August 09, 2018

Warning for Odisha Govt: 56K Adolescent Girls Drop Out of School

Two ministries of the Odisha government are at loggerheads over the dropout rate of ‘adolescent girls’ from school, in the state. Last week, based on a baseline survey, the department of Women and Child Development and Mission Shakti (WCD-MS) claimed that nearly 56,000 girls, in the age group of 11-14, are out of school.

The survey was done to trace out the number of beneficiaries to be included under the central government-sponsored Scheme for Adolescent Girls (SAG), which has been universalised in the state since 1 April 2018. A letter from Anu Garg, Principal Secretary of WCD-MS department, to her counterpart in the School and Mass Education Department, specified that 55,868 girls of 11-14 years, were out of school.

Hours after the WCD-MS survey results were made public, Badri Narayan Patra, the School and Mass Education Minister, claimed only 1,060 girls in the aforesaid age group were out of school till September 2017. The minister was citing the figures from a survey done by the School and Mass education department.

The Conflict Over Data
The unimaginable gap between the data provided by two different government departments has left many intellectuals and educationists scratching their heads.

“This is just a joke from the minister. If the department has given him this number then its survey is either too limited,or it’s hiding the reality to save its face,” said Anil Pradhan, Convener of the Odisha Right to Education (RTE) forum.

However, the minister has been showing old data (of September 2017) and his department might have collected it from the schools, particularly on dropouts. It doesn’t have a system to go to communities to gather data. On the other hand, the data provided by the WCD-MS department includes girls who never enrolled, enrolled but never attended school, and girls who dropped out of schools, explained an official from WCD-MS department on condition of anonymity.

Somehow, because of its presence at the grassroot level, through the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) network, WCD-MS data seems more reliable, said Panchanan Mishra, a community development practitioner based in the tribal district of Kandhamal. He said, “The mass education minister should realise this fact instead of challenging the latest data.”
The minister should understand that his figure, which is completely at odds with the latest numbers, would deprive a huge number of adolescent girls from receiving the benefits of SAG, the source at WCD-MS said.

SAG aims to address the multi-dimensional needs of out-of-school adolescent girls between 11 and 14 years, and to motivate these girls to join formal or informal school systems for a better future.

Policy Failure of Naveen Patnaik Government?

With so many policies and schemes like the Odisha State Policy for Girls and Women, the Biju Kanya Ratna Yojana, and programmes specifically designed for adolescent girls, the School and Mass Education department of Odisha government has been claiming a high rate of success in the education of the girl child. But the aforesaid survey results from the Women and Child Development and Mission Shakti (WCD-MS) department has opened Pandora’s Box.

“The Education Minister should believe that the data collected by WCD-MS is even less than the reality,” insisted noted human rights activist and lawyer Biswapriya Kanungo, who has filed a case with the National Human Right Commission (NHRC) citing the issue as a gross violation of the fundamental right to education of every Indian upto the age of 14.
The Odisha government, however, claims a huge success in the enrollment of girls and bringing back girl dropouts to schools under the the State Policy for Girls and Women and the Biju Kanya Ratna (BKR) scheme in specific districts.
The State Policy of Girls and Women envisages an expenditure of about 500 crores over a period of time to ensure development and empowerment of girls. Besides, with a budget of 3.5 crore rupees between 2016-2017 and 2018-19, the Biju Kanya Ratna Yojana implemented in three districts of Angul, Dhenkanal and Ganjam works to address gender bias and issues related to the girl child.

Ironically, the tribal populated KBK (undivided Koraput, Bolangir and Kalandi districts) region has the most number of out of school girls with Koraput claiming top spot, with 10,599 such girls. Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik’s home district of Ganjam has 4,296 out-of-school girls, despite the implementation of Biju Kanya Ratna scheme.

“It completely reflects gross failure of policies that have more become vote-centric than development-centric. This could be attributed to the fact that children of none of the ministers and political leaders, bureaucrats and policy makers go to a government-run educational facility,” Kanungo said.

RTE activist Anil Pradhan told The Quint, “There is no dearth of funds but a huge lack of political will, bureaucratic interest and involvement.

A Chance at a Better Life

“It’s a warning call. It seems that the future of such huge numbers of adolescent girls is bleak. Most of these girls would be forced to marry early which would lead to more child marriages. Many would become labourers and several would be vulnerable to various types of abuse,” Rukmini Panda, a Bhubaneswar-based commentator on gender said.

Panda asked, “How can the state achieve the goals of development by depriving so many girls of their basic right to education, which would force them towards early and unsafe motherhood?”
It’s globally accepted that at least 10 years of education among girls would reduce 64 percent of child marriages.

“And, when we are not addressing the issue of trying to get these girls back to schools and allow them to complete at least secondary level education, we are making their lives vulnerable — to child marriage, and to sexual and physical abuse,” Pradhan said.

“The government and civil societies must take it as a serious call for action to help these girls improve their lives. Instead of fighting over a discrepancy in data, all government departments should rather come together to ensure the best coverage of SAG in Odisha, and offer these adolescent girls from marginalised communities, a chance at a risk-free, healthy life, Rukmini Panda said.

This piece first appeared on The Quint.

