‘PM must fulfil his promise’
You are the Sundergarh district unit president of BJD. How strong, according to you, is BJD in the district and how well prepared are you for the general elections?
Party programmes are being held every month in each of the seven assembly segments of the district. On BJD’s foundation day this time we had a slew of programmes involving party workers and people. We have also held meetings in each zila parishad zone. Presently our party has only two MLAs in the district but we are ready to face our rivals.
BJP MLA from Rourkela, Dilip Ray recently resigned from the party. What kind of impact will his resignation have on BJP and how does the BJD stand to gain from this?
If Dilip babu joins BJD it will be a big blow to BJP. We are hopeful in this regard as he was once part of the BJD parivar and very close to Biju Babu. Since he is unlikely to go to the Congress we think he will come to us.
What about Bijay Mohapatra who has also quit BJP. Do you think he will come to BJD?
We hope so. That will be good for the party. But for us in Sundergarh district, Ray’s joining is more important because he can inspire the youth. With him on our side we will be able to generate a favourable atmosphere for our party ahead of the polls.
How justified is the charge of western Odisha’s neglect by successive governments?
Now most of the western Odisha areas are on par with the coastal belt in terms of development. Both are equally developed in terms of rural development and power infrastructure. The western belt, however, needs a little push in areas like technical education and health infrastructure. But there are no glaring disparities between the two regions now.
What are the specific problems of Sundergarh district that you would like the government to address?
We would like to have model schools in each block of the district. We also want some mega lift irrigation projects and 14 to 15 bridges to connect villages in certain areas.
People are facing all kinds of problems because of lawyers’ agitation over the demand for a permanent High Court bench in western Odisha. Your comments?
It is true that people are suffering. Government work is being obstructed and students seeking admissions and jobs are unable to get required certificates. The demand for the establishment of a permanent High Court bench is justified but the lawyers’ should first evolve a consensus over the place where it will come up. This will make government’s job easy. Besides it would be much better if the lawyers instead of resorting to agitation fight a legal battle on the issue in the Supreme Court.
Maoist ultras are active in Sundergarh district as well. How do you propose to tackle the problem?
With better road connectivity in villages people even in remote areas are now getting the fruits of development. Hence they will not be swayed by the misleading propaganda of Maoists. This will help reduce the problem which is an import from Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Andhra Pradesh. We can root out this problem only by ensuring development, educating people and creating more jobs.
Yours is a tribal-dominated district. What are the main problems of tribals these days?
Displacement of tribals due to industrialisation, mining and developmental projects is a big problem in the district. It will be good if in such cases arrangements are made for providing jobs to three generations of the displaced so that they get the opportunity to become financially stable again. Losing land and livelihood is such a big blow. No one will be able to cope with this without adequate support from the government.
Tribals depend upon forests for survival but forests are facing the threat of destruction. This problem is not peculiar to Sundergarh, it is visible in every district which has a sizeable tribal population. How do you propose to address this problem?
This is a serious problem. We are losing our green wealth due to a variety of reasons. If industries are taking a toll on them in some areas in other parts timber smugglers are cutting down trees. It is our duty to ensure that forests are not destroyed. They are a precious natural resource which must be preserved. And wherever forests disappear steps should be taken to plant fruit-bearing trees. They will solve the food problems of both humans and animals.
Elephant menace is rampant in Sundergarh district. Jumbos have been running amok in various parts of the district trampling crops and destroying houses. There have also been cases of elephants killing and injuring people. How do you propose to tackle this threat?
We are helpless in the matter. The only solution is to ensure that elephant habitats improve so that they get enough food and water in the forests. This will stop them from straying into human habitations. It is a question of how we manage our resources and how we ensure peaceful co-existence between human beings and animals. We must ask ourselves why elephants have started coming out of forests so frequently now. What is wrong with their habitat? The problem lies on our side and we have to take corrective steps.
Do you regret not being made a minister by chief minister Naveen Patnaik. It must be hurting you specially because you were a part of his father’s cabinet.
Making or not making someone a minister is the prerogative of the chief minister. Whatever he has done he has done in his wisdom. I have no hopes. I am with my leader whom I hold in very high esteem.
Do you think older generation leaders are being neglected in the BJD?
No. There may be occasional misunderstandings which are there in every party but there is nothing like neglect. Leaders of my generation are getting the respect they deserve. In my opinion an ideal combination of new and old generation leaders makes for the best team.
The chorus for the construction of the second bridge over river Brahmani at Rourkela is getting louder. It was an election promise made by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. But it is yet to be fulfilled. This was one of the reasons for the resignation of Dilip Ray from his party. Your comments?
The second bridge is a necessity since the existing one is in poor shape. It is a very important bridge as it connects Odisha with Jharkhand, Bihar, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh. The Prime Minister himself had given an assurance in this regard and then came union minister Nitin Gadkari who promised that work would begin soon. But there is hardly any progress. Such an important project should not get delayed because of fund-related problems or problems of land acquisition. Work must begin soon on the project.
The Prime Minister had also assured to turn the Ispat General Hospital (IGH) at Rourkela into a super-speciality hospital. But nothing has happened so far?
The Prime Minister must fulfil his promise otherwise people will think that the government at the Centre cares only for people in Delhi and that only they get good health facilities. Such impression should not be created.
Yours is a tribal-dominated district where the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) has been a political force for a long time. How strong is JMM in Sundergarh. Is it in a position to challenge the BJD?
Both JMM and BJD are preparing for the polls. Time will tell which party is stronger.
Which qualities of chief minister Naveen Patnaik appeal to you the most?
Naveen babu is a mass leader who rules the hearts of the people. The downtrodden consider him to be their messiah. But his appeal cuts across the class divide. People from all sections flock to his public meetings and attend his programmes in large numbers.
Opposition parties have described Naveen Patnaik’s welfare measures as populist programmes aimed at collecting votes. How do you react to this charge?
There was a time when people in the state used to die of starvation. There were allegations of people not getting enough food and having to subsist on wild roots. Now the situation has changed completely with our government’s programmes like rice at Rs.1 a kg for the poor and meals at Rs.5 for people visiting Aahar centres. Now everyone has enough to eat. The people have been finally happy under Naveen babu’s reign after years of neglect by other governments. The allegation of populism against our chief minister is being made by people jealous of his success.