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Mega projects will definitely see fruition

Q&A - Chief Minister of Orissa Naveen Patnaik

Dillip Satapathy  |  New Delhi 

Chief Minister of Orissa, the media-shy Naveen Patnaik, talks about his relationship with his legendary father, current issues and his retirement...
When you joined politics a decade ago, critics wrote you off as a novice and a socialite. Since then, you've made astute political moves, led the party to a second win in the state elections and established your leadership in many other elections. A transformation from a reluctant politician to a thoroughly seasoned one?
My party has done well in all the elections in the last 10 years. It all began in the winter of 1997. I came to politics after the death of my father, for whom the people of Orissa had great esteem and affection. But when voted to the job, one must try to be honest and make the system efficient to serve the people.
The anti-incumbency factor does not seem to have affected you despite seven years of chief ministership?
People have certain basic requirements. I have tried to fulfill them. A quarter of the population in Orissa is tribal. My government has launched many programmes to improve the condition of the poor and to empower them, like watershed management, participatory irrigation through pani (water) panchayats and women self-help groups under Mission Shakti. The infant mortality rate in the state has come down. There is no interference in the work of the police, unlike under the previous administration.
Orissa continues to languish as the poorest state in the country with 46.4 per cent population below poverty line, according to the latest National Sample Survey. How do you plan to fight this poverty?
We have undertaken various programmes to create employment and reduce poverty. These are tracked regularly. Massive employment opportunities can be created through the development of agriculture, industry, tourism, infrastructure and rural industries like handloom and handicraft.
We are also focusing on social infrastructure like health and education. With the Centre withdrawing special grants to the poverty-stricken Kalahandi-Bolangir-Koraput (KBK) region in the state, the state government has stepped in by launching the Biju KBK Yojana. Similarly, we have launched the Gopabandhu Gramin Yojana for the rural poor. The fiscal situation has improved. From a revenue deficit of Rs 2,500 crore seven years ago, we now have a revenue surplus of Rs 500 crore.
One of the routes you have identified for Orissa's development is rapid industrialisation, especially through value addition in the minerals sector?
Yes, a lot of investment has flowed into the state in the minerals sector. Minerals apart, investments have come in other sectors as well. Bhubaneswar has emerged as an IT hub. There is big ticket investment in the education and health sectors. Vedanta Resources has proposed to set up a world-class university at an investment of $3 billion in the state. Several new flights have been introduced, linking Bhubaneswar with the rest of the country. The hotels are now chock-a-block. This indicates the investment climate in the state. Tourism is growing fast. The tourist flow will have a multiplier effect on the growth of the handloom and handicraft sector.
But while a few mid-size steel projects have been set up in the last couple of years, big-ticket investment proposals like that by Posco and Tata Steel are stuck due to agitations by groups opposing land acquisition. In the aftermath of Kalinga Nagar and Nandigram, how will you negotiate these difficulties?
Projects which require less land are easier to set up. But projects where the land requirement is high will take more time. We have to take a humane approach and convince people. We have formulated a very good rehabilitation and resettlement policy. Some big-ticket investors like Bhushan, Jindal and Sterlite are here. Mega projects like Posco, Mittal, Tata Steel will certainly come to fruition.
People allege that you are ruthless with your detractors and intolerant of criticism.
That is not true. I have never been ruthless with anyone. I am honest and transparent in my job.
Ten years in politics and you still can't speak Oriya fluently. How can you understand the problems of the poor without speaking their language?
Any part of the state I go to, I can see the basic problems of people. You need emotional bonding to appreciate their problems. The people of this state are very nice and simple.
Being the son of a very well-known politician, did you aspire to be a politician when you were young?
Never. When I was a child I had seen many political leaders, friends and colleagues of my father, some of them from abroad, coming to meet him at our home. But I was never interested in politics.
How are your relations with your coalition partner, the BJP, especially after its poor performance in the recently-concluded panchayat elections? Does its poll performance worry you or are you happy that the time when you can be on your own has come?
Our alliance is almost a decade-old now. We fought the Assembly and Lok Sabha elections together. In the last three tier panchayat election, we had a tie-up in five districts.
Are you thinking of new equations keeping the next Assembly elections in mind?
I'm not looking for any new equation. The alliance with our partner holds good.
Following your party's success, there is speculation that you may advance the 2009 Assembly elections to 2008 to cash in on your present image and popularity?
That is not true. No such thing has crossed my mind.
After your retirement from politics, where do you plan to settle down - in Orissa or somewhere else?
I will always be in Orissa. Let me see what the future holds.
What will you do then?
About what I am going to do, I will certainly consult a good astrologer. (Laughs) Certainly, a good astrologer.

First Published: Sun, April 01 2007. 00:00 IST