July 26, 2018

Act now to spur urban climate resilience

Like most cities in India, Bhubaneswar is being driven to its knees due to extreme rainfall and intolerable temperatures, underscoring the urgent need for climate-smart urban planning 

After intense overnight showers, Bhubaneswar woke up on Saturday, July 21, morning with half the city under water. The situation at the capital of the eastern state of Odisha in many ways typifies poor urban management in India that is crumbling under adverse climatic conditions.

Residents in many parts of the city were stranded in their homes and the condition was so dire in some parts that the state’s disaster response team has to start rescue operations. Roads in the state capital looked like gushing streams. Disaster response forces moved to waterlogged areas with floating pumps to drain out water.

“Such situations have become annual events for the city of Bhubaneswar with heavy downpour becoming normal during rainy seasons,” Arun Samal, an accounts professional, told

Delayed monsoon

“There was only scanty rain since the onset of the monsoon till middle of July. Then, suddenly, we get two months’ rain within a week,” Samal said. “Such heavy rain for a short span would hardly help agriculture or serve any purpose but to make life miserable.” Within 24 hours till 8.30 AM, July 21, Bhubaneswar received a rainfall of 195 mm, according to Skymet Weather.

As the onset of monsoon was delayed this season, rain deficiency during June was 27% over Odisha. “As the rains continue to evade the state even during the first few days of July, thus until July 7, the deficiency mounted to a whopping minus 30%,” Skymet said.

According to India Meteorological Department data, rainfall in Bhubaneswar’s home district Khordha was deficient by 19% as on July 7. But, by July 21, the district received 29% surplus rainfall because of a few days of heavy rainfall. Although this cannot be directly related to climate change, untimely and intense rainfall is considered as one of the impacts of climate change.

Rise in the daytime ozone-mixing ratio due to high temperature during June could be provoking favourable conditions for higher ground level ozone formation and resulting in shifting the monsoon activation time to July, a study on surface ozone variation at Bhubaneswar suspected.

“Such pattern of a dry monsoon with a few days of extreme rainy days is induced by the phenomenon of climate change,” Prasanna Mishra, a retired bureaucrat and long time city resident, told

Summer heat

Even as extreme rainy days bring the city to a standstill, the heat on summer days is also becoming unbearable. This year in February, the highest temperature in Bhubaneswar reached 35 degrees Celsius, 7 degrees above normal. In March, the city remained the hottest in the country with 39.8 degrees. The mercury in the city touched 45.8 in April and continued to remain above 40 degrees during the next two months, with a lingering heat wave in the month of June, the month of monsoon’s onset.

“With high temperature and humidity, Bhubaneswar converts into a heat island during summer months almost since the past two decades,” Akshaya Pradhan, a physics teacher at the city based Biju Patnaik College of Science and Education, told

According to research, if wet bulb temperature (wet bulb temperature is a combined measure of temperature and humidity in the ambient air) exceeds 35 degrees Celsius, metabolic heat in humans can no longer be dissipated. Exposure to it for six hours would result in death even for the fittest of humans under shaded, well-ventilated conditions.

A sizable part of the Indian subcontinent is likely to experience more frequent and intensified heat waves and associated physical stress during the extended period covering the pre-monsoon to monsoon seasons, the research indicated.

Unruly expansion

Even though climate change is responsible for the extreme weather conditions experienced in Bhubaneswar, the impacts can be minimised through proper land use, said Mishra.

“Unfortunately, the city is expanding in an unruly manner. The natural channels for rainwater drainage are chocked at all ends and water bodies in the city have vanished to make space for housing and other commercial activities,” he said. “Despite strong guidelines, plans for high-rise buildings and apartments are being approved indiscriminately, without considering aspects like water drainage, sewage and waste management.”

Since most of the city is covered by concrete, there is no scope for the rainwater to seep into the soil, which would also recharge groundwater, said Niranjan Sahu, a tent house owner. “Because of this, groundwater level is continuously depleting,” he said.

Planned for a population of 40,000, Bhubaneswar now accommodates nearly a million people. As it expanded, things went erratic and now people face the problems, said Brundaban Dalabehera, a real estate developer.

Need of futuristic planning

“As the city now aspires to become the sports capital of India, it needs to address the issues that are vital to offer quality life to its denizens,” Dalabehera told

In order to protect the environment and avoid such man-made calamities, the city needs to restore its natural drainage systems on a priority basis, said Ramesh Swain, an architect and Bhubaneswar’s leading town planner.

“City planning needs to be futuristic considering what the city would be 20-30 years ahead and what would be population pressure and possible issues. People also should be educated to partner in the process,” he said.

Climate change impacts are being experienced globally and cities across the world are facing issues induced by it. Building resilience should be the priority to ensure sustainable urban growth.

Already ranked as a smart city, Mishra claimed, with two rivers and a wildlife sanctuary surrounding Bhubaneswar, Odisha’s capital city can become climate-smart and a model eco-friendly city if it is allowed to grow in harmony with nature and a bit of green is added to its development planning.

This article first appeared on the India Climate Dialogue, on July 23, 2018

July 18, 2018

Araku Valley takes baby steps to address maternal health

An initiative to reach healthcare services to pregnant women and new mothers in the underdeveloped Araku Valley, bordering Odisha's Koraput district, has seen a measure of success in tribal communities ruled by superstition and regressive practices

In a lively anganwadi or daycare center in Godiguda village, an auxiliary nurse midwife (ANM) conducting health check up of over 10 women, some pregnant and others lactating, reflected the changing scenario in maternal and child health in the Araku Valley of Andhra Pradesh.

