A Challenging Year for Odisha
By Bijay Chaki | Published: 31st December 2013 12:26 PM |
Despite facing a number of challenges including cyclone Phailin, the lawyers’ agitation in Western Odisha which paralysed the administration for several months, the growing crime against women and a number of scams, the winning spree of Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik continued with the BJD sweeping the urban local body (ULB) polls in September and November ahead of the Assembly polls in 2014.
The gradual weakening of the Opposition Congress apparently because of frequent change in the State leadership also helped BJD consolidate its position further in the State which witnessed a sluggish industrial and agricultural growth.
Removal of former minister Niranjan Patnaik as the president of the Odisha Pradesh Congress Committee (OPCC) and appointment of Jayadev Jena in his place in May gave rise to intense infighting in the party leading to its further marginalisation in the State politics.
Fight between the two factions resulted in expulsion of former MP Soumya Ranjan Patnaik from Congress. Patnaik, who was expelled for allegedly trying to create a parallel organisation, eventually floated a new political party Ama Odisha promising to provide an alternative to both the BJD and Congress.
The State witnessed a prolonged agitation in Western Odisha districts over the demand for a permanent bench of the High Court in the region which paralysed administration in the area as lawyers boycotted office.
All the political parties also boycotted the first phase ULB polls in the region in September.
However, when polls were rescheduled in the area in November, the BJD swept the polls in the traditional stronghold of the Congress. In the first phase polls in September, the BJD won overwhelmingly.
The agitation subsided in November when the Chief Minister wrote to Union Law Minister Kapil Sibal for establishment of high court benches in Western and Southern Odisha.
As the State was grappling with several such issues including the chit fund scam, it was a hit by severe cyclone Phailin on October 12 which caused widespread damage to property and crop.
The cyclone and the floods which followed it claimed 45 lives. Around 11.54 lakh people were evacuated before the cyclone which affected over 1.32 crore people in 18,374 villages of 18 districts. The State Government’s efforts were appreciated by the United Nations.
Delay in releasing financial assistance for the cyclone gave rise to a war of words between the Centre and the State Government with the latter accusing the former of step-motherly attitude. The Centre eventually released `1000 crore interim assistance against the State’s demand of `5942 crore in two phases.
The Chief Minister, on his part, undertook district tours during the year keeping an eye on 2014 polls. In a bid to woo the voters, he also announced freebies, blankets, umbrellas and mobile phones, one after the other leaving out no section of the voters.
It all started with announcement of rice at `1 per kg on January 26. The scheme will cost the exchequer `1,128 crore. Naveen continued with schemes for women voters, workers, farmers and laptops for meritorious students.
On industrialisation front, progress remained tardy and sluggish despite the State’s claim of attracting investment worth lakhs of crores of rupees as mega projects like Posco, ArcelorMittal and Vedanta failed to make headway due to varied reasons including hurdles in land acquisition.
In a blow to Odisha’s industrialisation drive, world’s largest steel-maker ArcelorMittal in July scrapped a planned $12-billion (`50,000 crore) steel plant in the State following inordinate delay, problems in acquiring land and securing iron ore linkages.
Similarly, hopes of conducting the ground breaking ceremony for the proposed Posco project near Paradip during South Korean President Park Geun-hye’s visit to India next month have turned bleak with State Government making it clear that it could hand over an additional 1,000 acre of land for the purpose only after clearance from National Green Tribunal.
Agriculture presented a pathetic scene amid allegation of irregularities in distribution of seeds. Opposition parties also alleged distress sale of paddy by farmers in many areas due to failure on the part of the Government to open mandis in time for procurement.