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Mr CM ‘No-Win’ Going to the wall?

Updated: November 13, 2010 12:01 pm


During Naveen Patnaik’s days at the helm he has proved that he is the poster boy of development in the state but most of his promises have not been fulfilled. He has fallen short of his commitments.

By Shashi Bhusan Nayak from Bhubaneswar

HL Mencken once famously opined, “No one in this world has ever lost money by underestimating the intelligence of the great masses of the plain people. Nor has anyone ever lost public office thereby.” Perhaps Naveen Patnaik won’t agree to this.

                BBC calls him the “Accidental politician”, he is the man who represents English urban sophisticated class, he is the man who is leading the second poorest state of our country, he is the second best Chief Minister in our country—the man who is in the eye of a storm in recent days. He has seen it all—the best, the worst, super cyclone, Kandhamal riots, mining scam and police brutality.

                During his days at the helm he has proved that he is the poster boy of development in the state but most of his promises have not been fulfilled baring Indiara Awas Yojana and the Rs 2\kg rice. He has fallen short of his commitments.

                Having a big surname is a bonus in Indian politics but to transform yourself as a successful leader is not a joke. The transition from being a soft-spoken politician to an assertive leader is a big leap.

                Many argue that the Chief Minister must communicate within the environment he inhabits, not the one he envisions, but he says “He did not come here just to clean up crises. He came here to build a future.”

                In India: “what we secretly know we cannot publicly acknowledge.” This was the situation of the government officials of Odisha when I asked them about the progress of the various MoUs signed by the Chief Minister in recent years.

                Naveen Patnaik started his second term with signing of MoUs with industrial and corporate houses one after another on the ground that the huge natural resources must be utilised to drive the state on the path of development. This is the big picture but if we take a closer look at those MoUs then we will find that the picture is totally different than what it has been projected.

                The fate of Rs 52,000-crore project of POSCO hangs in balance ever since the original MoU was signed in June 2005. Needless to say that now it will get even more difficult for POSCO and the Government of Odisha to get it through because the four-member Meena Gupta committee has recommended that the whole process of settling forest rights in the project area is to be carried out once again because the process is seriously flawed and “inadequate”. This comes as a major blow to both POSCO and the government of Odisha. For POSCO it is nothing short of an endless waiting. They can’t help it but wait as they have been, expect the land to be handed over to them. But it is highly unlikely to happen any time soon.

                POSCO is not the only one in the troubled waters in Odisha. The Vedanta Resources is also in trouble. The Anil Agarwal-led company suffered a major setback when a MoEF-panel recommended against granting environment clearance for its bauxite mining-cum-refinery project at Niyamgiri hills. The government of Odisha and Vedanta Resources signed the MoU in October 2004. Even before that in 1997, state-owned Odisha Mining Corporation and Sterlite Industries (Indian) Ltd. (SIIL), a group company of Vedanta Resources, entered into an MoU to develop and exploit bauxite from the Niyamgiri mines.

                The proposed Rs 15, 000-crore “world-class” university project by Vedanta in Puri district has now taken the back seat considering the hostile atmosphere of the affairs. In spite of getting the environment clearance the project is stalled because the project is waiting a nod from the centre. The MoU was signed as early as 2006 but till date no visible progress. The same Environment Ministry, who gave clearance to the project now acting against the project citing different reasons. Local opposition and problems of land acquisition is fuelling the speculation that the proposed university project is a closed chapter at least for now.

                The story of Rs 40,000 crore Arcelor Mittal is also on the same page as memorandum of understanding (MoU) was signed on December 21, 2006, but till now there is no demonstrable action or considerable improvement. Amidst protest and litigation the project is also swinging like a pendulum.

                Odisha’s tryst with MoU does not just end at these three mega failures. In the last few years, Odisha government has signed about 42 steel and aluminum proposals in the state. Most of them are lost in translation. Only handful of them is operational now. The fates of the rest are lost in political tussle between the state and the centre. These are the facts. Nobody disputes them.

                There are many more MoUs like the thermal plant at Dhenkanal, Greenfield Port at Astaranga, MoUs with six companies for setting up ITCs in the state, MoUs with five independent power producers; are already pushed under the carpet. They are all going to be lost in a fog of confusion and political impasse.

                It’s yet to be understood whether all this is happening because of the lack of political will of the state government or the stepmotherly treatment of the central government. Till today people of Odisha fail to understand why Jairam Ramesh has such a stepmotherly attitude towards Odisha. On one hand, he is giving approval to Polavaram Project (in AP) without considering the environmental issues and on the other hand he is blocking the POSCO project in the name of environmental ground, even if Environmental Ministry earlier cleared the issue. Is it the UPA government’s double-standard policy towards all the non-congress ruled states?

                “Central government is not cooperating” this has been the most predictable defence by the Chief Minister of Odisha for last few years, when the question about the development comes up in the discussion. Odisha government’s collective failure to meet this challenge of confronting the central government—year after year—has led the state to this breaking point. The MoU saga has influenced us so much that we no longer believe the planning, we believe only in execution.

                There is no point in being cry babies and always crying foul that the central government is not cooperative. It’s time to deliver. There is no time to think about the shattered dreams. It’s the time to steady the ship and move on. People don’t care as much about process as they do about results.

                It’s time to realise that terminology of MoU is not important, reality is important. People want clear goals. They’re suspicious of complexity.

                What remains to be seen whether Naveen Patnaik will move beyond his origin and become more like a “people’s Chief Minister” or he sticks to his old style of functioning.

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