Traditionally, delivery cases handled by a dhai, elderly women from the village or the community, being the practice, and pregnant women visiting a medical or a doctor considered an act against norm, pregnant mothers had to submit themselves to their fate despite high rate of maternal and neonatal mortality in the valley, Malati (35), who has decided to go for an institutional delivery for her sixth child, told

Since undergoing family planning surgery, using contraceptives and an abortion by choice are all considered sins against humanity, multiple pregnancies up to five-six children is quite common across the valley inhabited mostly by tribal people.

To add to the plight of women were the rough terrain and lack of communication facilities to reach the government primary and community health centers in times of urgency.

Awareness the key

“In a predominantly tribal society ruled by stigma and superstitions, influencing behavior to make these women folks attend regular health check up during pregnancy and opt for institutional delivery was a herculean task,” Pramila, a girl from the Araku Valley who works as ANM in the Asara tribal health project of Piramal Swasthya, told

Piramal Swasthya works in coordination with the government system to make health services available to tribal communities, particularly pregnant and lactating mothers and their newborns, in times of need. “Despite being from the local communities, we were threatened initially by a few male members for misleading the pregnant women by suggesting them to go for medical check-up and institutional delivery,” Pramila said.

If the mothers and their newborns were to be saved, bringing awareness on maternal and child health, possible complications during pregnancy and benefits of institutional delivery were essential. This idea drove Pramila and her colleagues like P. Padma to reach out to people, trace pregnant mothers and motivate them as well as other family members, such as the husband and elderly members, to avail health services for a safe delivery.

Now, most of the pregnant women like Malati of Godiguda and Vasanta (35) of Muliagalagu are not only coming for health checkup and consuming iron folic tablets as well as other nutrient supplementations, but also have decided to go for institutional delivery. “Earlier, we were unaware of the benefits of institutional delivery,” Vasanta said.

Making services accessible

However, accessing public health facilities was an issue for most hamlets. One had to walk miles through rough terrain to reach a paved road and get an ambulance to a health center. The time required to reach a hospital always remained crucial to pregnant mothers.

In order to make the facility reach people in need, a mobile hospital service with all facilities to handle a delivery case has been started under the Asara project. “Many pregnant mothers from remote hamlets who were at the last stage have delivered their babies in the mobile hospital vans,” T. Swarnalatha, program manager of the project, told

While the ANMs visit every hamlet to attend the pregnant mothers, the telemedicine centers with necessary equipment, nurses and a doctor work as the points for periodical health checkup, necessary treatment and expert consultation through teleconferencing. Mothers diagnosed with diseases that need further treatment are referred to government health care centers or district hospitals.

“Most mothers come with anemia and diseases like malaria and hypertension,” said medical doctor Sanmukha Reddy of Dumbriguda telemedicine center.

Nutrition-related challenges

As is the case with tribal communities of India, “anemia is most common among pregnant mothers and children of the Araku valley,” nutritionist Sweta Kuralla of Nandivalasa nutrition hub, a center under the Gosthani project to deal with nutrition-related issues, told

About 88.9% of adolescent girls are anemic, 17.8% being severely anemic. Highest prevalence was seen in the age group of 12-13 and 14-15 years that is 85% and 86.5% respectively, says a study on anemia among adolescent girls in the tribal areas of Visakhapatnam district in Andhra Pradesh.

According to National Family Health Survey 2015-16 (NFHS-4), 60% of women in Andhra Pradesh have anemia. Malnutrition being particularly common in the younger age groups of the scheduled tribes, 59% of children between the ages of 6 and 59 months are anemic. Girls are more likely than boys to have anemia.

While tribal mothers have high rates of anemia, and girl children receive less than the desired nutritional intake. All told, the whole tribal community is deficient in adequate food intake, says a report on reproductive health status, issues and concerns of tribal women.

Nutrition hubs

The nutrition hubs work to address the issue of undernourishment among pregnant women and children. Apart from advising them to take iron folic acid tablets during pregnancy, as provided by the government, “mothers are told to consume variety of vegetables, leaves and ragi in different forms for adequate micro-nutrient supplementation,” Kuralla said. “The nutrition hub trains the community on how to grow leaves and vegetables and prepare different types of foods for better nutrition.”

After years of efforts, “during pregnancy, women are now taking iron folic tablets,” Golleri Lakshmi, the accredited social health activist (ASHA) at Godiguda village, told

However, there are many issues to be overcome for sustainability of the changes that have come after the interventions.

Child marriage

The primary social issue in the valley is child marriage. As per NFHS-4 data, in rural Visakhapatnam, 34% of women between 20-24 years of age married before 18, and at least 10.5% of women between15-19 years of age have either become pregnant or become new mothers.

The scale of child marriage and early motherhood could be higher in tribal population. At least three in every five marriages involve brides below 18 years of age. “Normally girls in the communities marry after 14 years of age,” B. Abhiman, a political worker in Araku valley, told

It is established that girls aged 15-19 are twice as likely to die in childbirth than women in their 20s, and girls under 18 face a higher risk of pregnancy-related injuries such as fistula. Infants born to early adolescent mothers have a three-fold higher risk of post-neonatal death compared with adult mothers, studies found.

