Odisha government has proposed a set of conditions to join the ‘Aspirational districts’ programme of NITI Aayog and has suggested changes in the list of backward districts, additional funding or revival of the backward region grant fund and most importantly asserted that the ‘Prabhari central officers for each district’ need to discuss with the state before sending any report to the centre.
It is pertinent to note that Odisha was one of the few states that had strongly objected to the Aspirational district programme espoused by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on several grounds and said it was designed against the federal spirit of the Constitution.
Odisha had pointed out that the decision and selection of backward districts was done unilaterally by the centre, the ‘prabhari officer from the centre’ had been another imposition when the state has already been deputing secretary level IAS officer to such districts. It had firmly stated that such matters ought to have been discussed at the national development council.
The state chief secretary had written a firmly worded letter raising these objections to NITI Aayog. He had also stated that the centre had scrapped the backward region grant fund and squeezed funding for KBK area, IAP etc which were part of the backward districts.
Odisha has boycotted the first meeting of the district level officers under the programme addressed by PM Narendra Modi at Delhi. Union Petroleum Minister Dharmendra Pradhan had criticised the state government for its opposition and had even sent letters to the CM Naveen Patnaik and chief secretary A P Padhi giving a video link of the PM’s speech requesting them to listen to it and join the programme rather than depriving the people of backward districts from the scheme.
Reliable sources, however, said that NITI Aayog, as well as the PMO, was on the defensive over the points raised by Odisha government and certain officers of the PMO as well as NITI Aayog had telephonic discussions with the bureaucrats here including the CMO persuading them to soften their stand.
NITI Aayog vice-chairman Rajiv Kumar had, on 17 February visited Odisha and discussed the matter with officers and the CM to join the nationwide Aspirational district programme.
It is learnt that Mr Rajiv Kumar had no answer as to how districts like Dhenkanal were selected ignoring other more backward areas of the state.
The NITI Aayog vice chairman appreciated genuine concerns of the state and had offered to mediate with officers to sort out the issues. CM Naveen Patnaik had also told him of how coal royalty was not being revised, central assistance for KBK stopped etc.
Besides, several issues in the interest of Odisha including raising central fund from 75pc to 90pc under State Natural Disaster Fund, relaxation of rules under Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana (PMGSY) for the blocks in 38 LWE affected areas etc. Mr Kumar said the state government can alter or make changes in the 8 districts selected by the centre.
More recently, a couple of days ago, Odisha Finance Minister S B Behera and MLA A S Nayak had attended a function for legislators at Delhi where the PM once again appealed states to join the Aspirational programme.