Odisha: Top stories of 2023

An overview of some of the stories reported by the TNIE Odisha team in 2023.
NH-55 near Panchubati in Dhenkanal district
NH-55 near Panchubati in Dhenkanal district

Be it politics, wildlife, health, sports or administration, THE NEW INDIAN EXPRESS went to length to research and report on issues that were not only relevant to society but also brought forth a change.

In a freewheeling and exclusive chat with the Editorial team of The New Indian Express Odisha, Union Minister of Education and Skill Development and Entrepreneurship Dharmendra Pradhan spoke on a wide range of issues including politics, his poll plans, National Education Policy, challenges in higher education and skill development

Sijimali in Rayagada district, a flat-topped hill that runs as part of the East Coast Bauxite belt and one of India’s richest repositories of the primary ore of aluminium, is attracting investors in droves to Odisha, which is keen to make its mark as the country’s top industrial destination. In a report ‘A race for Odisha’s bauxite treasure’, TNIE delved into why stakes in Odisha with its bauxite riches, Sijimali in particular, are high for Vedanta - India’s biggest aluminium producer - and other corporate giants.

After armed poachers killed two forest officials, a forest guard in May and a forester in June in the core area of Similipal Tiger Reserve, raising questions on the safety of those guarding the forest and wildlife in the state, The New Indian Express ran multiple reports on the issue and highlighted how MoEFCC, experts and forest officials in state are underlining the need for immunity to the frontline forest staff of the state under section 197 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) for use of firearms during official duties. On July 5, the state government notified the same giving forest field staff protection from arrest and criminal proceedings, unless a magisterial investigation finds the use of firearms was unnecessary, unwarranted and excessive.

Statistics furnished by the Forest, Environment and Climate Change department in the Assembly revealed that 212 people were permanently disabled in elephant attacks in the state in the last 10 years. The New Indian Express in April published a first-hand account of the victims highlighting how a majority of them acknowledged that the inadequate ex-gratia sanctioned by the state government is the first major disadvantage for them after a life-crippling mishap. The report also pointed out that Odisha offers one of the lowest compensations to the victims of conflict, especially those suffering permanent disability.

On May 3, the Odisha government announced a substantial hike in ex-gratia compensation for damage to life and property in wildlife attacks in a bid to arrest the growing man-animal conflict. The existing compassionate grant of Rs 1 lakh, provided for permanent injury in man-animal conflict, was also hiked to Rs 2.5 lakh for a person suffering disability of more than 60 per cent and Rs 1.5 lakh for an individual suffering disability of less than 60 per cent in the wild animal attack.

Following the controversy over Odia films ‘Mind Game and ‘Ram’ not getting screens in Cuttack and Bhubaneswar, TNIE in November published a report ‘Hall of worry for Ollywood’ which put the spotlight on the faulty distribution system and the need for more cinema halls in the State, two key factors that can support the rejuvenating process of Odia cinema and help with more visibility. Following the report, the Industries Department announced that it would soon come up with a new film policy to address all industry concerns. It also announced that the halls belonging to the state government that had closed down would be reopened.

The unending NH-55 pain
One of the most significant highways of the state, the NH-55 has long been a crucial connection between coastal, central Odisha and western regions of the state. Three years have passed since the original deadline and more than 40 per cent of work awaits completion. In an exhaustive report ‘From Cuttack to Sambalpur, the unending NH-55 pain’, The New Indian Express pointed out the various factors that have led to the delay and how the incomplete NH-55 stretches have become a driver’s nightmare. Following the report, NHAI suspended two officials for irregularities and approved 12 animal underpasses resolving the roadblocks.

Strange as it may sound, Indian Railways charged different fares for travelling the same distance in a particular local train that runs under the jurisdiction of two of its zones - South Eastern Railway (SER) and East Coast Railway (ECoR). If a passenger travelled from Kharagpur to Bhadrak in Kharagpur-Bhadrak passenger special, he/she has to pay Rs 40 as the fare for travelling 181 km. Surprisingly the fare almost doubled (Rs 75), if the same passenger travelled the same distance on the same train from Bhadrak to Kharagpur. After TNIE pointed out the anomaly in December, the ECoR authorities effected a change in the rail fare.

In November, within two days of giving its Cabinet approval, the state government withheld its decision to amend Regulation 2 of The Orissa Scheduled Areas Transfer of Immovable Property (by Scheduled Tribes) Regulations, 1956 that would facilitate the transfer of tribal lands. Many questions on the issue remained unanswered, though. TNIE team did a comprehensive report on what the amendment was and why the decision needs to be relooked before it is sent for Presidential assent. Both the ST and SC Development department and Revenue and Disaster Management have now decided to revisit the decision.

Eminent Odia poet and critic Sitakant Mahapatra and TNIE paid tribute to Jayanta Mahapatra, a towering literary personality who was one of the most widely-known poets of the modern period. Mahapatra took his last breath on August 27, bringing an end to a legendary poetic era. He was 95. He was under treatment for age-related ailments at the SCB Medical College and Hospital at Cuttack since August 4

In November, a report ‘BMC’s garbage hill raises a stink in Bhubaneswar’ published in The New Indian Express pointed out the dumping of a whopping 54,000 tonnes of garbage within 180 days at the temporary transit station (TTS) near Sainik School by the Bhubaneswar Municipal Corporation. Following the report, civic body authorities swung into action and assured to resolve the issue within six months and subsequently reduced the target to four months. With the locals of Gadakana mouza as well as Opposition parties - BJP and Congress - threatening to intensify protests over the issue and the 2024 general elections drawing closer, the garbage hill emerged as the biggest challenge for the government in the capital city. The BMC has now operationalised five waste processing machines at the site to flatten the garbage hill.

For Odisha’s Javelin star Kishore Jena, it was his roots in the farm fields of Puri that propelled him into the game in the most unusual way. The 28-year-old is in the elite club today, but glory sits light on his shoulders. TNIE in the report ‘Javelin Star’ traced his journey from starting training as a professional javelin player to winning the silver medal at the Asian Games 2023 and qualifying for the Paris 2024 Olympics men’s javelin throw event with an 86.77m throw in Hangzhou, China.

Bhitarkanika is among the last few remaining mangrove ecosystems in India with over 70 species. However, the latest climate vulnerability assessment portrays a grim future for Bhitarkanika, one of India’s most unique and finest mangrove ecosystems, which is hard to ignore. The New Indian Express published an exhaustive report ‘Hotter, wetter and extreme story of Odisha’s Bhitarkanika in the 2050s’ that projected what the changing climate parameters would mean for the mangroves and their inhabitants - the crocodiles, Olive Ridleys, migratory birds and the local fishing community.

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