Need for education

Promotion of education among girls of tribal communities can address the issue and minimize the risk of child marriage and early pregnancy, says UN report, The Girl Child. In Visakhapatnam, female literacy in the tribal population has remained 34.67% only, according to the statistical abstract of Andhra Pradesh government. Rate of girls completing 10 or 12 years of education is abysmally low.

In regard to nutritional status of newborns, it is believed that the newborn must not be fed with the first milk of the mother, which deprives the child from highly nutritious colostrum and the antibodies the first milk contains. Apart from this, the tribal people of the valley do not consume cow milk, believing that it’s for the calves only.

Encouraging outcomes

Changing customary and normative beliefs and practices take time, said Vishal Phanse, Chief Executive Officer of Piramal Swasthya. “However, through the interventions so far in coherence with the government and district administration and by making use of technology for social good and development in public health sector, maternal mortality rate in all registered cases in the valley has come down to zero,” Phanse told

This is despite the fact that Visakhapatnam district has a maternal mortality rate (MMR) of 115 per 100,000 registered live births. “Our focus is now on improving the status of health of adolescent girls,” he added.

Once restricted to their communities, pregnant tribal women are now showing interest in medical check-up, taking medicines and nutritional supplements, and in institutional delivery for their own safety and the health of the child, Vasanta, a pregnant mother of Muliaguda village said.

“Covering 181 villages under the Asara project, we deal with 250-300 cases of pregnant mothers almost every time,” said T. Swarnalatha, the program manager.

Changing scenario

Overall, the scenario is changing. Women have understood the benefits of modern healthcare facilities. As the women and others in the communities are changing their minds, the government mechanism has also become active to respond to health related issues of women, B. Abhiman said.

“Tribal women in the valley have become conscious about their health during pregnancy, a safe delivery and the health of their babies,” Sanmukha Reddy said.

Other than the issues like child marriage, education of girls and normative beliefs left to be addressed through a holistic approach to make the impacts sustainable, results of intervention in the arena of maternal health and nutrition in Araku valley, on the northern edges of Andhra Pradesh bordering Odisha's Koraput district, have no doubt made it a model for wider replication across tribal India.

This report first appeared at the VillageSquare on July 16, 2018.

July 11, 2018

Community protection holds hope for climate change affected Similipal sanctuary

Impacted by climate change and human activity, hope for the Similipal biosphere reserve in the eastern state of Odisha has come from protection offered by area residents. 

 Standing in the backyard garden of his thatched house near the core area of the Similipal national park, Shyam Ho (50) of Kusumi village recalled his childhood when the forest around his village was thick and the primary source of food for his tribal community.

“We used to get everything, from tubers to leafy vegetables and a variety of fruits and berries, in the forest. Honey was abundant available in the hedges, the mud walls of our houses, and in the nearby forest. They all have become rare these days,” Shyam Ho said. “Today, we have to buy honey from collectors whenever we need it even for medicinal use. We don’t see so many varieties of honeybees around our villages these days.”

Although the forest is no longer bountiful, the impoverished people living around it have been spared from the spectre of acute hunger through a welfare scheme of the Odisha government that provides them rice, a local staple, at INR 1 (1.5 US cents) per kg, said Makara Ho (35) of Gudugudia, another village within the forest limits.

“With the pattern of rain becoming erratic and scarce most of the years, growing food through agriculture has become a risky affair,” Makara Ho told Droughts have become more frequent in recent years, agreed Laxman Ho, a friend of Makara.

It is becoming increasingly clear that the Simplipal biosphere reserve, a treasure of flora and fauna, and an important factor in regulating the local climate of Odisha, is facing the brunt of climate change.

Plant species affected

Famous in this part of the world as a habitat of big cats and elephants, among a variety of other mammals, birds and reptiles, Similipal is a thickly forested hill range in Odisha’s northern most district of Mayurbhanj. Its name is derived from the simul (silk cotton) tree and the hill range is referred to in Odia literature as Salmali Shaila (Hill of Simul) by eminent authors.

“At present, one can hardly find a simul tree in this forest,” said Arjun Mahakud, a forest guard at Chahala in the Similipal Tiger Reserve (STR). “Phanphania (Oroxylum Indicum or the Damocles tree), among one or two other species, which were common to this forest during our childhood, are almost extinct now.”

Sal (Shorea robusta) being the dominating tree, Similipal Biosphere Reserve (SBR) is a treasure house of 1,076 species of plants from 102 families and 96 registered species of orchids. “We have identified 94 orchid species but most of them have become rare,” Dharmeswar Naik, a worker at the Orchidarium in Karanjia division of STR, told “Vanda Tessellata (Grey Orchid) is becoming rare and the endemic Dendrobium Regium, called the Queen of Similipal, is shifting to north Similipal, where atmospheric temperature is relatively lower.”

A threatened species in the IUCN Red list, the decline of Vanda Tesselata has been attributed to changing environmental conditions, habitat loss and degradation.

Climate change has not only impacted orchids. “The other endemic plant species, Piasala, or the Indian Kino (Pterocarpus marsupium) is under attack from new diseases,” Arjun Mahakud added.

