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Rice @ Re. 1, Poll Politics & Rural Economy

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By Dr.Sasmit Patra: On 26th January, 2013, Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik declared from Cuttack in his Republic Day speech that the beneficiaries of the Annapurna Scheme tending to the BPL families in Odisha, people under Antyodaya scheme, APL families in KBK region, SC & ST residential hostels would avail of Re 1 per kilo rice instead of Rs 2 per kilo from February 2013. Though politically and electorally this might have significance and the advisors of Naveen might have impressed on him about the benefits of providing cheaper rice at Re 1 per kilo, but for the rural economy it has struck a death knell, the ring of which has set alarm bells for Odisha’s economy as a whole.

The work culture in the rural economy in Odisha was already suffering due to the Rs. 2 per kilo rice. Rural labour was rapidly depleting as more and more rural labour drew sustenance from cheap rice and therefore opted out for languid lives considering that on a BPL card about 25 kilos of rice could be purchased only for Rs.50. With the Re 1 per kilo rice, the total purchase cost would fall to Rs. 25 and which would further tempt the rural labour to give up work in itself and sleep comfortably in full knowledge that with their hunger taken care of by Naveen, the world can go fend for itself while they lounge around the whole day in their surreal dream world with the cheap rice.

Secondly, with a vacuum being generated in the rural economy due to the lack of local labour, it would lead to greater migration to rural labour from states like West Bengal, Bihar, Jharkhand and Andhra Pradesh who would fill in the space in the rural economy of Odisha. It will lead to changing demographics. The settlers who would come from other states would over a period of 50 years become a part of the population, have BPL cards, Voter ID cards and permanent residences which would lead to a shift in demographics and could have long term socio-economic repercussions once the migrating settlers start asserting their rights.

It would also lead to a situation when Bangladeshi settlers from Assam and the North East could migrate to Odisha due to the vacuum in the states’ labour market and thereby lead to long-term issues of migrants and sociological strife on the future.

Thirdly, scarcity of rural labour will lead to increased mechanized farming on a cost sharing basis by the farming classes. The concept of share-cropping would also undergo a massive decline and thereby also hit the production and productivity of crops in rural Odisha. Leaning on mechanized farming methods to circumvent the lack of rural labour will lead to the phasing out of the labour’s involvement in agrarian activities of the state.

The next generation of rural Odisha will grow up in the same aura of “cheap rice culture” which will adversely affect their sense of purpose and sustainability of life as they too would veer around to a life of cheap existence and cheaper rice. Therefore an entire generation would grow into a cheaper rice generation. The industrious nature of Odisha would be lost; if at all it is prevalent in bits and pieces today.

With the Re.1 per kilo rice, Naveen might score political brownie points but in fact has exposed himself as a leader who is bereft of imaginative political thinking and administrative governance. His self belief that cheaper rice will get him greater votes might have propelled him to undertake this economically disastrous decision, but on hindsight, history will hold him guilty for having destroyed the rural economy of the state, the impact of which would be felt not only by this generation but by the generations to come as well.

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