FIRING ON ALL CYLINDERS
From cracking down on corruption and crime to stepping up developmental and environmental efforts, the Naveen Patnaik government is driving Odisha towards a better future at an ever-faster pace
Late last month the unexpected happened. Something that perhaps no one could have possibly fathomed for well over the past decade. A South Korean business delegation, headed by the country’s ambassador, Shin Bong Kil, landed in the state capital of Bhubaneswar and met Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik expressing interest in investing in Odisha.
The nine-member delegation comprised top executives from Korean multinationals such as Samsung Electronics, Hyundai Motors, Kia Motors and Hanwha Capital, and senior officials from organisations such as the Korea International Trade Association, the Korea Trade Insurance Corporation, the Korea Trade Investment Promotion Agency.
The nightmarish POSCO story from the noughties suddenly seemed like a distant memory, but it could not possibly have been forgotten. Despite having signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the state government way back in 2005 to set up a US$12 billion steel plant in Jagatsinghpur, the South Korean steel giant eventually gave up on its plan after 12 long years of grappling with local opposition and legal wrangles over land acquisition, mining lease and environmental issues.
However, much has changed for the better over the past few years after the Biju Janata Dal government kept stepping up its efforts through policy changes and promotional drives to make Odisha one of the top investment-friendly states in the country.
This notion was substantiated during last month’s meeting when the Korean Ambassador himself hailed the Odisha government's ever-improving approach towards investment and industrialisation even as he suggested there was plenty of scope for his country now to consider engaging in various sectors, such as agriculture, horticulture, fisheries and services.
The envoys confidence was in keeping with Naveen’s warm welcome to the whole delegation, followed by the Chief Minister’s assertion that there were significant opportunities for both South Korea and Odisha to strengthen their tie in trade, investment and tourism.
The BJD boss also reassured the team that his administration would ensure an environment conducive to doing business by providing industry-ready infrastructure and skilled workforce.
The state government has already identified six sectors – electronics manufacturing, petroleum, chemicals and petro-chemicals, textiles, tourism and downstream to metal and food processing – in which to boost investment for maximising economic growth and employment generation.
The air of optimism in and about Odisha goes well beyond the business and investment front, as the Naveen Patnaik government has been making all-out efforts for all-round development of the state.
Having well understood (better than most of his counterparts nationwide) the detrimental effect of corruption and crime on the overall well-being of any state, the Chief Minister has ensured that his administration takes an unambiguous hard line against such problems.
Last month, he instructed the heads of all police stations to either work actively in the interests of the public or face punitive action. A message was sent loud and clear to all police officials of the state: those performing their jobs in tune with the administration’s high expectations shall receive appropriate appreciation and those who are not doing so shall face the music.
With the ‘Mo Sarkar’ (my government) initiative officially scheduled to be launched early this month, Naveen got in touch with the heads of all the 635 police stations of the Odisha through videoconferencing a few weeks ago and laid down the new modus operandi clear as day.
Under the new initiative, the contact details of all complainants visiting a police station will be recorded and made available to everyone in the system, starting from the Superintendent of Police right up to the Chief Minister. And a key part of this pioneering initiative, the Chief Minister himself will speak directly with people visiting police stations and take feedback from them about their experience with police personnel.
"Starting from 2nd October on the occasion of Gandhi Jayanti, I will personally make 10 phone calls every day. Based on the feedback, there will be immediate action, appreciating those who are doing good work and initiating action against those who are not," he said.
Stating that the government runs on taxpayers' money and police officers and police stations are in place solely to serve citizens, Naveen asserted that complainants should never have to chase police officials for grievance redressal from here on.
“We draw our salary from the money of the citizens. It is our duty to treat citizens with dignity whenever they visit police stations, deal with their complaints in a professional, ethical and humane manner,” he said firmly.
Last month also saw a welcome development on the law and order front.
In response to concerns this year over rising incidences of rape of minors, the Odisha government recently announced that it would set up two dozen Fast Track Special Courts (FTSCs) for swift handling of cases sexual offences against children.
Last month, State Law Minister Pratap Jena announced that such courts – all set to come up in Angul, Balasore, Bhadrak, Bargarh, Bolangir, Cuttack, Dhenkanal, Berhampur, Jagatsinghpur, Jajpur, Jharsuguda, Bhawanipatna, Kendrapara, Keonjhar, Khurdha, Jeypore, Baripada, Nabrangpur, Nayagarh, Phulbani, Puri, Rayagada, Sambalpur and Sundargar – shall operate under an additional district judge, as per the Odisha Civil Courts Act 1984, and deal with cases relating to the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act.
Naveen’s focus on environmental issues has not been limited to making Bhubaneswar greener. It extends across the state.