Deficient rainfall

Defining the climate in Similipal as wet tropical monsoon, Faunal Resources of Similipal Biosphere Reserve of Zoological Survey of India, Kolkata, notes, “The cyclones from the Bay of Bengal bring copious rains during July to October from low pressure at Bay of Bengal, which passes over north Balasore and strikes at Similipal Meghasan range. If the range were absent, then Odisha would have been a desert tract like Rajasthan,” the report says.

Similipal functions as a watershed, giving rise to many perennial rivers like Budhabalanga, Hadkei, Khairi, Bhandan, Salandi, etc. The rich water sources facing drought conditions more frequently is surely something odd to imagine, thus a matter of serious concern.

Rainfall data of the past five years (2013-17) for Mayurbhanj district shows a declining trend. Rainfall trend analysis for Mayurbhanj, done by scientists of Keonjhar-based regional research station of Orissa University of Agriculture and Technology, concludes: “Any year receiving rainfall less than or equal to 1,609.14 mm will be drought year.” The annual rainfall in the years 2015, 2016 and 2017 being 1,332.4, 1,424.6 and 1,504.1 mm respectively, the host district of Similipal forest has faced drought for three straight years.

“The precipitation behaviour in recent years reflects the rising trend of less precipitation and is expected to receive 70 cm (700 mm) average precipitation by the middle of next century,” cautions Faunal Resources of Similipal Biosphere Reserve of Zoological Survey of India, Kolkata.

Extreme weather conditions

An analysis of temperature data in the winter month of January and summer month of May over a period of 20 years (1995-2015) shows that Mayurbhanj district, the climate of which is completely influenced by Similipal, is slowly marching towards extreme temperature conditions.

While the average maximum temperature in the district in January has increased by 2.02 degree Celsius over the past two decades, the minimum temperature has fallen by 2.26 degree. The trend for May shows an increase of 1.42 degrees and a fall by 3.3 degrees in regard to average maximum and minimum temperatures.

“Though this is not yet an alarming change, it indicates more extreme temperature conditions in the future if no precaution measure is taken immediately,” Yugal Kishore Mohanta, a microbiology research scholar at Baripada-based North Odisha University, told “Such conditions may badly impact the rainfall pattern and alter the ecosystem.”

“Warmer temperatures lead to increased water losses from evaporation and evapotranspiration and can also result in reduced water use efficiency of plants,” Says the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) report on climate change impact on forest health. “Longer, warmer growing seasons can intensify these effects resulting in severe moisture stress and drought.”

Deforestation trail

Being the major food source for its human population and hunting ground for the local rulers, Similipal forest has been facing anthropogenic pressure since centuries.

Timber harvest to earn revenue was a practice during the British colonial rule. In the northwest region of Similipal, Badampahar remained a deforestation hotspot for years due to mining activities. With agriculture promoted among tribal communities to minimise pressure on the forest, deforestation took place to convert forestland into farmland. The southern part of Similipal witnessed large-scale deforestation for agriculture.

“There was 23% (946.1 sq. km) of reduction in the forest cover between 1930 and 1975. Within a period of 82 years (1930–2012), the forest cover decline was 970.8 sq. km (23.6% of the total forest),” according to a study based on satellite remote sensing data.

Analysis using Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) and normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI) found “significant negative changes” in the core areas of a few large protected areas of India including that of Similipal wildlife sanctuary.

“After relocation of villages in the core area of STR in the name of tiger protection and forest conservation, forest around those deserted villages are being wiped out to raise grassland,” Maheswar Nayak (61) of Balipaka, a village in the buffer zone of Similipal, told

“Such grasslands are being raised under meadow development scheme” implemented by the STR authorities, villagers said. The objective of the scheme is to maintain the existing meadows and improve those that have shrunk.

Carbon emission

Other than deforestation, forest fires have been the major culprit behind degradation of forest in SBR. As estimated by a study, the total area affected under forest fire in the SBR has been 23.7% in 2004, 11.5% in 2005, 24.8% in 2006, 23.5% in 2007 and 18% in 2008, 27.9% in 2009, 16.4% in 2010, 16.3% in 2011, 27% in 2012 and 14% in 2013.

The buffer and core zones of Similipal have been emitting more carbonaceous gases than the transition zone, the study found.

“Warmer climate means more fires, and more fires mean more greenhouse gases,” cautioned Odisha’s State Climate Change Action Plan, while suggesting necessary actions to evaluate the long-term effects of climate change on forests and determine what to do to respond to this threat.

Community management 

The Forest Right Act (FRA) of 2006 has recognised the rights of tribal and other communities traditionally living in Similipal sanctuary and empowered them with community forest rights to protect the forest and its critical resources — wildlife and biodiversity — within their respective dwelling areas. So far, community rights over forest resources of people living in 44 villages in Similipal have been recognised.

“We are entitled with community forest right (CFR) over 3,000 acre of forest in the buffer zone of Similipal sanctuary since 2015. During the last three years, sal and other local trees have regrown. We not only guard this forest from poaching activities but also allow it to rejuvenate to fulfil our food and livelihood demands,” Maheswar Naik, president of the Forest Right Committee of Balipaka village, told

According to villagers, they have collected a good amount of honey and fruits this year from the forest under their protection.

