Rajendra Prasad Mohapatra

With the Centre giving its nod to allow senior IAS officer Manoj Ahuja’s return to Odisha from central deputation, speculations intensified in the power corridor surrounding the next Chief Secretary as incumbent Pradeep Jena’s tenure, which was extended by six months, is set to end on June 30.

Though 1990- batch IAS officer Ahuja will retire after six months, he is considered a strong contender for the coveted post. Ahuja came in the good books of Prime Minister Narendra Modi while working in the Agriculture Ministry. It is being said that Modi has agreed for Ahuja’s return to Odisha to take forward the development model of the state by giving priority to agriculture. Though Ahuja will retire on December 31, the government may increase his tenure like two former Chief Secretaries.

“PM Modi had promised to give importance to agriculture during the election campaign in Odisha. Hence, Ahuja may be the next Chief Secretary of Odisha as he was working as a Secretary in the Agriculture Ministry. If he becomes the Chief Secretary, his tenure may be increased,” said former Chief Secretary Sahadev Sahoo. 

Meanwhile, current Chief Secretary Pradeep Jena’s tenure has already been increased for six months. Many also believe that Jena’s tenure may be increased again. However, as a new government has been formed after 24 years, no clear picture in this regard has emerged yet.

Others in the race

Apart from Ahuja and Jena, 1991-batch IAS officer and current Special Relief Commissioner (SRC) Satyabrata Sahu and Development Commissioner Anu Garg are also leading the race to replace Jena at the helm of the State bureaucracy. 

Moreover, the current Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) of Odisha and 1993-batch IAS officer Nikunja Bihari Dhal has also emerged as another frontrunner in the race. Dhal has impressed by effectively managing the recently concluded 2024 General Elections in an impartial manner.

As per the political analysts, the government should be careful enough to avoid any kind of conflict while choosing between the Odia and non-Odia officials.

“As BJP has come to Odisha by harping on Odia ‘asmita’ (identity) factor, people have a notion that Odia officials will be given priority in the administration. Hence, an Odia official may be the next Chief Secretary of Odisha,” said senior journalist Prasanna Mohanty.

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