The state of Odisha, located on the east coast of India, was created on 1 April 1936 as a province in British India by carving out certain portions from the provinces of Bihar, Orissa and Madras. The state, however, took its present shape only in 1949 with the merger of the princely states including Mayurbhanj. It is bounded by the Bay of Bengal in the east; West Bengal in the north-east; Bihar in the north; Madhya Pradesh in the west and Andhra Pradesh in the south.
With an area of 155,707 sq km, Odisha is the ninth largest state in India. Endowed with abundant natural beauty, a 482-km stretch of coastline with beautiful beaches, serpentine rivers, mighty waterfalls, forest-clad blue hills of the Eastern Ghats with rich wildlife, Odisha is dotted with exquisite temples, historic monuments as well as pieces of modern engineering feat. The territory may be divided into four distinct geographical regions- the Eastern Plateau, the Central River Basin, the Eastern Hill Region and the Coastal Region Belt. The state is drained by six important rivers, namely, the Subarnarekha, the Budhabalanga, the Baitarani, the Brahmani, the Mahanadi and the Rusikulya. The rich mineral belts lie in the western and north-western parts of the state. The Chota Nagpur plateau occupies the western and northern portions of the state, while along the coast, are fertile alluvial plains and the valleys of the Mahanadi, Brahmani, and Baitarani rivers, which fall into the Bay of Bengal. These alluvial plains are home to intensive rice cultivation.
Odisha has a history spanning a period of over 5,000 years. It is the modern name of the ancient kingdom of Kalinga, which was invaded by the Mauryan Emperor Ashoka in 261 BCE. It was known by different names in different periods: Kalinga, Utkal or Odradesha. Cuttack remained the capital of the state for over eight centuries until 13 April 1948 when Bhubaneswar was officially declared as the new capital of Odisha, and still is the present capital of the state.
Odisha has a long tradition of art and architecture. The early monuments date back to the third century B.C. The remnant of an Ashokan pillar, turned into a Siva Lingam and enshrined in the Bhaskaresvara temple at Bhubaneswar and the lion capital of an Ashokan pillar, presently in the State Museum, speak volumes of Odisha’s past glory. The rock-cut caves of Khandagiri and Udaygiri and the inscriptions recording Kharavela’s short but eventful reign during the first century B.C. constitute the second phase of the evolution in Odisha’s art. The Naga and Yaksha images found in places around Bhubaneswar belong to the post-Kharavela era. The fortification of Sisupalgarh near Bhubaneswar is yet another monument of ancient Odisha1.
The state has a rich cultural heritage. The capital city of Bhubaneshwar is known for the exquisite temples that dot its landscape. The classical dance form Odissi also originated in Odisha. Contemporary Odisha has a proud cultural heritage that arose as a result of the intermingling of three great religious traditions – Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism. The culture of the Adivasis is an integral part of modern Oriya heritage. Oriya is the mother tongue of the people of Odisha, however, English is also widely used for official purpose. This land of fascinating beauty also boasts of colourful festivals round the year. The world-famous ‘car festival’ (rath yatra) is celebrated every year in the Hindu month of Ashadha (mid-June to mid-July) in Puri. Odisha is also the land of unique handicrafts and other excellent artefacts.
Odisha is one of the economically poorer states in India despite having a long coastline and abundant natural resources- a fifth of India’s coal, a quarter of its iron ore, a third of its bauxite reserves and most of the chromite2. However, due to geographical barriers, poor infrastructure and lack of economic governance, the state has not been able to prosper.
As per the 2011 Census, Odisha, with 41 million people, is the eleventh-most populous state in India, contributing 3.47 percent to the total population of India. Over the last decade, the state has witnessed a 14 percent growth in its population. Most of this population is concentrated in the rural areas with the urban population constituting only 17 percent.