“These tribal people are worshippers of trees, forest and the nature. The heritage trees and sacred grooves, which are more than 300 years old, are testimony to this. They only were to be taken into confidence and entrusted with responsibilities to protect and conserve forest resources, and promote sustainable use of it in their communities,” said Bijaylal Mohanta of Jashipur-based non-profit Centre for Regional Education, Forest and Tourism Development Agency (CREFTDA), which helps tribal communities in filing community right claims, forming FRCs and functioning as per FRA guidelines.

The scenario is now changing. “As communities are protecting forest in the buffer area, human interference in the core area has drastically come down,” said Arjun Mahakud, the forest guard at Chahala in STR.

With community engagement in conservation activities, green cover is spreading over the barren edges of southern Similipal, raising hope about rejuvenation of the degraded forest to face and mitigate the challenges of climate change.

This article first appeared on the India Climate Dialogue, on July 9, 2018, under the title: Community protection holds hope for Simlipal Sanctuary.

May 30, 2018

Enterprising Odisha women take to selling fish to improve lives

Women in Odisha’s coastal fishing villages have turned to selling fish and value-added fishery products after eliminating middlemen and abolishing the home brewing of country liquor, the root cause of their problems.

Selling fish at the local fish market, Dulana Das (40) of Rambha village in Odisha’s Ganjam district took pride in introducing herself as a businesswoman instead of a fisherwoman. “I buy fish every morning from fishermen who fish in Chilika Lake and the nearby sea,” Dulana told“With a designated place for me in the market, and a 20% profit, I earn a good income.” 

“Women like Dulana have not only contributed to economic progress of their families, but to improvement of their social status too,” said A. Kaleya, a young man engaged in community development work. An ignored lot, the women rooted out problems one after the other, and emerged as successful entrepreneurs. “We are now treated like human beings,” said 75-year-old B. Chittamma (75) of Kotturu village.

Disregarded women

Decades ago, families and the community ignored their women. “Boozing being common among male members of almost all fishing villages, women didn’t get any respect, but always bore the brunt of alcoholism,” Chittamma told

Despite standard catch, the income was low because middlemen siphoned off the profit. They never paid the fishermen on time. The fisher families had to struggle for survival under economic pressure. Whether it was lack of money or the men’s frustration caused by paucity, women were the victims.

Chittamma came to Kotturu village as a young bride from neighboring Andhra Pradesh. “She suggested mobilizing fisherwomen to end their plights,” Mangaraj Panda of Ganjam-based non-profit United Artists’ Association (UAA) told

Women band together

As a first step, nine groups of fisherwomen, with 20 members in each group, were formed under Kalyani Nari Shakti Sangha in Kotturu. The number of groups soon increased to 14, when women formed five groups in an adjacent village named Arjipalli. The women first fought against brewing of country liquor and succeeded.

Their success in abolishing country liquor production in the villages encouraged the fisherwomen to address their financial problems next. They pooled in money and ventured into fish business in local markets.

The women paid cash immediately for the fish they purchased. They demanded outside vendors and middlemen to pay likewise while lifting the catch. “Though the vendors resisted initially, since they had to supply fish to the markets as per commitment and since our men supported us, they paid up,” said Chittamma.

Federating women’s groups

“This was the game-changer,” said Mangaraj Panda. “With this positive development, women in other villages across coastal Odisha formed groups and they too fought to end exploitation by middlemen.”

There were still some issues. Every group did not have equal access to the market to sell their stock. Prices of fish differed from place to place. In order to bring all the fisherwomen under one umbrella and develop common market linkages, they formed a federation named Samudram.

Started with 68 marine fisherwomen self-help groups (SHGs) having 1,360 members in 1998, Samudram now has 149 SHGs from 52 fishing villages of four coastal districts, namely, Ganjam, Puri, Jagatsinghpur and Balasore. The women conduct business individually as well as through groups.

In order to empower the fisherwomen as entrepreneurs, Samudram organized training sessions for them on hygienic methods of producing dry fish and other fishery-based products. “It opened up new earning opportunities for us and fetched better profit than the raw fish,” K. Eramma of Nolia Nuagaon village told

Samudram has set up fish procurement and processing centers equipped with refrigeration and drying racks for fresh fish, besides weighing and packaging machines at different places. Women own and manage the facilities.


“Even though income was important, catching and selling fish was not all, because the catch was falling day by day,” said Chittamma. “Instead of overexploiting this marine resource, we had to ensure long-term availability.”

“We didn’t know this resource is limited and the catch may fall further, and make us go out of business,” P. Kaumudi (50) of Nolia Nuagaon told“As experts explained the reasons for dwindling catch and actions needed, we changed our fishing practices.” The fishermen started using nets to spare the seeds and fingerlings. They declare no-fishing days periodically.

“Women also took up poultry and goat-rearing as alternate livelihoods during no-fishing months,” Kaleya told helped them make a living during the fishing ban from November to May, in the coastal seas of Ganjam, Puri and Kendrapara districts for the protection of Olive Ridley sea turtles during their annual nesting phenomenon called arribada.

