Special Feature: Odisha

Odisha CM Naveen Patnaik: Honouring the people's trust

Print edition : May 20, 2022

Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik with Biju Janata Dal MPs at Parliament House in New Delhi on March 29. Photo: Shahbaz Khan/PTI

Interview with Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik.

Naveen Patnaik has had a long and successful journey as the Chief Minister of Odisha and president of the Biju Janata Dal. In this interview, the leader who has brought about many transformational changes in governance tells Frontline that Odisha is a land of resources and opportunities and he will continue his endeavour to fulfil the aspirations of its people.

You have been Chief Minister for over 22 years. Political analysts and practitioners have given different reasons for your longevity in office. In your view, what are the key factors that have enabled this?

Trust. People of Odisha trust our party to fulfil their aspirations and their children’s future. We value it from the bottom of our hearts. Every step we take, every scheme we launch is towards honouring that trust and fulfilling the dreams of the people of the State.

When you came into politics nearly 25 years ago, you were expected to fill the void left by Biju Patnaik, your father and a legendary freedom fighter from Odisha. At the time, you had no experience in political management. What political and development vision did you have then?

Our party is named after Biju Babu and follows his ideals. He had great dreams for the development of Odisha. Our single-minded focus has been to realise his vision for the State and make Odisha the best in every field.

Looking back at your track record from the perspective of your early vision, what do you consider are the achievements of your government so far?

When I took office, Odisha was deep in crisis after the super cyclone of 1999. The financial situation was also quite bad. Slowly and steadily, we steered the State out of the crisis and started a large number of welfare programmes and infrastructure projects.

Odisha is one of the most disaster-prone States in the country. We have successfully created disaster management governance to tackle any major disaster like cyclones, floods, etc. Odisha is now known worldwide for disaster management. Odisha used to be defamed for starvation and hunger. Our focus on irrigation and agriculture has helped Odisha become a State that leads in paddy procurement.

Our road network is among the best in the country. You go to any remote area in the State today [and you will see that] it is well connected by roads and bridges. The Swabhiman Anchal-Gurupriya bridge is a good example. We … lead in [the production of] iron ore, coal, bauxite, etc. Our crude steel installed capacity increased from 4 MT in 2000 to 33 MT in 2021 and is expected to reach 100 MT by 2030. Odisha is top in aluminium production as well.

We are making huge investments in education, health, skill development, etc., with a clear focus on developing our human resources. Our women empowerment initiatives are being replicated across the country. In most fields, Odisha is emerging as a leader, and I am confident that the transformation that is taking place across the State will produce great results in the coming years.

What, according to you, are the unfinished agendas in relation to the Odisha of your dreams?

We have achieved a lot, but we are also aware that we have a long way to go. Odisha is a land of resources and opportunities. There is great potential and our endeavour has been towards realising it and fulfilling the aspirations of our people.

Odisha’s economy was in a shambles when you took charge as Chief Minister in March 2000. Even a decade ago, the State used to be considered backward. But now it has emerged as one of the top performing States in terms of the Human Development Index (HDI). What were the administrative and operational mechanisms that your successive governments employed to achieve this?

Odisha is progressing well towards improving the HDI indicators. Political stability has definitely helped the administration focus on governance and execution of schemes. Our focus has always been to provide a transparent, sensitive and performing government.

How are you managing the State’s economy at a time when Central assistance has declined under various schemes ?

Our fiscal management is among the best in the country. Our State financial resources have also been augmented substantially over the last two decades. We have a large number of our own State schemes and projects. Unfortunately, the Central finances have been reducing and it is affecting our pace of development. We are trying to cover these gaps with increased focus on industrial investment.

Odisha was known for massive natural disasters, and State governments used to find it tough to manage them. But in this too the track record of the Ministries led by you has been good. What approach did you adopt to make the State emerge as a leading example on how to handle natural calamities?

We have no choice but to be disaster-prepared to survive. Especially, after the super cyclone, we have a clear focus on disaster management. We follow the principle that “every life is precious”. Therefore, to ensure saving the lives of the people, we adopt the “whole of government” approach. Whether its annual cyclones or pandemics like COVID, we take our job to save lives very seriously.

You have given development a new direction by empowering women. Apart from reserving 50 per cent of the seats in panchayati raj institutions and urban local bodies for women, you have given them 33 per cent of Lok Sabha seats. Do you plan to allocate 33 per cent of the seats to women in the next Assembly election?

Women are the backbone of society. They should be given their fair share in governance structures. We will continue to lead by example in this regard. In the recently concluded local body elections, 70 per cent of the zilla parishad Presidents are women, much above the statutory norm of 50 per cent.

Odisha has come a long way in the field of sports in the past two decades. Where do you see the State in the world’s sports map in the future?

After the Tokyo Olympics, Odisha has been recognised for its support to sports, especially hockey. We are investing in sports infrastructure projects and coaching programmes across the State. Kalinga Stadium is being developed as a world-class stadium with all the latest facilities. Odisha is already a global hub for hockey [and hosted/will host the] … World Cups in 2018 and 2023. Odisha will become [a]… leading sports destination and will significantly contribute towards India’s emergence as a sporting superpower.

Industrialisation has been your government’s focus. How do you plan to strike a balance between development and protection of the environment?

Odisha is endowed with rich natural resources. While industrialisation is a major focus to grow our economy and provide employment, we are conscious of the fact that development has to be environmentally sustainable. We are among the few States where the forest cover has increased in recent years [and is now] … 33.5 per cent of the total area [of the State].

Since industries have not succeeded in creating enough employment, what measures are you taking to check migration from the backward regions of the State?

Odisha has been performing well in industrialisation. However, industrialisation alone is not sufficient for employment. We are focussing on agriculture and allied activities as well for livelihoods. We are ensuring that there is no distress migration through social support and livelihood schemes.

You wrote a few books before you became Chief Minister. Will we get to see the return of the author in you in the future?

[Laughs… and says] Whenever I have some time.