Flashback: Events that defined Odisha in 2023

2023 will be etched as a year of happenings, mishaps, glory, and tragedy. As we look back, The New Indian Express presents a compelling timeline, capturing the moments that defined the state this year
VK Pandian.
VK Pandian.

Man of the Year

VK Pandian

If there was one personality, who remained in the news for all 365 days of 2023, it was none other than VK Pandian. The private secretary and closest aide of Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik had been at the centre of every move of the state government and BJD, and a constant target of the Opposition BJP and Congress. With Naveen visibly taking a backseat, Pandian had been at the forefront and became the most visible face of the government. His district visits mid-year covering all the 147 Assembly constituencies and holding massive public functions had stirred a political storm with the BJP and Congress charging him of violating the Indian Civil Services code of conduct by taking a political role.

Though the CM himself clarified that Pandian was visiting districts as his representative and receiving public grievances, the attack did not subside and the Opposition challenged the bureaucrat to quit IAS and join politics. Pandian obliged. On October 23, he took voluntary retirement from IAS – his application was accepted in lightning speed by the Centre in just three days. He was immediately appointed as the chairman of 5T and Nabin Odisha with Cabinet rank. On November 27, he formally joined the BJD amidst a grand show by the party. He, however, made his intentions clear that he will not contest the 2024 elections and will campaign with the chief minister. But, in politics, nothing is the final word. What holds for Pandian in the future, 2024 will make it clear.

Birth of a star

Kishore Jena
Asian Games silver medalist

From the paddy fields of a nondescript village in the Puri district to the podium at the Hangzhou Asian Games, Kishore Jena is a story of rare resilience in the contemporary Indian athletic arena. A youngster who wanted to play outdoor games so that he could land a job through sports quota to support his family, Kishore erupted on the sports scene like a hungry volcano in 2023. Someone who had started with volleyball at the Bhubaneswar Sports Hostel and was handed the javelin by a coach with a keen eye for talent, Kishore marked his first 80m on March 20 this year at the Indian Grand Prix, Trivandrum where he picked the gold with an 81.05m throw.

He was just getting started. At the Inter-State Athletic Championship at Kalinga Stadium on June 19, he claimed a silver with 82.87m. Weeks later, at the 101st Sri Lankan Championships, Kishore emerged as the champion with an 84.38m throw. He almost missed his flight to the World Athletics Champions in Budapest. But once there, he finished a remarkable fifth with 84.77m on August 27. It was followed by the Indian Grand Prix at Chandigarh where he threw 82.53m to land the gold.

On October 19, he created history by winning the Asian Games silver medal logging his best of 87.54m at Hangzhou and booked a place for himself at the Paris 2024 Olympics.

Seeder of food revolution

Swati Nayak
Agriculture scientist

Agriculture scientist Swati Nayak became the first Odia and third Indian to receive the prestigious Norman E Borlaug Award for Field Research and Application in the field of food and nutrition. The award, instituted by the World Food Prize Foundation, is named in honour of Nobel Laureate and Green Revolution’s chief architect Dr Norman E Borlaug. A scientist and South Asia Lead for Seed System and Product Management at IRRI, Nayak was selected for her innovative approach to engaging farmers in demand-driven rice seed systems. She has so far organised more than 10,000 extensive on-farm trials for more than 500 rice varieties, working with thousands of smallholder farmers across diverse ecosystems in Asia and Africa. In Odisha, she formulated a strategy for drought-tolerant rice variety ‘Shahabhagi Dhan’ which remains an integral part of every farm family’s diet and crop rotation. She is referred to by the local communities as ‘Bihana Didi’.

Woes of the tiger land

wildlife reserve

Forest officials in Odisha had a tough time in managing the affairs in Similipal, Asia’s second-biggest biosphere reserve and India’s fourth-largest Tiger Reserve, which remained in the news mostly for the wrong reasons, right from the initial months of the calendar in 2023.

The carcass of an elephant with the anterior of its head sawed off was found from STR in February. As forest officials were battling to deal with the menace of poaching, the killing of two forest officials shook the forest administration. Forest guard Bimal Kumar Jena was shot dead by a large group of armed poachers on May 23. Weeks later, forester and range-in-charge Mathy Hansdah was gunned down by the armed poachers. The incident triggered widespread outrage, prompting the state government to grant immunity to the frontline forest staff for the use of firearms in the line of duty.

There was also some good news from the tiger land, as the AITE 2022 report of NTCA revealed that the tiger count of STR has doubled to 16 in 2022 compared to eight in 2018.

In news

Minister Naba Das shot dead by COP

Odisha Health and Family Welfare Minister Naba Kishore Das was shot dead by a policeman on January 29. He was gunned down in Brajrajnagar town of Jharsuguda district around 1 pm by assistant sub-inspector of police (ASI) Gopal Krushna Das when he stepped out of his car to attend a meeting. Gopal was arrested on the spot. Gopal’s family claimed that he has been suffering from mental illness. The Crime Branch investigation, however, revealed Gopal had no health issues and had planned and carried out the murder in full senses over personal grudges. He was dismissed from service.

Income Tax Raids on Congress MP

Congress MP in the Rajya Sabha Dheeraj Sahu was an unknown entity in Odisha. Until December 6! The Income Tax department swooped down his alcohol manufacturing business in two states, mainly Odisha and stumbled upon a mind-boggling Rs 351 crore in cash along with other valuables. Hidden away in chambers and safe houses in two small towns of Odisha’s Sudpara and Titilagarh and Khetrajpur, the money attracted national attention with Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself taking a dig at the Opposition party. So huge was the volume that banks ran out of cash counting machines and had to rent from outside. At some points, even the machines developed fatigue. While Sahu claimed it was his biz money, Congress was found floundering on the issue.

Balasore tragedy

In one of the deadliest train crashes of the century, the triple train collision at Bahanaga in Balasore district on June 2 killed 296 passengers and left over 900 wounded. Chennai-bound Coromandel Express entered the passing loop instead of the main line at a speed of nearly 130 kmph and collided with a stationary goods train. Under the impact of the collision, its 21 coaches derailed and hit three tail-end coaches of Bengaluru–Howrah Superfast Express that was passing through the adjacent track. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Railways Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw, Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee visited the spot and monitored the rescue and relief operations. The Railway Board handed over the matter to CBI suspecting an act of sabotage behind the mishap. Three railway employees were arrested by CBI on charges of culpable homicide and destruction of evidence and seven, including the three, were placed under suspension for dereliction of duty. Multiple lapses in signalling-circuit alteration carried out in 2018 were cited as the major cause of the crash by the Commissioner of Railways Safety.

Success of the Odia film industry

2023 was an eventful year for the Odia film industry. While Pratikshya, directed by Anupam Patnaik, was awarded the Best Odia Film at the 69th National Film Awards, Subhransu Das' ‘Pushkara’ turned out to be the biggest commercial hit. Inspired by a book written by award-winning author Gaurahari Das, ‘Pratikshya’ also bagged the best story award in the 11th Annual DC South Asian Film Festival in Washington DC and was screened at the Indian Panorama section of IFFI. Das’ ‘Pushkara’ was released in September and is the only film that opened to full houses for more than 50 days all over Odisha. It was based on Odia novel ‘Nadabindu’ written by Sankar Tripathy.

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