According to fishermen, government and regulating authorities turn a blind eye to trawlers that violate norms and pose bigger threat to the ocean, its ecosystem and fish population. “Living on the coast and depending on the sea for livelihood, we have to protect the marine ecosystem and the visiting turtles to keep our sea healthy and dependable,” fisherwoman Kaumudi told

Tax hurdle

Samudram now faces the toughest hurdle since the implementation of Goods and Services Tax (GST). “As GST mandates 12% tax on packaged dry fish items, prices have increased, and so many of the wholesale buyers have stopped buying,” said Panda.

This has led to a halt in businesses by the groups and the federation. “The fisherwomen work individually now,” said Kaleya. The members contend that they are not educated enough to keep accounts and file GST. Some advised the women to hire a professional.

“It’s not feasible since we are not a corporate business, but make a living out of it,” said Chittamma. “Our progress will stop if community development and livelihood activities do not get tax exemption.”

Beyond business

Notwithstanding the let up in business due to GST, Samudram has not only helped the women earn, but has also empowered them to identify their potential and dream a better future for their children.

The women claimed stopping brewing of country liquor and stopping child marriage as their biggest achievements. They have helped construction of schools in villages to educate their children. “Girls go to college now, whereas they were not allowed to complete primary education earlier,” said Chittamma.

Undergraduate students like S. Puja and A. Kamla of Nolia Nuagaon are proud to be the first girls from their village to have joined college. “Our aim is to pursue higher studies and find jobs,” they said.

The groups have become sources of support to members in time of emergencies. “Samudram and the SHGs helped us overcome the damages caused by two major cyclones, namely, the Phailin in 2013 and the Hudhud in 2014,” B. Mahalaxmi (40) of Huma village told
The report first appeared on May 28, 2018, at the VillageSquare.

March 26, 2018

Yatri Panji: The Database Mystery of Puri

Inspired by the news of celebrities finding mention in the records of the Pandas in Puri, I wanted to verify what these records document and how the database has been maintained.

The curiosity was after President Prativa Devi Singh Patil saw mention in the personal records called ‘Yatri Panji’ of the traditional Panda (People traditionally engaged in various services of Jagannath Temple), Damodar Mahasuara, whose family has been looking after the pilgrims from the state of Maharastra and Gujarat.

Not only the President Mrs. Patil, but her husband also did find mention of his ancestors in the records maintained by the Pandas of Puri. 

Former President Gyani Zail Singh and former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee also were amazed to see the names of their forefathers in the database managed by the Pandas of Puri since time immemorial. 

Called Yatri Panji or Yatri Bahi (visitors’ register), the records of devotees from across India and Nepal besides parts of Afghanistan and present Pakistan, form a huge database of Hindus living across the globe and, in most cases, tells the devotees their origin and ancestral history. These registers may not mean anything to us, but they are the most precious property of the Pandas of Puri who have stored these notebooks carefully in steel almirahs and boxes.

‘This process of recording the details about the devotees is still in practice. We are also following this. But neither we nor, even, the old priests have any idea of who started it and when. “Maybe the system of maintaining records started with the aim to keep the city of Puri secured and nuisance free,” says a young Panda Somanath Pratihari describing the system that regulated all the affairs of the devotees in the abode of Lord Jagannath.

Earlier Puri was not a ‘free-for-all-visitors’ city as it is today. There existed a full-proof system to regulate inflow of devotees into the city and keep a watch on their activities. “In the past, the Pandas used to go to different parts of the country to propagate the cult of Lord Jagannath which, they believed, was a part of their services. They used to prepare the document of devotees interested to visit Puri for a darshan of Lord Jagannath. Then the devotees were to come in due process,” said Somanath. 

The Panda had to hand over the document carrying the names and details of the devotees interested to visit Puri to a man designated as ‘Bata Gumasta’ who would bring the devotees to the outskirts of Puri. Then the devotees had to be looked after by the ‘Ghata Gumastas’ in charge of four Ghats – ‘Swargadwar’, ‘Atharanala’, ‘Mangala’ and ‘Balighat’. The visitors had to give details of their plans in Puri to the Ghata Gumasta who was supposed to manage their stay till darshan of Lord jagannath. As, during those times, a limited number of visitors were allowed for darshan a day, the Ghata Gumasta had to confirm the day of visit for the devotees and hand over an approved number of visitors to the ‘Dhulia Gumasta’ whose duty was to take the devotees till the temple. At the temple was ‘Deuli Gumasta’ who was in charge of taking the visitors inside the temple for the darshan. Each Panda had his own Gumastas to carry out the jobs at four stages. So, in the process, all the devotees who visited Puri for Jagannath Darshan were documented and finally the documents went to the Panda. The database kept being updated every year and went on expanding with records of devotees through generations. 

The expanse of the database with the communities engaged in Jagannath temple services can be well-imagined from the limits the Pandas went through to venture out and propagate the Jagannath Cult and make a list of people interested to see their Lord in Puri. The database included visitors from Kabul, Kandahar, Nepal to Kanyakumari. The vast expanse of the landscape was divided into a number of territories putting one Panda or one family in charge of each territory. For example, one Panda looked after Punjab, Kabul and Kandahar; Nepal remained under one Panda; from Orissa’s Berhampur in Ganjam District to Kanyakumari – the southern part of India remained under one Panda. “Members of the community, i.e. the Pandas, used to start their journey to the respective territories after the rainy season and come back by Akshaya Trutiya to attend the first ritual of theLord’s famous Rath Yatra – the Car Festival,” said Madan Mohan Pratihari adding that, “The flow of devotees used to increase after the harvest season only and touch the peak during Rath Yatra and the database of the community recorded each and every visitor’. 

