top of page

Transformation of India's Poorest District: Before and After

BHAWANIPATNA (KALAHANDI DISTRICT): Kirati Majhi, 62, is a busy man on Sunday morning. He is up early and out grazing his herd of goats at his village Ichhapur, on the outskirts of Bhawanipatna, the headquarter town of Odisha’s Kalahandi district.

But Kirati’s mornings have not been rosy all his life, growing up in poverty-stricken Kalahandi, working with his father at a landlord’s house as a “halia” (working in lieu of paddy) to support his family.

“Back in those days, we would be awestruck watching leaders, including PMs, who flew down to Kalahandi to see poverty here. But we also saw the helplessness in the eyes of our parents, not being able to fetch a square meal for the family. The famine in the 70s broke Kalahandi’s back. Most children were malnourished,” Kirati said.

Kirati today lives in a pucca house with his wife, son and daughter. He also runs an eatery in the village. Kirati now owns a motorcycle too, which he rides between Ichhapur and Bhawanipatna town to buy essentials for his family and the eatery.

The transformation in Kirati’s life is also the story of Kalahandi’s massive turnaround – from a place that got associated with famine, starvation deaths, malnutrition, distress migration and children being sold to fetch money for food to being a significant rice producing area, contributing the second-highest paddy yield in Odisha after Bargarh.

The district now has a university in Bhawanipatna, which also has an airport, gyms, parks and a café run by women.

Not just Kalahandi, Odisha as a whole is making rapid strides. Once known for poverty and famine, the state is now a mining and industrial powerhouse where the per capita income has grown faster than the national average for over a decade.

I was young but I remember elections when everyone promised to eradicate poverty, prevent malnutrition. They all talked of hunger and death. Now, the discourse is all about development, entrepreneurship for women, employment for youth. From talking about hunger to peddling hope, Kalahandi has come a long way,” Kirati said.

He, and many others in Kalahandi, feels politics around starvation has lost its appeal here.

Incidents that shook the nation once, and put a black spot on Kalahandi, are a thing of the past. People here recall with horror the reported starvation deaths – which successive governments have denied – between 1984 and 2006, in the Kalahandi-Balangir-Koraput (KBK) region.

Congress veteran Bhakta Charan Das, who has been an MP from Kalahandi and is now a candidate from Narla assembly seat, has accompanied two former PMs – Rajiv Gandhi and PV Narasimha Rao – to the poverty belt.

“Kalahandi has undergone a metamorphosis. Gone are those days when there was problem of food scarcity and hunger. Now, there is access to remote tribal areas and irrigation facilities have improved. Our focus now is to enhance rural job opportunities for youth to bring down the rate of distress migration,” Das said.

Statistics bear out these claims. From 4.24 lakh metric tonne of annual rice production in 2000, the district has grown more than 2 lakh metric tonne in two decades, with the current production pegged at 6.57 lakh metric tonne.

“Welfare schemes have ensured there is no shortage of foodgrain in Kalahandi. Road connectivity and boost in health infrastructure have improved lives in remote parts of the district. It is established now that no one is left hungry in Kalahandi anymore,” said Dasarathi Acharya, a retired professor, who recalled a childhood where getting two meals a day was a distant dream.

Acharya felt the Indravati irrigation project was a game changer since 2000, changing the dry region of south Kalahandi into a green zone.

Nilakantha Behera, 57, a businessman here, recounts how there would be competition among political leaders promising to eradicate poverty and starvation every time an election came up.

“But not anymore. Especially since 2009 elections, the rhetoric around Kalahandi’s poor condition began to fizzle out. Politicians realized it was no longer working,” he said.

The district now has a university named after its presiding deity Maa Manikeswari. The 100-bed Saheed Rendo Majhi Medical College and Hospital is a recent addition.

0 views0 comments


Rated 0 out of 5 stars.
No ratings yet

Add a rating
bottom of page