but it is a known fact that they are dominated by their husbands or controlled by the higher-ups in the party. But I want women to stand for themselves. I have done that for myself and now I want others to follow suit.”

Buruda is hopeful of a good show, but she won’t be deterred even if the results don’t favour her. “People from my community don’t want me to give up writing and I will never give up social work. So win or not, I don’t think a lot will change. But I am hopeful for the people who are showing their affection towards me like I am their daughter or sister.”

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Odisha braces for ‘apparel’ boom

Dibya Shankar Mishra appealed to all industry leaders across India to come and visit Odisha and assured necessary support from the State government….reports Asian Lite News

The Odisha government is in discussion over a special incentive package for mega investment in textile and apparel including technical textile sector, said State Industries Minister Dibya Shankar Mishra.

Addressing a seminar on making Odisha the textiles hub of the eastern India here on Monday, Mishra said, “Our government has prioritized this sector and is seeking mega-investments from major textiles and apparel players. We have more than 1.5 lakh acres of land, ready to be used by the industries coming down to Odisha. Not only in recent times, but Odisha also has a long history in textile and global trading.”

He has appealed to all industry leaders across India to come and visit Odisha and assured necessary support from the State government.

Secretary, Ministry of Textiles, Upendra Prasad Singh elaborated the new schemes of the Central government and pointed out the areas where India based industries can focus on to have a growth in this sector.

Principal secretary, Industries department of Odisha, Hemant Sharma has highlighted the recent growth of the state primarily driven by the push towards industrial growth.

He has also elaborated the strong driving factors of Odisha making it the manufacturing hub of the East such as the strategic location of Odisha in the ASEAN region, the industrial infrastructure, highly skilled manpower and especially the proactive governance.

Leading national and global players like Shahi Exports, Aditya Birla Fashion, Page Industries and Wild Lotus participated in the seminar and shared their experience in the State.

Domain leaders including Bhilosa Industries, Vardhman textiles, Dixcy textiles, Indorama industries and Shubhalakshmi polyesters were also present at the Seminar.

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Odisha villages languish at the shores of dying Sukapaika river

“The encroachers took the opportunity of the dry river bed where they began their illegal constructions leading to its siltation and complete death in the next couple of decades,” Dr Rath lamented…reports Pragati Prava

Until the 70s, Bainshi Chandra Behera (65) had lived well off fishing in Bodhapur in Odisha’s Cuttack district. He would ply his trade on Sukapaika, a distributary of Mahanadi, India’s sixth-largest river. As Sukapaika began to die an unnatural death, Behera’s sole source of livelihood also dried up. He now works as a labourer for a Paradip-based fish trader.

Once at the centre of the prosperity and rich cultural heritage of around 10 lakh people living along its 27-km stretch, the river has turned into a curse for its riparian villages, thanks to the imprudent human actions, said Nrusingha Prasad Das (63), a resident of the same village.

The river passes through 425 villages under 26 panchayats in three blocks — Cuttack Sadar, Nischintakoili and Raghunathpur — said Dr PC Rath (67), a renowned cardiologist and a native of Bodhapur. He talks about the decline of the fortunes of the people living there as if it were the “death of a civilisation”.

“When a river dies, a civilization dies with it, and these 400 odd villages meet the same fate.”

“The encroachers took the opportunity of the dry river bed where they began their illegal constructions leading to its siltation and complete death in the next couple of decades,” Dr Rath lamented.

A concerned citizen and environmentalist, Rath is at the helm of the Sukapaika Bachao Abhiyan (SBA), the community initiative to revive the river and engages in advocacy with the government and bureaucracy.

Sukapaika originates and terminates within Cuttack district, running from Ayatapur village to Tarapur, said Smita Nayak, who has done extensive research on natural resources of the region, including water. In 1952, the government constructed, as a flood control measure, an embankment at Ayatapur. Five years later, around 290 km upstream of it, the Hirakud dam in Sambalpur district and then, around 25 km upstream of it a barrage at Naraj in Cuttack district came up, said Nayak, who is also the director of a non-profit “Orissa Rural Reconstruction Association (ORRA)” and working for livelihood enhancement of people affected by climate change and manmade disasters.