Maintained since generations without any mechanized device, this unique database of the Pandas of Lord Jagannath Temple has not lost its relevance even today. “We have records since hundreds of years with data over ten to twelve generations of devotees. People from distant places come to us, meaning their respective Panda, to get the ancestral tree up to three or seven generations to perform the Shradh – a Hindu ritual meant to pay tribute to the souls of the predecessors,” said Batakrustna Pratihari – a member of the family that has been looking after devotees from Southern Indian states traditionally

There are many other stories based upon this database. To cite an interesting one dating back to the British days in India, Somanath Pratihari said, “The records of a Panda even helped one to get his share of parental property by proving his legitimacy as an heir. The man – a son of the second wife of his father was denied of any share on the grounds that his mother was not married to the father. The son, while visiting Puri, found the name of his mother mentioned as the wife of his father with his father’s signature below. The man went and placed the data in Patna High Court and got his share.” Somanath has heard of the story from old members and his forefathers who were alive when the incident occurred.

To Madhusudan Khuntia, it is disappointing that, “The huge database of Hindus living across the globe is now facing the danger of becoming stale as its updating scope is getting limited day by day. With facilities of communication and hotels, the city has become easily accessible to everyone and visitors stay in hotels and go back after the darshan. Many do not look for their Panda anymore.

For fun and to satisfy your devotional urge, Puri has many things in and around. But, still, if you want to prepare a family tree or are keen to know where you originated from, here in Puri is something that would make you believe that the cult surrounding the temple of Lord Jagannath has many more mysteries to be explored

This article was published in the May 2011 issue of the Eastern Panorama Magazine.

March 23, 2018

When Political Parties Question Media Neutrality

As the media fraternity in Odisha gets increasingly vocal about protecting freedom of speech and ensuring a free media, a few political parties in the state have decided to stage a confrontation.

While, in the most recent case, the Biju Janata Dal (BJD), the ruling party of Odisha, has openly declared a boycott of the OTV, alleging that the channel has been carrying news and views intentionally against the interests of the party, nearly a month back part of the media in the state also felt that the Odisha chapter of BJP was planning to boycott another channel, Kalinga TV, for similar reasons. But the BJP didn’t publicly claim a boycott, the way the BJD did on 21 March 2018 through a press conference.

Intolerance for Critical Voices

Being targeted by political parties, the state government, or individuals in power is not a new experience for Odisha’s media. Before this, during the Bijepur assembly by-elections, BJD had lodged a complaint with the State Election Commission against OTV, raising the issue of neutrality and alleging that the channel was broadcasting paid news.
But this is the first time that the ruling party, BJD, has come out openly against a news channel and announced counter-measures.
For a political party to boycott the media or part of it based on accusations that it promotes views against the government and the ruling party is surely an attempt to take the state into an age of limited democracy.
That’s because the primary objective of the media is to play the role of a watchdog and hold those in power accountable by bringing any wrongdoing in any nook or cranny of the state to public attention. The ruling party and its members should have a corrective instead of coercive approach when reacting to news carried by the media.
But political parties governed by their own political interests are in no position to certify media organisations on neutrality or partiality in their views and content.
Instead, they should trust the general public to make up their own minds regarding bias and neutrality of the content published. Failing that, they are also within their rights to approach relevant forums like the News Broadcasters Association (NBA) or the Union Ministry of Information and Broadcasting to express their grievance and seek a fair deal.

The behaviour of BJD towards OTV, which was once the favourite of the party – with BJD leaders even waiting to speak to the media until a representative of the channel arrived – not only reflects its intolerance towards voices that are critical of the government it leads, but also the arrogance of its leaders and disrespect for a free media, which is central for the survival of democracy.

Time for Media to Confess

There is no doubt that a different public opinion about OTV is emerging, based on some particular news that were given too much importance, since Baijayant Panda, the Kendrapara MP and promoter of the channel, blamed V Karthikeyan Pandian, a bureaucrat serving as the private secretary to the Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, for all wrongdoings in the party and all the mishaps he had to face in his constituency while in BJD.

But the media shouldn’t sit quiet now after such an unprecedented incident by terming all allegations baseless and shifting the blame to the party.

Pandian is retained in the position he is by none other than the Chief Minister and we can presume that all his acts come with the approval of the Chief Minister.
But neither Panda nor the leaders who followed him in making similar allegations nor the channel has yet questioned the Chief Minister for retaining such a corrupt official if the allegations are to be believed, in his office.
Finally, on biased news, many of the newspapers, TV channels and portals seem to be naturally aligned to particular political parties and ideologies. There is nothing wrong with this in itself. But the media houses need to be upfront to confess to their readers and audience who they are aligned with.
Because when organisations project themselves in the public as neutral or impartial but carry biased news aligned to a particular party or ideology, that’s the biggest fraud by the media to its readers and viewers.

This piece was first published on March 23, 2018, at TheQuint.