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Orissa under Naveen Patnaik: Corruption and Lawlessness behind Transparency

"During his almost eleven years of political tenure, Naveen has been successful in making an image for himself as a CM and political boss who can take steps and decisions beyond the imaginations of people, political analysts and even his close aids. But at the end what people got in him is a ruler instead of a public leader in a democracy"

Basudev Mahapatra : June 15, 2008

One of my old friends ran on the corridors of department of Higher Education in the Heads of Departments building in Bhubaneswar almost for a month. Lots of departmental procedures delayed his work. Even after a month, clerks told him to wait for some days. My friend was almost disgusted when he saw another woman came with a similar problem managed to get her issue resolved in half of a day. Curious to know the secret he asked the lady and came to know that it’s bribe that worked to get things done in some hours only. Reacting to the attitude of the clerks dealing with the problem he went to the Head Assistant and asked why didn’t they tell if they wanted bribe to resolve his problem? Why did they make him run for a month?

The Head Assistant who was silently listening to the questions simply replied – ‘I was ignorant of the fact that you were unaware of the practice’. Then he opened the draw and showed how people who came for different official works pushed bribes into it.

This is the picture of how administration of the people’s government in Orissa runs under Chief Minister Naveen Pattnaik.

Although corruption is not new to Orissa, people of the state had lot of hopes on Naveen Patnaik when he entered Orissa politics as the heir of Biju Pattnaik. People always wanted a corruption free rule in the state under Naveen’s leadership. But as it seems, corruption is becoming a simple and common practice everywhere, at every level of the administrative set up.

During his almost eleven years of political tenure, Naveen has been successful in making an image for himself as a CM and political boss who can take steps and decisions beyond the imaginations of people, political analysts and even his close aids. But at the end what people got in him is a ruler instead of a public leader in a democracy.

First term: Phase of image building

Naveen’s unprecedented moves like sacking BJD mastermind Bijay Mohapatra from the party before the 2000 Orissa Assembly Elections and dismissing three ministers from the cabinet of his first term rule made his government popular and established the image of a transparent and bold one.

Naveen’s first term ended with charges of corruption against the speaker Sarat Kar in appointment of Assembly staff for which Mr Kar was not given the party ticket to fight the 2004 Assembly election. But rumour goes that, Kar had gave a positive hint to lead the group of MPs that expressed dissidence over Naveen’ leadership.

However, these steps of Naveen Patnaik brought for his government an image of transparent and non-corrupt one that helped BJD and its coalition partner BJP coming back to power for a second term.

Although excited to learn how Naveen throws many veterans of Orissa politics out of his ring, common people do not bother much about the bold but shrewd moves initiated by Naveen Pattnaik as they are always intended to keep the parties and government safe inside power corridors and hardly meant to bring any benefit to the state and people. It is to the frustration of people that Naveen government neglected all their hopes and made the state a paradise for outside corporate houses that had been eager to exploit the abundant natural resources reserved in Orissa. People’s dream of an honest governance system under the leadership of Naveen is just shattered as corruption and illegal nexus have been deep rooted across all segments and levels of administration in the state. The facts of corruption, nexus and nepotism have been all established by a series of activities, events and revelations during Naveen’s second term as the Chief Minister.

Second term: Phase of Money, Manipulation and MoU

The second term started with signing of MoU with industrial and corporate houses one after another on the plea that the huge natural resources like mineral reserves must be utilised to take the state on the roads of development. Industries were planned over lakhs of acres of land most of what are farm lands and forest lands. People living on agriculture since generations were forced to vacate their own houses and sacrifice their farmland for industrialisation. Reacting to such anti people attitude of the government tribals of Kalinga Nagar and Lanjigarh raised their voice. The repressive measures initiated by government using its armed police force made the pro-corporate policy and anti-people mindset of Naveen Government clear. For the first time in Kalinga Nagar that tribal people were killed by the police force that was supposed to control any unpleasant situation and protect people. It happened on instructions from few bureaucrats, police officers and political leaders. After the Maikanch incident, it was the second incident where a democratic government elected by the people acted against the will and interests of people and even didn’t bother to kill them to safeguard the interests of few profit monger corporate houses.

Kalinga Nagar incident put the process of Industrialisation in a state of uncertainty. Although government was pressured to develop a rehabilitation and resettlement (R&R) policy after the incident, inadequacy in the policy insisted people of many other project sites to come forward and oppose industrialisation. Large Projects like Posco Steel, Vedanta University are now facing strong public resistance in their respective project sites as land owners, traditionally farmers, do not sell lands that have been their major livelihood sources since generations.

But the question is, why government and its whole machinery is working against poor agrarian people to safeguard the interests of corporate players whose sole aim is to plunder the minerals and other natural resources of the state? Nobody from the government dares to speak a word in reply. But affected people and few from the opposition parties believe that there would be a lucrative kickback working under table.

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The MoU signed with Anil Agrawal for Vedanta University is a clean example of how government machinery is working against the interests of the state to safeguard the interests of people with doubtful credibility. Even though a group under the same person is criticised by international forums for its anti-people and anti-environment activities, Orissa government didn’t bother to sign the MoU that can be better termed as a Vedanta dictated document. It is now coming to public that the list of directors produced by Vedanta Foundation contains name of a dead person.

How the concerned government department could be so irresponsible? How an MoU for an investment of 15000 crore rupees to build an infrastructure of private ownership on a land patch of 8000 acres could be signed without any crosscheck or authentic verification of papers produced by a company or a foundation?

Similar is the case with other projects where the process of leasing mines to mineral based industrial projects against people’s rights and violating norms of environment protection act has put the government and corporate groups in a fix and legal battle.

It seems, political leaders and bureaucrats of the state have joined together during Naveen’s rule to loot public properties by handing them over to outside corporate groups. People’s high esteem for this government after bringing the issue of tender fixing to light is now changing as, in course of time, the fixers are only changed. Instead of gangsters operating outside with lots of risk, now fixers are doing the business safely inside administrative and power corridors. The amount involved in the deals is not in lakhs or crores but hundreds and thousands of crores!

But still the CM and cabinet colleagues are claiming this government to be a transparent and corruption free government even after an education minister was caught misusing his power to increase the marks in the council examination; the speaker of legislative assembly charged with allegations of emotional and sexual harassment to a assistant lady martial; possibility of police criminal nexus claimed by a senior police officer; and the fact that some senior bureaucrats have links with dreaded criminals of the state to pursue businesses side by side their job!

The sign of vindictive politics is quite existent even in the villages that are divided into many political fragments within. And leaders of BJP and BJD who are in the government are playing their beat in dividing villages into politically affiliated rival groups. Earlier the affiliation was there but strong rivalry within the community is mostly a contribution of the leaders holding power in Naveen’s government.

After entering politics when Naveen contested Aska by-election, he came across people of Orissa living in the remote villages of one of its poor districts like Ganjam. Impressed by the meadows of the rural Orissa Naveen was amazed to see and feel the respect among the people for his father Biju Pattnaik who enjoyed immortality in the mind and hearts of the poor folks of Orissa. Looking at the misery of people, Naveen made lots of promises to work for the development of the poor people of Aska. By now, over decade has passed and the second term of his Chief Ministership is close to its end. Most of Naveen’s promises are still to be realised and what Naveen Patnaik should count as the greatest failure is his inability to uphold the hopes of people and offer them a government of their expectation.



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