These structures together were meant to control floods but they considerably reduced the water flowing into Sukapaika. Priya Ranjan Sahu, a senior journalist and an environmental activist based in Odisha said, “According to studies, large dams tend to alter geography and hydrological regimes and they involve issues of control, power and political relations, social justice and equity. While Farakka, Baglihar, Almatti, Narmada are some examples, Hirakud dam is a fresh addition. While it has already altered the local environment and badly impacted the riparian communities, it is also instrumental in killing river Sukapaika around 290 km downstream.”

Fishing and farming livelihoods at risk

“The river is mostly dry. There is no water flowing through it now”, said Ananta Mallick (66), a farmer of riparian Narada Goudagaon village under Praharajpur panchayat in Cuttack Sadar block. What little water there is is the remnants of rainwater, found in shallow, stagnant patches.

Nrusingha Prasad Das (63) is a villager of Bodhapur that was home to 800-odd fishers who have lost their livelihood over the years and most of whom are working as migrant labourers. “The river was rich with a variety of fishes like Rohi and Bhakura,” said Das reminiscing about his childhood when he had once teamed up with his neighbours to catch a huge Vecti fish weighing around 40 kg.

It’s not just the fisherfolk, but thousands of farmers are now unable to sustain agricultural activities, caught between water scarcity, flooding and stagnation, said SBA secretary Roshan Rath, who also hails from Bodhapur.

Water levels in the region have depleted considerably with the drying river. Almost all the ponds, wells and tube wells, which used to draw water throughout the year, go dry by January, said Das, adding that lift irrigation points of more than 50 villages downstream are lying defunct. The tube-wells that used to draw water at 100 feet have to go deeper, to as far as 300 feet to get water.

With the freshwater flow disrupted, salinity in the land and in water bodies is increasing rapidly even though the sea (at Paradip) is around 60 km away, Das said. The water from wells and tube-wells here is unfit for consumption due to excessive iron and arsenic content, he added.

On the other hand, according to Ananta Mallick (66), a farmer of Narada Goudagaon village, in his village and neighbouring Samantarapur village under Kishannagar panchayat, every year more than 1,000 acres of farmland remain submerged for around one and half months during the rainy season as there is no drainage channel. The crops decompose in the stagnant water.

“Around four decades ago, my father used to harvest around 100 quintals of paddy and around three quintals of black gram and green gram every year when the river was flowing. Now, I hardly manage to harvest 10 quintals of paddy from the same land,” Mallick lamented.

Rivers like Sukapaika, which originate from a river and rejoin the same river, have a natural rhythm that drains out excessive water, said Sahu. Unfortunately, the river that could have evacuated the flood water naturally became the victim of the shortsightedness of the government officials, he lamented.

There is a proven risk in embankments. Sahu warned that if immediate measures are not taken to ensure free-flow of the river, nature might reclaim its drainage route and a Kosi flood-type situation may repeat here. In 2008, embankments on the river Kosi in Nepal gave way, believed to have been weakened by decades of silt deposition. The breach caused the river to change course and it shifted eastward by over 100 km. It flooded large swathes of Bihar and Nepal, displacing more than 3.5 million Indians.

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COVID-19 India News

Sighting vax team signals Odisha tribals to run into forests

Most members of the local community here are now opposed to the mass vaccination drive. They are apprehensive about the government’s medical intervention in an otherwise healthy community…reports Manish Kumar

Orda, a tribal village under Gobara panchayat in Cuttack district is untraceable on any digital device. Neither Google Maps nor any other search engine could tell you where exactly the village is. Last month, when a health department team reached Orda to inoculate the villagers, many fled into the bordering forests to avoid the Covid-19 vaccination doses.

Fear of the unknown, misinformation-fuelled anxiety, lack of trust, a cautious local community and a paucity of effective awareness campaigns mar vaccination efforts in the remote tribal villages of Odisha, as in many other parts of the country.

Most members of the local community here are now opposed to the mass vaccination drive. They are apprehensive about the government’s medical intervention in an otherwise healthy community.

“We have seen in the past that several healthy people when given injections became sick and some have even died. We do not have any faith in injections when most of us are quite healthy and without any disease,” said Kundia Hembram, a tribal from Orda.

“Recently we saw a man from our village that took some injection and died after that. We do not want to invite trouble by taking the injection,” Singha Sundi, another villager said during our visit there.

Spending some time with villagers reveals how unexposed they are to the world outside their hamlet. This, in turn, contributes to the overall lack of trust and increases fear among the locals. The village is still not connected with a proper road and is easily cut-off during monsoons, making travel difficult even on a two-wheeler. The nearest health centre, Gurudijhatia Primary Health Centre, is around 12 km away from the village.

