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‘WE’VE DONE A LOT OF PRO-PEOPLE WORK’

‘WE’VE DONE A LOT OF PRO-PEOPLE WORK’
04 Feb 2019

‘WE’VE DONE A LOT OF PRO-PEOPLE WORK’

An eminent gynaecologist, Dr. Raseswari Panigrahi was handpicked by chief minister Naveen Patnaik in 2014 to contest the prestigious Sambalpur assembly seat which she wrested away from the hands of BJP. Ever since, she has been working tirelessly among the people of the constituency who hold her in high esteem. Articulate, suave, among the most prominent women leaders of Biju Janata Dal (BJD) and also one of its prime spokespersons, Panigrahi shares her views about her party’s prospects and preparations ahead of election time with Ashutosh Mishra

 Lawyers of western Odisha, especially those from Sambalpur, have been agitating for quite some time over the demand for setting up a permanent High Court bench in the region. How justified is the demand and what is your party’s stand on the issue?

It is a genuine demand, fully justified. There should be a permanent High Court bench, preferably at Sambalpur because it fulfils all the criteria for the setting up of a bench. This will make life easy for litigants from the area who have to run to Cuttack and spend a lot to pursue their cases in the High Court. State government has already given its nod for the establishment of a bench. Chief minister Naveen Patnaik in 2007 had clearly written that two High Court benches were required, one at Sambalpur in western Odisha and the other somewhere in southern Odisha. However, successive UPA and NDA governments did not pay heed to the demand. Now the state government has again written to the Centre about it and the latter has asked the state to seek High Court’s clearance. The state government has done its bit and is ready to provide all the required facilities for the establishment of the bench.

People of western Odisha have been suffering all kinds of hardships because of lawyers’ agitation over the issue. They are unable to get bail for their near and dear ones lodged in jails in different cases. On the other hand, jails are overflowing with under-trials unable to get bail. What’s your comment on the situation?

Yes it is absolutely true. People from various sections of the society including students are suffering because of the agitation. Government work, too, is being hampered. It is a sad situation. The sooner the issue is sorted out the better for all of us.

Lawyers of western Odisha appear to be divided over the choice of the place where the permanent bench of the High Court should be set up in the region. While lawyers of Sambalpur insist that it should be set up there, lawyers in Bolangir and Bargarh want it in their own areas. This could weaken the entire movement. Your take?

Bargarh lawyers are now no more averse to the idea of bench coming up at Sambalpur but their counterparts in Bolangir continue to insist that it should be set up in their district. However, what they don’t realise is that there are certain criteria that a place must meet before it is chosen for the establishment of a High Court bench. Sambalpur fulfils these criteria. There are a lot of formalities that have to be gone through before it actually happens.

The BJP has  been  singing  a different tune on the issue. Its leaders have been blaming the state government for the delay in the establishment of the bench. Do you think the party is misleading the people and its leaders are misrepresenting the facts?

Yes, absolutely. BJP leaders are misrepresenting facts. They are trying to lob the ball into the state’s court which is wrong. They are talking of High Court’s permission in the matter which is, in fact, Centre’s responsibility.

The Mahanadi water sharing dispute between Odisha and Chhattisgarh has been festering for the past some time. The matter is now before the tribunal but the basic issue of Odisha suffering because of the dams and barrages constructed on the Mahanadi in the upstream of the river by Chhattisgarh remains. How serious is the issue and how is Odisha being affected?

It is an unfortunate situation. Chhattisgarh government has built dams and barrages on the river in violation of rules. The problem on our side will aggravate specially during the off season if the neighbouring state does not release enough water downstream of the river. Besides we will be facing a flood-like situation if they release water in bulk from their dams and barrages during the rainy season. Hence it is very important for the two states to have perfect understanding and coordination. It is particularly important that Odisha gets enough water from the Mahanadi during the offseason.  We hope the new Congress government in Chhattisgarh will understand the problems of Odisha and help resolve the dispute amicably.

How successful has been the Green Mahanadi mission under which massive plantation was undertaken along the banks of the river. What is its significance?

This is a very important mission from the point of view of preserving the river and its surrounding environment. The plantation drive was a well-thought-out plan which will have far-reaching consequences. We are taking due care to ensure the longevity of the trees that were planted along the river under the mission.

Western Odisha is considered to be drought-prone and any drought adds to the misery of the people of the region who have for long been backward and underdeveloped. What is your government doing in this regard?

It is true that certain parts of western Odisha are drought-prone but we are trying to address this problem in an effective manner. Our emphasis is on irrigation schemes which would ensure that farmers across this region get sufficient water to irrigate their fields and vagaries of nature do not play havoc with their crops. We are hopeful their problems will be solved and drought would no more be the kind of threat that it once used to be. We are constantly trying to address people’s issues whether it is drought or something else.

With general elections approaching, all the major parties have switched to the election mode and have begun preparations in the right earnest. Some have also launched the exercise of candidate selection. What about the preparations of your party and your own preparations in your constituency?

We are fully geared up to face the elections in the state. We have done a lot of pro-people work across the state, my constituency included. Ever since we came to power in the state for the fourth time in 2014 the face of the state has changed. A string of welfare schemes have been launched and state’s profile at the national level has risen with the organisation of events like the Men’s Hockey World Cup. The people at large realise that this government is with them and will continue to work for their good. People have faith in our leader, chief minister Naveen Patnaik, whose good work during the last 18 years is being appreciated. That gives us an edge over our rivals.

There is a growing perception that BJP is quite strong in western Odisha where it did quite well even in the last panchayat elections, especially in the zila parishad polls. In fact eight out of BJP’s ten MLAs come from the western belt where they have a good organisational network.  How do you propose to counter the saffron influence in this belt?

It is a myth that BJP is strong in western Odisha. The truth is that compared to us they are pretty weak throughout the state. This is evident from the fact that they have only 10 MLAs in the state. Even in the western belt, where they claim to have a good organisational base, their numbers will go down further this time. We are working hard for the development of western Odisha by addressing the outstanding problems of the region. People will appreciate our good work and vote for us overwhelmingly. The BJP does not pose any major challenge to us.

Odisha has been witnessing farmers’ agitations for the past few months. Farmers’ issues are also in focus at the national level. There is a perception that BJP governments in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh had to go because they failed to match the aspirations of the huge farming community which is demanding remunerative prices for its produce and other benefits. What is Odisha government doing to assure the farming community that their just demands would be met?

We have always been with the farmers. We are fighting to enhance the minimum support price (MSP) of paddy which is the major crop of the state. We have taken up this issue at various levels.  Our sincerity towards the welfare of this huge community is evident from the fact that we have a special agriculture budget. During the past few years we have taken a number of measures to ensure that farmers get remunerative prices for their produce and lead a decent life. Our efforts to ameliorate their lives will continue.

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