The most recent and notable instance of that was the 'Mo Beach' cleaning initiative, a massive cleanliness drive that was organised at Puri beach, aptly on the occasion of the International Coastal Cleanup Day on September 21.
Claiming it to be the world’s largest coastal clean-up drive, the Puri district administration authorities said the primary aim was to raise awareness among the people about the importance of clean beaches.
Among the more than 10,000 volunteers who took part in the drive at many spots along the district’s coastline – most noticeably at Ramachandi Temple, Konark and Astarang areas – were Forest and Environment Minister Bikram Keshari Arukh, famous artist and writer Nandita Das and Bollywood actor Vidyut Jammwal.
“Puri is the pride of our country and I am happy to be a part of the world's mega clean-up drive here at the sea beach,” Jammwal said.
Also present was Odisha’s internationally acclaimed sand artist Sudarsan Pattnaik, who hailed the event as “a great day for us as thousands came forward to clean up the beach at Puri”.
On the day, the volunteers took an oath to protect the oceans and beaches by following the simple rule of reducing, reusing and recycling of waste, especially plastic waste.
With volunteers from all walks – from students to government officials and employees to self-help groups, fishermen communities, beachside vendors, hotel owners, photographers, lifeguards, tourist guides and Sebayat community of Jagannath Temple – participating in the event, many environmentalists have expressed hope that such drives will also help inculcate a culture of cleanliness and conservation in the state.
The outlook for infrastructure development in the state capital has also got a huge boost as the Odisha government and the East Coast Railway (ECoR) signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) last month for the Rs 840 crore Bhubaneswar railway station multi-modal hub project, aimed at making connectivity seamless for commuters.
Attending the MoU signing event through videoconferencing, the Chief Minister said: “Transforming Bhubaneswar railway station into a world-class station and multi-modal hub will be one of the biggest milestones for the state.”
While the Bhubaneswar Development Authority will have the overall responsibility of planning, designing and executing the project within 30 months, Singapore-based international design consultant Surbana Jurong has been commissioned to ensure a world-class look for it.
There will be a new terminal building for the station, a city bus terminal, a car park, dedicated pickup and drop-off lanes for taxi, auto-rickshaws and other vehicles in addition to a theatre, art and children's plaza and food courts. The core of the project will be a magnificent city square with a centrally situated high tower that will feature commercial, retail, hotel, and service apartments.
Once ready, Naveen said, the project would benefit locals as well as visiting tourists.
Petroleum and Natural Gas Minister Dharmendra Pradhan, who was also present on the occasion, also expressed optimism that the project would not only boost tourism but also become a catalyst for development in all of Odisha.
Sticking to what he had announced earlier, Naveen has been keeping a close watch on the proper and timely implementation of all his government’s projects and programmes. Last month at Odisha Bhawan in New Delhi, he reviewed all the important state matters that involved the Centre – from delayed railway projects, to improving telecom infrastructure and to increasing banking facilities.
He also evaluated the performance of the Chief Resident Commissioner’s (CRC) office through the 5T framework before instructing Chief Secretary Asit Kumar Tripathy and the Chief Resident Commissioner Tuhin Kanta Pandey to follow up on all pending issues and projects with the relevant ministries and departments at the Centre.
Some of the results of Naveen’s new and improved administrative policies are already showing.
Within a short span of time, his government found out – through an effective verification process –that Rs 170.50 crore worth of financial assistance had been distributed to 3.41 lakh ineligible beneficiaries under the KALIA scheme.
Agriculture Minister Arun Sahoo revealed that, of the total number of ineligible beneficiaries, 20,000 government employees/pensioners and 9,000 minors and 12,000 large farmers had availed the benefits under the scheme.
“About 12,000 large farmers have received the assistance. They will be motivated or encouraged to refund the amount as they will get the assistance under the PM-KISAN scheme,” Sahoo stated, adding that some 9,000 minors had also wrongly received assistance under the scheme.
Pointing out that some 20,000 government employees or pensioners have received the assistance, the Minister urged them to refund the amount or be ready to have it deducted from their salary/pension.
And of the 3 lakh multiple members of the same eligible family who have received KALIA assistance, Sahoo said adjustments will be made for such families in future instalments.
In yet another welcome development last month, the state government registered a 7 per cent increase in revenue collection up to August during the 2019-20 financial year, according to Finance Secretary Ashok Meena.
The total revenue collection shot up to around Rs 12,315 crore in comparison to last year’s collection of Rs 11,758 crore for the same period, he confirmed.
Many political and economic experts across the country agree that the BJD government is developing Odisha at a speed that was not only unseen and unheard of, but simply unfathomable in the state before. That precisely explains and justifies the trust that the people of the state have continued reposing in their five-time Chief Minister over the past 19 years.