There are several other tribal-dominated areas like Orda that face similar challenges. Here rumours about Covid-19 and its prevention spread faster than authentic information. Pangapada in Tumudibandh Block of Kandhamal district is another such remote tribal village. There is barely any mobile network coverage and the lack of good roads adds to the villagers’ woes.

Surath Patmajhi, who is a youth from the Dongria Kondh tribe in the village, has been vaccinated after being persuaded by some voluntary organisations. But the majority of the population of Pangapada remain elusive. He attributed this to several rumours doing the rounds in the village that are influencing villagers against vaccination. It is important to note that Dongria Kondh is among the thirteen Primarily Vulnerable Tribal Groups (PVTGs).

“There are around 30 households in my village but till now not more than 10 persons have taken the vaccine. There are several myths in my community regarding the covid vaccines. They believe that these injections could make them sick; it could be used as a birth control measure and may make them infertile; while some also think that this could be a means to eradicate the tribal communities,” said Surath. He also added that there had been very few attempts by the government to create awareness about the vaccines among the local community.

A few voluntary organisations are trying to bridge the communication gap through the mobilisation of local communities. Many of the organisations claim that the remoteness of these villages, the lack of telecom connectivity and the dearth of proper, accessible roads pose insurmountable challenges that prevent conventional media and government outreach programmes from helping these villages.

According to a written statement provided by the Ministry of Communication before Lok Sabha in the last Budget Session (March 2021), Odisha hosts a maximum of 6,099 villages with no mobile connectivity which is around 24 per cent of the not connected villages of India.

“In tribal areas, the local community is more likely to believe their local leaders than the outsiders. There is a huge digital divide. Unlike urban areas or well-connected villages, these villagers are not exposed to the best practices. However, they continue to be under threat as many of them come to weekly haats or markets but many do not follow covid-appropriate behaviour,” said Ruchika Kashyap, Executive Trustee of Atmashakti Trust, who is working in tribal areas of Raygada and Malkangiri to create awareness among the local communities. She also said that the condition of women and differently-abled people are more worrisome in tribal communities as they do not have a voice in the decision-making process of the village.

Y Giri Rao, a tribal livelihood expert from Vasundhara, Bhubaneswar, said that the way the vaccination drive was initially undertaken, rendered the whole exercise futile.

“The tribal communities in the state are very simple and isolated and not exposed to the ideas and experiments on the covid front. They hardly see people with PPE kits, masks, gloves and other protective gear except in hospitals. The visits of health teams wearing such attire, without taking the local people in confidence first, led to opposition and reluctance among the community and affected the vaccination drive,” he said.

Vaccination in tribal areas across the state ran into several operational hiccups due to the shortage of vaccines and the indiscriminate and innumerable closure of drives in several districts. Tribal areas remained the worst-affected as the closures were compounded by vaccine hesitancy and opposition from the community. Moreover, these areas had the least teledensity, smartphone penetration and lack of literacy making it harder for communities to register the fast-dwindling slots online.

Experts also claimed that in several tribal villages, different members of the households often visit forests to collect forest produce or for farming, and unscheduled visits by health teams in such areas have failed to evoke a good response. Some also suggested creative means of communication like skits and folk arts to win the trust of the communities and spread the message.

Gautam Mohanty, Programme Officer at Odisha Tribal Empowerment and Livelihood Programme (OTELP), which was the nodal agency responsible for vaccinating PVTGs, said that at least 20,346 members of the PVTGs above the age of 45 years have been vaccinated till now and a total of 2,342 persons in the 18-44 age group have also been vaccinated.

Mohanty said that although OTELP and the health department faced several challenges, it has worked on special plans to counter them.

“The situation was challenging initially, where we saw many people fleeing to forest areas in tribal villages to avoid vaccination but this has changed and we are proving successful now. We started taking the local leaders and volunteers from such areas into confidence and used them to create awareness in their own language and local beliefs.”

Mohanty also said that village-to-village awareness campaigns with microphones, incentives to visit quarantine centres, special covid-kits for the villagers, etc. helped them to garner their support and that the situation is likely to improve soon.

(The author is a Bhubaneswar-based freelance journalist and a member of 101Reporters.com, a pan-India network of grassroots reporters.)

