Flashback 2015: Drought, farmer issues, Opposition attacks kept Odisha govt on toes

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Bhubaneswar, Dec 20: The Naveen Patnaik government in Odisha had some tough time in 2015, having to deal with issues related to drought, farmers suicides and suspected starvation death besides frequent attacks from a vociferous Opposition.

The Biju Janata Dal (BJD) regime also faced flak over the Lord Jagannath's Nabakalebara festival fiasco, death of over 60 infants in a fortnight span at Sishu Bhavan in Cuttack, power crisis et al, though it claimed that it handled all issues ably.


As 26 of the state's 30 districts were hit by drought and around 140 farmers committed suicide due to alleged crop failure and debt burden, the Opposition blamed the chief minister saying such situation could have been avoided had his government fulfilled its promises and drawn contingency plans.

As Congress stalwart and Leader of Opposition Narasingha Mishra puts it, the BJD government in 2006 promised to ensure 35 per cent of irrigation in each block of the state within five years.

Then in 2008, it announced that 35 per cent land of each village will be irrigated, but the promises remained unfulfilled. BJP's state unit chief K V Singh Deo also blamed Patnaik, who is in charge of water resources department, for poor irrigation facilities.

Miseries of the farming community were compounded as the state government remained apathetic, insincere and insensitive, he claims.

The state government, on its part, claimed that farmers committed suicide not due to crop loss and debt burden but for other reasons including family problems.

The state government has submitted two interim memoranda seeking central assistance of Rs 2,199 crore for drought mitigation measures as 215 of the 314 blocks witnessed damage of kharif crops.

While Patnaik was accused of remaining insensitive towards farmers' plight and not visiting any of the deceased's families, Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi led a "save farmer march" in September in Bargarh district where he met family members of a distressed farmer who had ended his life.

Claiming that suicide by farmers continued to mount despite state government's announcing of a drought package in October, Opposition asked BJD regime to convene an all-party meeting for tackling farmers issues, bring a white paper on the matter, waive farm loans, provide Rs 20 lakh assistance to affected farmers per acre and Rs 10 lakh each to families of deceased peasants.

Adding to its worries, reports about death of a woman due to alleged starvation surfaced at Gutupalli village in Balangir district on December 7. As the issue stepped up onslaught from many quarters and led to disruption of Assembly, a defensive government claimed the death of the 55-year-old woman was due to prolonged illness and not hunger.

Amid all these issues, state government had to face some embarrassing moments as several ruling party leaders came out openly with instances of farmers having committed suicide in their areas due to crop loss and debt trap.

Their views were in sharp contrast to the claims made by the government. The state was also rocked by a series of controversies during the mega festival of Nabakalebar amid allegations of gross mismanagement of rituals for the grand event marking the replacement of idols of the presiding deities of the famous Puri temple.

Chaos marked the entire process spanning over four months right from the start of 'Banajaga Yatra' to locate and select sacred neem trees to 'Brahma Paribartan' marking transfer of life substance from the old idols to the new ones and finally the Rath Yatra and return car festival in July.

While the servitors were accused of traveling in air-conditioned vehicles and comforts to different parts of the state to select sacred neem trees, allegations were also made from different quarters about anomalies in the process of selection of neem trees to carve out the new idols.

The state government came under flak with Opposition demanding the chief minister's resignation for mismanagement, particularly alleged violation of age-old rituals for transfer of holy 'Brahmas' from the old idols to the newly built ones.

While the sacred ritual was delayed by almost a day, servitors were accused of having seen and touched the 'Brahma'. Yet another act of the state government which drew severe criticism from many spheres was its handling of the power situation.

The announcement in September that power cut would be resorted to till June 2016 was dubbed by opposition parties and others as irresponsible and outrageous. Power cut drill was, however, relaxed later following rise in water level in reservoirs and improvement in hydro power generation, in a major relief to people.

Large-scale irregularities were also alleged in distribution of digital ration cards under National Food Security Act. Congress held dharnas alleging exclusion of many poor families from the benefit.

On other hand, rich families, who were not eligible, got the digital ration cards, OPCC president Prasad Harichandan alleged.

A dark chapter was allegedly scripted in child healthcare sector as more than 60 infants died in Sishu Bhawan, a premier paediatric hospital at Cuttack, in a span of two weeks during August-September.

In a delayed action, six erring staff members of the state-run Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel Post Graduate Institute of Paediatrics, popularly known as Sishu Bhawan, were suspended following the tragedy.

The state was in news for another wrong reason - alleged escapades of several controversial and self-proclaimed godmen including Sarathi Baba alias Santosh Roul in Kendrapara and Sura Baba alias Surendra Mishra of Trahi Achyuta ashram at Jhinti Sasan near the state capital.

They were arrested only after a state-wide hue and cry, demonstrations and protesters' clash with the police.

The arrest of Sura Baba followed violence at his luxury ashram where an angry mob damaged the sprawling building and torched some 20 vehicles.

In another embarrassment to the BJD regime, Governor S C Jamir returned the Odisha Police Bill, 2015 which had been passed in the assembly in August, and told the state government to re-introduce it for consideration of the house.

The Bill had become controversial when it was passed in the assembly on August 27 in the absence of Opposition. Even as Opposition parties were demanding discussion on few clauses of certain Bills, the Odisha Assembly on the same day passed four Bills in their absence.

Opposing the passing of the Bill without discussion, Leader of Opposition Narasingha Mishra had met the Governor. The opposition also submitted a memorandum to Jamir not to give assent to the Bill.

Left-wing extremism continued to pose serious threat in many areas where violence was perpetrated at intervals despite state government's claim that the quantum of Maoist violence declined during the year.

While the state government was slammed for not filling up the posts of chairpersons of Lokayukta, Human Rights Commission and Information Commission for months, Congress also raised question on the appointment of K B Singh as the Director General of Police.

Industrial scenario remained gloomy amid tardy and sluggish progress despite the state's claim about attracting lakhs of crores of rupees investments as mega projects like Posco and Vedanta failed to make headway due to varied reasons including mineral linkage.

Posco even put its Odisha operation on hold. The only solace was perhaps the commissioning of the first phase of Tata Steel's 6 mtpa steel plant set up at an investment of around Rs 25,000 crore at Kalinga Nagar industrial hub in November.

Adding a new feather to the steel sector, Prime Minister Narendra Modi dedicated to the nation, the 4.5 million tonne second modernisation project of Rourkela Steel Plant (RSP) built with an expenditure of Rs 12,000 crore in April.

The state government, aiming to step up growth by boosting manufacturing sector, unveiled a new industrial policy with plans to attract fresh investments of Rs 1,73,000 crore in over four years.


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