Bhubaneswar: A record fourth consecutive win in assembly polls failed to retain the upbeat mood in ruling BJD as CBI tightened the noose around party leaders in the multi-crore chitfund scam that rocked Odisha in 2014, arming a marginalised Opposition with political ammunition.
Despite the landslide victory, BJD leaders seemed to be encountering sleepless nights as Opposition Congress and BJP sought Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik’s removal after CBI arrested at least three party stalwarts including a sitting MP and MLA.
However, the first half of the year was inspiring for an upbeat Biju Janata Dal. Untouched by the Narendra Modi wave and anti-incumbency factor, the Patnaik-led party bagged 117 of 147 Assembly seats as Congress and BJP were made to bite the dust with wins in only in 16 and 10 segments respectively.
The 2014 poll results showed BJD was adding to its seat numbers by each passing elections. It won 103 seats in 2009.
BJD’s show in Lok Sabha also improved substantially as it won 20 of the state’s 21 parliamentary seats.
But the joy of victory was shortlived as things turned difficult for the state government after CBI began its probe into ponzi scheme scam in which thousands of poor investors were duped of their hard-earned money.
BJD had to step on a thorny path with hitherto inert Opposition turning hyper-active and mounting a scathing attack on the chief minister. Their offensive intensified after the arrest of BJD Lok Sabha MP Ramachandra Hansda and MLA Prabhat Tripathy by CBI in chitgate case. Many others were also grilled by the central agency in the ponzi scheme scam.
Worries for Patnaik got compounded when CBI summoned his close aide and party member Saroj Sahoo and interrogated him in connection with the chitfund scam, seen by Opposition as a move that apparently brought under scanner Naveen Niwas, the chief minister’s residence here.
The grilling of Sahoo prompted Congress and BJP to demand resignation of Patnaik and probe by CBI into his possible role in chitfund activities.
As Congress stalwart and leader of Opposition Narasingha Mishra put it, CBI should interrogate the chief minister who ought to step down in order to pave way for a free, fair and impartial probe into the scam.
Speaking in similar vein, senior BJP leader Bijay Mohapatra claimed the chief minister had virtually acted as a ‘brand ambassador’ of a chitfund company and attended its function despite warning by the central government about the activities of the tainted firm.
Though Patnaik claimed that neither the government nor BJD was in anyway involved in chitfund scam and suspended the arrested party MP and MLA describing their role as their own individual matters, Opposition recalled how BJD had all along opposed CBI probe into ponzi scheme scandal.
The BJD government also came under Opposition attack for signing a series of MoUs with a tainted chitfund company for undertaking works in several sectors including health, tourism, agriculture and food processing activities. They claim the Centre had issued warning about the company, whose CMD is now in jail in ponzi scheme scam.
As the BJD government was grappling with chit fund scandal and making all-out efforts to save Patnaik’s clean image, the state was also rocked by a host of other scams relating to mining, coal and land and house allotment.
Chitfund issue was also prevented from being discussed in assembly during the winter session despite Opposition demand.
At the same time some troublesome developments appeared to have gripped the regional party as activities by some leaders reportedly worried the BJD supremo.
The fact that BJD heavyweight and former Minister Prafulla Chandra Ghadai was expelled from the party for indulging in anti-party activities in September indicated all was not well within the regional outfit.
It was clear that Ghadai was hand in glove with Pyari Mohan Mohapatra, who had made an unsuccessful bid to oust the chief minister in May, 2012 when Patnaik was abroad, party spokesman Samir Ranjan Dash had said.
Expulsion of Ghadai, who had been denied BJD ticket in the last elections, came in the wake of some adverse remarks about Patnaik attributed to him appeared in an Odia daily.
Like every year, Odisha encountered natural calamities in 2014 too. After delayed monsoon, several parts of the state faced floods while cyclone Hudhud hit 15 districts. The state government demanded Rs 777.12 crore central assistance for restoration and rehabilitation work in areas hit by Hudhud.
While as many as 15 districts were hit, altogether 9657 villages in seven districts were severely affected due to the cyclone that struck on October 12, according to special relief commissioner P K Mohapatra.
The damage caused to houses, crops and public properties due to Hudhud was estimated at Rs 4949.39 crore. At least three persons died due to the cyclone, while it affected 33.44 lakh people.
Left-wing extremism continued to pose serious threat in many areas where violence was perpetrated at intervals despite the state government’s claim that the quantum of Maoist violence has declined during the year.
Twenty-eight Maoists were killed, 158 arrested and 142 surrendered in first seven months of the year.
The government termed as a major achievement the arrest of top Maoist leader Sabyasachi Panda, who carried a Rs five lakh reward on his head, in July.
Another wanted tribal leader having link with Maoists, Nachika Linga surrendered before the police in October.
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 hurdles in land acquisition and mineral linkage.
The state’s failure to get the MoUs involving huge investments forced several companies to pull out. While ArcelorMittal had already dropped its Rs 40,000 crore steel project, Jindal Steel and Power Ltd (JSPL) recently announced its plan to scrap its Rs 60,000 crore Coal-to-Liquid (CTL) project in Angul district following cancellation of Ramchandi coal block by the Supreme Court.
While the government had signed MoUs with 92 companies in last 15 years, only 41 industries have started partial production so far.
These 41 units which have started partial production include 35 steel units, three power plants and one each in aluminium, cement and auto-ancillary sector, according to official sources. Most of the power, aluminium and steel projects are facing land acquisition hurdles and acute shortage of raw material.
Agriculture presented a pathetic scene amid allegation of faulty policy for procurement of paddy. Opposition parties also alleged distress sale of paddy by farmers in many areas due to failure on the part of the government to open adequate number of ‘mandis’ in time for procurement.
Under attack for difficulties being faced by farmers in paddy procurement centres due to faults in online payment system, the chief minister asked officials to make payment through cheque wherever required.
Paddy procurement in 118 market yards of the Regulated Market Committees (RMC) of Bargarh, Atabira and Padampur in Bargarh district was stalled due to online flaws resulting in lakhs of paddy bags lying under the open sky in the market yards for 10 to 15 days.