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Indian hockey owes it to Odisha CM for its moment of glory

Prior to the Tokyo Olympics, Hockey team custodian Sreejesh PR, who hails from Kerala, referred to Odisha as his “second home” and hailed the state government’s contribution towards developing sports in the country…reports Asian Lite News.

India has scripted history already in Olympics. In a first ever, India has both its men’s and women’s team reach the semi-final of Olympics. For the men’s team it’s a feat after 41 long years. Once undisputed world champions, Indian hockey which produced some legends the world still remembers hit a steady decline. But that didn’t mean that fans of the sport and patrons of the game lost interest. 

The revival of Hockey in India can be rightfully credited to Government of Odisha-led by Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik. The CM, himself a hockey goal keeper during his school days and an avid sports lover, decided that Odisha would sponsor Indian Hockey.

Odisha CM

In 2018, when the official sponsor of the National teams pulled back, Patnaik placed his bets on hockey. Not only did he support Indian Hockey with finance and infrastructure, the basics for the game was developed from the grassroots in the state as well.

For a country which dominated hockey at the international stage, the results of late haven’t shown the expected dominance. Since making its Olympic debut in 1928, India has won a record eight gold medals. The last one came in 1980. However, history was scripted on August 1 and August 2, and it would not be an exaggeration to give some credit for it to Patnaik.

Prior to the Tokyo Olympics, Hockey team custodian Sreejesh PR, who hails from Kerala, referred to Odisha as his “second home” and hailed the state government’s contribution towards developing sports in the country.

“The world today knows Odisha as the hub of sports. It’s a super sports hub. When we train in Odisha, it feels like our second home. Nowadays if you ask kids in Odisha, they don’t want to be IAS officers or get government jobs. All of them want to play sports because they have now seen that you can have good things through sports,” said Sreejesh.

Patnaik believed in the potential of India’s national team players to bring back the lost glory. After the back to back wins, Naveen’s advice to both the team was, “Keep the momentum going and wish the team best of luck.”

Odisha’s tryst with Hockey has been continuing for some decades now. It has sent some of the best players to the national men’s and women’s teams in the last few decades. Sundargarh district has become the cradle of hockey in India today. While becoming the sports capital of the country, Odisha has added the best hockey infrastructure in the state. The Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar is one of the best hockey stadiums in the world. Odisha is also adding another feather to its hockey infrastructure cap in the form of an international hockey stadium in Rourkela. The Birsha Munda stadium, being built with an expenditure of more than Rs 120 crore, will host the 2023 Men’s World Cup. It is a rare fete for a state or country to host two consecutive World Cups.  The state government has also set up a high performance centre at the Kalinga Stadium Sports Complex in Bhubaneswar for imparting world-class training to budding hockey players.

In the last few years, Odisha has hosted some of the most important events in international hockey including the Men’s FIH Pro League, Men’s FIH Olympic Qualifiers, Women’s FIH Olympic Qualifiers, Men’s Hockey Series Finals, Men’s Hockey World Cup, Men’s FIH Hockey World League, Hockey Champions Trophy. The successful hosting of the 2018 Hockey Men’s World Cup in Bhubaneswar made it possible for is to bag the prestigious event for the second time.

The state government has been contributing generously for the development of the game by building mini stadiums in each and every corner of the state. The state run sports hostels are churning out the bright players of tomorrow. Patnaik’s eagerness to promote the National Game of the country is clearly visible in his efforts in the last two decades. He has also entrusted the development of the sports infrastructure in the able and experienced hands of officers who are leaving no stone unturned.

One of the biggest achievements and contributions of Odisha to Hockey in the recent times is the Sponsorship of the Indian Hockey Teams. Odisha signed a multi-million dollar deal with Hockey India in 2018 to sponsor the National Men’s and Women’s team for five year till 2023. For this, the Odisha government will spend a whopping Rs 150 Crore. For a country obsessed with cricket, this patronisation came at the right time. It has helped immensely in supporting the game at its difficult times.

According to Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, “Hockey in Odisha is more than a sport; it’s a way of life, especially in our tribal regions, where children learn to walk with hockey sticks. No wonder, Odisha has produced some of India’s finest hockey players. This is a first where a state government will not just be promoting a sport within its boundaries but will support and nurture the national teams.”

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COVID-19 Lite Blogs

Poor enrolment prompts Odisha govt to shut rural schools

While his parents remain undecided on the future course of action, the pandemic has added to their worries…reports Tazeen Qureshy.

