Bhubaneswar: Odisha Assembly today unanimously adopted a resolution requesting the Centre to award special category status to the state and provide additional central grants and fiscal incentives for its development.
A motion in this regard, moved by Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, was supported by all political parties, including the main opposition Congress. The resolution was passed in the House after seven-hour long discussion on the subject.
This was for the second time that a unanimous resolution seeking special category status has been adopted in Odisha Assembly. The first such resolution was passed on November 18, 1997, though separate motions had been moved twice in the past, assembly sources said.
CPI also supported the motion, but no member from BJP participated in the discussion except the party-backed Independent MLA Pratap Sarangi.
Incidentally, this was for the first time that the opposition Congress joined the ruling BJD in the demand for special category status.
"We strongly support the motion moved by the Chief Minister as it is linked to the interest of the people of Odisha," Leader of Opposition Bhupinder Singh said.
While supporting the motion, Congress Chief Whip Prasad Harichandan, however, cautioned the ruling BJD against politicising the issue.
He said the previous Congress government had made several attempts to secure special category status for Odisha.
The Chief Minister said the demand has two objectives -- to seek more liberal funding from Central government to further strengthen efforts for accelerated development of the state and to seek tax breaks that special category states get for attracting private investment.
Claiming that special category status is a "matter of right" of the state and national priority, Naveen Patnaik said Odisha has historically faced several disadvantages vis-a-vis other developed states.
"The major one was the introduction of the Freight Equalisation Policy (FEP) by the Central Government in early 1960s. This policy systematically discriminated against mineral-rich eastern states including Odisha.
"And it did not encourage private investment to promote industrialisation of the state. The normal development process of the state was thus affected and Odisha and other mineral rich states could not take advantage of their rich natural resources," Patnaik said.
The Chief Minister said the FEP significantly contributed to inter state disparities. "Our demand for special category status is to undo some of the damage that Odisha suffered as a result of the FEP for almost 30 years," Patnaik said.
Referring to the criteria to get special category status, he said though Odisha did not have an international border, it has a weak financial resource base and its development needs are huge.
Odisha's socio-economic and human development indicators are also much lower than the national average and also those of most special category states.
Since the state's population comprises sizable number of tribals and dalits and a large portion is covered by hilly and difficult terrain, it requires special attention, he said.
He said Odisha's fight for special category status was far from over. "There is a need for more vigorous and concerted efforts of all concerned to seek special category status for the state with a view to improving the socio-economic condition of more than four crore people and meeting their development aspirations," Patnaik said.
He also said the Centre "must" revisit and modify the criteria for state to achieve special category status.