Deciphering Regional Disparity in Western Odisha: Looking Through the Prism of History

AuthorKeshab Chandra Ratha
Publication Date01 Jun 2020
Deciphering Regional
Disparity in Western
Odisha: Looking
Through the Prism
of History
Keshab Chandra Ratha1
Western Odisha has experienced hardships as the most backward region in the
state of Odisha in all domains. The discrimination in terms of infrastructure,
poverty reduction, literacy, education and health in this region by the succes-
sive governments of Odisha, establishment of institutions like Western Odisha
Development Council (WODC) with its headquarters at Bhubaneswar with a
small fraction of budget, less representation of people in decision-making bod-
ies create a feeling of neglect and deprivation. The major thrust of this paper
is to explore the multifarious factors causing the regional disparity in Western
Odisha. It is only through mass awareness, empathetic, soft corner attitude of
both central and state governments, involvement of NGOs, civil society organi-
sations and change in power structure of the Koshal region regional balance in
the state can be ensured.
Regional disparity, cultural identity, economic exploitation, coastal conspiracy
The genesis of regional discontent in the Western region goes back to the agitation
against the merger of Odiya princely states. The anti-merger activists rejected
outright common linguistic grounds as basis for merger of Odiya princely states.
Instead, they supported for a separate political identity for Odiya princely states.
Indian Journal of Public
66(2) 240–255, 2020
© 2020 IIPA
Reprints and permissions:
DOI: 10.1177/0019556120922834
1 Department of Political Science, Pallishree (Degree) College, Chichinda, aff‌iliated to Sambalpur
University, Odisha, India.
Corresponding author:
Keshab Chandra Ratha, Department of Political Science, Pallishree (Degree) College, Chichinda,
aff‌iliated to Sambalpur University, Bargarh, Pin – 768104, Odisha, India.
Ratha 241
The displacement of people and the loss of land and property due to the construction
of Hirakud Dam and Rourkela Steel Plant as well as the rise of the regional political
party, the Ganatantra Parishad (GP), are instrumental to the origin of regional
discontentment in Western Odisha. Against this backdrop, regionalism is on the
rise in Western Odisha, due to regional cleavages and prevalence of socio-economic
disparities and political inequalities. In ancient times, the empire of Utkal-Kalinga
and the kingdom of Koshal-Hirakhand grew well in the coastal belt and the Western
region, respectively. In Mughal and Maratha period, the coastal belt was referred
to as Mughalbandi’, and the Western region was identified as ‘Garhjats’. In
colonial times, the coastal belt developed a distinct colonial identity under direct
British administration, whereas the Western region gained possession of an
oppressive feudal identity under native rule. The symbolic values and nostalgic
sentiments created by these regional histories increasingly exerted influence on the
formation of regional identities in united Odisha.
The backwardness of this region in education has been brought out by two major
government documents: the Ghadei Committee Report and the Mohanty Commission
Report. The higher education controversy in Odisha is a sensitive political issue that
has resulted in state assembly walkouts, violence and unrest, and it has been a theme
of scholarly publications. Western Odisha trails behind in comparison to the rest
of the regions of the state, in terms of infrastructure, poverty reduction, literacy,
education and health. According to scholarly reports, the distribution of these
institutions across the states is highly tilted and mainly depends on the politi-
cal influence. The heavy cluster of centrally and state-funded institutions, in and
around Bhubaneswar and Cuttack only, with almost nil percentage of such institu-
tions in Western Odisha clearly reflects a step-motherly treatment to this region.
The non-allocation of quality educational institutions to Western Odisha by the
successive governments has been construed from various quarters, ranging from
politicians to researchers and academics, as a proof of discrimination against the
region by the coastal-centric government. Western Odisha has not been allotted
any institution of national importance and continues to be the last region in terms
of per capita investment in human resources. Odisha has numerous government
educational institutes, among which Veer Surendra Sai University of Technology
(VSSUT), Burla, Sambalpur is the oldest. Although a front runner for housing
the prestigious Indian Institute of Engineering Science and Technology (IIEST)
in Odisha, it was allegedly relegated into background when identifying poten-
tial IIESTs and IITs. The only IIT was set up at Bhubaneswar. The Padampur–
Balangir–Kalahandi region of Western Odisha is one of the most backward
regions of India, with famines and large scale starvation deaths reported each
year. There has been a long standing demand for a central university in this region.
A Central Tribal University is also a genuine demand of this area. National inte-
gration cannot be complete unless there is equitable growth. Without better infra-
structure, this region cannot expect the kind of investment required for a holistic
growth of the state economy.
The problem of regional development in a national context did not entertain
adequate attention by the policy makers. Some of the already developed regions

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