Odisha in 2011: Maoist activities, calamities and scams

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Orissa
Bhubaneswar, Dec 22: Left-wing extremism touched a new high in Odisha with vast areas turning safe havens for the red rebels marauding from neighbouring provinces in 2011, seen as a year of calamities and scams in the state.

It was a historic year for the state as its name was changed from Orissa to Odisha and its language from Oriya to Odia following Presidential assent and gazette notification giving shape to a bill in this regard passed by Parliament.

Throwing an open challenge to the BJD government, Maoists abducted R Vineel Krishna, collector of Naxal-hit Malkangiri district, and an engineer from remote Chitrakonda area bordering Andhra Pradesh when the IAS officer was attending a public function on February 16.

As the abduction exposed the fragility in security preparedness to deal with the ultras, it followed high drama involving hard negotiations for about 10 days by Maoist- selected mediators to secure his release.

After hard bargaining, the collector and engineer were set free by their captors as the state government had to concede to a number of their demands including release of several hardcore ultras and sympathisers.

Another blow to the anti-Naxal drive was the killing of sitting BJD MLA Jagabandhu Majhi in Maoist stronghold of Umerkote area in Nawarangpur district, adjoining Chhattisgarh on September 24.

As vast stretch of red corridor in Odisha turned a safe sanctuary for Maoists on the run from Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Andhra Pradesh, the state was slammed by the Centre which asked it to learn from the experience of others on how to combat Left-wing extremism.

Union Home Minister P Chidambaram, during a visit to the state in November, said the level of Maoist violence was still "unacceptably high" despite deployment of about 10,000 central armed forces.

While the number of casualty of civilian and security force stood at about 50 during the year, about 60 police station areas spread over 19 of the 30 districts in the state were hit by Left-wing extremism.

The ultras often attacked government buildings, mobile towers and people besides targeting security personnel and triggering landmine blasts in vulnerable areas as the number of Naxal-affected districts rose from 17 to 19.

Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, however, claimed there was decline in the rate of Maoist-related casualty in Odisha in comparison to the previous years.

It was scams galore in the year. The multi-crore mining scam continued to rock the state throughout the year with Opposition parties accusing the BJD government of shielding the main culprits engaged in plundering precious mineral resources from the state.

While the Shah Commission appointed by the Centre to probe illegal mining activities in different states visited major mineral rich areas of Odisha in December, there was vociferous demand by Opposition parties for a CBI inquiry into scandals.

Finding involvement of bureaucrats in illegal mining, Justice (retd) M B Shah heading the panel felt that direct evidence was needed to pin politicians.

Another major scam involving supply of infected and substandard 'dal' to children and pregnant women under mid-day meal and Supplementary Nutrition Programme rocked the state in early part of the year, costing then women and child development minister Pramila Mallick her post.

The state was also jolted by a new scandal in the form of land scam with leaders of BJP and other parties alleging gross misuse of discretionary quota for allotment of land and houses in places like Bhubaneswar and Cuttack.

The issue snowballed into a major controversy, forcing a minister to surrender a house allotted to him. The state government also decided to do away with the provision of discretionary quota for allotment by agencies like Bhubaneswar Development Authority (BDA). (MORE)

Campaign against alleged water scandal was stepped up by various NGOs and social activists accusing the government of providing water from major rivers to industries liberally at the cost of irrigation and thus hitting the farmers hard.

On industrialisation front, progress remained tardy and sluggish despite the state's claim about attracting about Rs six lakh crore of investments as mega projects like Posco, ArcelotMittal and Vedanta failed to make headway due to varied reasons including resistance from people.

Though the MoU signed between Posco-India and state government in June, 2005 lapsed in 2010, a fresh document was yet to be signed for implementation of the proposed Rs 52,000 crore steel project, billed as country's largest FDI.

Despite the state government's claim about peaceful industrialisation, violence often erupted in various project areas including Posco's proposed steel plant site near Paradip in Jagatsinghpur district.

A violent clash between anti-Posco activists and people engaged by a coastal road contractor near the plant site on December 14 left a man dead and several injured with opposition parties slamming the government for inaction.

On the political front, there were embarrassing moments for Patnaik with senior BJD leaders including Damodar Rout, who was removed from ministry in May, alleging existence of two power centres in ruling party and government.

Infighting in the ruling BJD often came to the fore with senior leaders including ministers openly indulging in verbal duels and expressing critical views on government.

As the state was hit by severe natural calamities, two spells of devastating floods ravaged vast parts in 21 of its 30 districts claiming about 50 lives, leaving thousands shelterless and destroying crops. Ironically, vast parts of the state also faced dry spell with the government declaring 17 of the 30 districts as drought affected.

PTI

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