Even as the Covid-19 pandemic has caused severe damage to the education system in the country, the students in Odisha are facing a challenge of a different kind. The Odisha government has been on a spree to shut schools with a low enrolment of students.

It started in 2014 when close to 200 schools with low student strength were shut. In 2019, close to 1,000 schools with less than 10 students were either merged or closed down. In fact, the state government had planned to shut close to 14,000 schools in phases, but the number was reduced to half last year after the issue was taken up by the Right to Education (RTE) Forum and opposition parties.

Debendra Mahakud (nine) of Kaptipada block in Mayurbhanj district of Odisha, is a fourth standard student in Saharasahi Primary school, which is barely 100 metres from his house. Prior to the establishment of this school, the village children had to cross a patch of forest to attend the nearest school in a nearby village. To ward off inconvenience in commuting, the state government had established the Saharasahi school a decade back. But now, the primary school faces closure due to low student strength. The next option for Debendra is another school which is 3 km away from his house. Though the classes are currently suspended due to the pandemic, his father, a daily wage labourer, is sceptical of continuing education when the classes resume.

“I am not sure if my son can continue his education. The new school is far away and I can’t let him travel alone. When he was studying in the old school, I could keep an eye on him and ensure he attended classes. But it will be difficult to keep a watch on him if he goes to the new school. He is a young boy and there are chances that he might skip classes. Also, I am not very convinced about his safety as he has to cover a patch of forest to reach the new school,” said his father.

While his parents remain undecided on the future course of action, the pandemic has added to their worries.

“He has already lost one year of proper study lessons even though he has been promoted to class IV as per the guidelines. There were some students in our village who took tuition, but since we couldn’t afford it, my son will remain behind them.”

Grassroots level activists who have worked in the field of education believe these changes will only encourage drop-outs.

“In remote areas, the people are usually not into educating their children. The kids start work at a young age and contribute to the household income. It had taken a lot to convince the villagers to send their children to schools and provide them with education. By shutting down schools, accessibility will become an issue and it will lead to drop-outs especially among the girl children,” said Amar Ranjan Bhoi, associated with a local organisation.

In its defence, the government says that closure is inevitable in some cases as it is practically difficult to implement mid-day meal schemes and appoint teachers in schools with low student strength. But, parents and experts say the reason has to do with the quality of education.

Shehnaz, a VI standard student, explained the low enrolment problem. She used to study in Raghunathpur primary school in Dharamshala block of Jajpur district but opted out in 2018. She said the school had only one teacher and they didn’t have regular classes. Like her, many other students withdrew their admission and got themselves enrolled in another school 2 km away from their village. In 2019, the school was shut down due to low student strength.

“My previous school was 200 metres away from my house. But, the teaching was not good. One teacher had been appointed and he would take classes at his own convenience. I informed my parents who then decided to change schools. Many other students from the area followed suit. So, the strength of Raghunathpur school came down and was shut. The problem is with the education quality,” she said.

While Shehnaz is among the fortunate ones whose parents have agreed to send their daughter to school despite the distance, other students have not been so lucky. Either the kids are too young to be sent to school alone or the transport cost is higher.

To address the issue of commuting, the government has proposed a ‘transportation cost’ based on the attendance of the students, but experts say that won’t solve the problem.

“The problem is the government is trying to look into solutions without looking at the actual issue. The issue here is low enrolment in schools and why it is happening. Without addressing this, the government is focussing on transportation. The reality is that there are no adequate teachers nor proper classes. So, it is obvious that the students are dropping out. Even if the government bears the transportation cost, how it can be sure that students staying in tribal areas will attend classes. In tribal areas, the terrain is not easy, so even if they get money, they will have to wade through forests and rivers just to attend school. Practically, this won’t be possible and they will drop out,” said Anil Pradhan of RTE Forum.

After protests by activists and political parties, the government has ‘officially’ put the school closure decision on hold. But field workers say, on the ground, the implementation is on.

“It is difficult to gauge the exact situation due to the pandemic as all the schools are closed. But, our field officers have informed us that in several parts, the school has been shut down and the school furniture and supplies have been removed. This is a very unfortunate step,” said Pradhan.

(The author is a Bhubaneshwar-based freelance journalist and a member of 101Reporters.com, a pan-India network of grassroots reporters.)

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