According to the Planning Commission’s Tendulkar Committee Report 2009, the poverty headcount ratio of Odisha, at 57.2 percent, is the worst among all Indian states and way above the national average of 37.2 percent. If factors beyond income are considered (Multidimensional Poverty Index)3, about 63.2 percent of the people in Odisha live below the poverty line. Rural poverty, at 60.8 percent, is also significantly higher than the urban poverty, which is 37.6 percent, and the worst in India. Further, the extent of poverty is not evenly distributed in all the regions and among all social groups of Odisha. The Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes of the state also have a high incidence of poverty as compared to the SCs and STs in the country as a whole4. In terms of other human development indicators such as health, the state faces several challenges. The percentage of women in Odisha with Body Mass Index less than 18.5, which is 41.1, is also higher than the national average of 35.6 percent; and the state’s under-five mortality rate of 90.6 per thousand is also among the bottom five. The proportion of underweight children (40.7 percent), however, is lower than the national average of 42.55.
In terms of basic household amenities, the performance of the state was slightly lower than the national average, with about 85 percent of the households having access to improved drinking water facilities as against the national average of 91 percent6. However, close to four-fifths of the households in Odisha do not have access to toilet facilities. For these reasons, the state has one of the lowest Human Development values. At 0.362, the state is just above Chhattisgarh, which has the lowest HDI value.
The performance of the state in terms of literacy remains a source of concern. Although the literacy rate of Odisha (73.45 percent) is only slightly lower than the national average (74.04 percent), the gap between male and female literacy, at 82 and 64 percent respectively, is huge. According to the Orissa Human Development Report, although public expenditure on education has been rising in nominal terms, the real increase has been very limited.
The state’s sex ratio, however, at 978 females per 1,000 males, is higher than the all-India figure of 940 females per 1,000 males. Child sex-ratio at 934 is also better than the national average of 914.
According to the India State of the Forest Report 2011, the forest cover in the state, based on interpretation of satellite data of October 2008-January 2009 is 48,903 sq km, which is 31.41 percent of the state’s geographical area. In terms of forest canopy density classes, the state has 7,060 sq km area under very dense forest, 21,366 sq km area under moderately dense forest and 20,477 sq km area under open forest. From 2006, the report observes a decrease of 13 sq km in very dense forest, 28 sq km in moderately dense forest and an increase of 80 sq km in open density forest. This increase in forest cover is mainly due to conservation measures and improvement in scrub areas owing to plantation of bamboo and teak species. Odisha has two national parks and 18 wildlife sanctuaries covering 9,110 sq km which constitutes 5.85 percent of the state’s geographical area.
1 Government of Odisha, “Orissa Profile- Land and People”.
2 IAMR and Planning Commission, India Human Development Report 2011.
3 The Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI), published for the first time in the 2010 Human Development Report, complements money-based measures by considering multiple deprivations and their overlap. The index identifies deprivations across the same three dimensions as the HDI and shows the number of people who are multidimensionally poor (suffering deprivations in 33% of weighted indicators) and the number of deprivations with which poor households typically contend. It can be deconstructed by region, ethnicity and other groupings as well as by dimension, making it an apt tool for policymakers. Source: Human Development Report 2010- The Real Wealth of Nations: Pathways to Human Development.
4 IAMR and Planning Commission, India Human Development Report 2011.
5 Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, National Family Health Survey (NFHS 3)- Vol 1.
6 NSS 65th Round.
Projects and Initiatives
- Biodiversity Conservation Through Community-Based Natural Resource Management
- Access to Energy-Enhancing Effectiveness in Electricity Distribution and End-uses
- Increasing Access to Justice for Marginalized People
- Access to Clean Energy
- Support to National Response to Mainstreaming HIV
- Financial Inclusion
- Natural Resources Conservation Outside Protected Areas
- Capacity Development for Local Governance
Stories of Change
- Conserving Habitats; Protecting Livelihoods: A Women’s Group in Orissa, India Leads the Way
- Volunteering to Help Resettle Families: A Young Man Supports Displaced
- Functional Literacy – The Language of Empowerment
- From Entitlement to Reality: Tribal Communities Use the Right to Information Act to Secure Justice
- Pension Scheme for HIV-Affected