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Sanjeev Kumar Patro

Bhubaneswar: The elevation of senior IAS officer Suresh Chandra Mahapatra to the hot seat of Chief Secretary (CS) of Odisha has no such drama unlike last year (August 2019), when State government appointed Asit Tripathy as the new CS bypassing the then senior most IAS officer Gagan Dhal, whose retirement was due on January 2020.

Even as Suresh Mahapatra is not the senior most IAS officer in Odisha bureaucracy, the road to the hot seat of CS has been left wide open for him as the senior most IAS officer Upendra Singh (Home State –Bihar) is currently on central deputation and holding the important position of Secretary, Water Resources, River Development & Ganga Rejuvenation.

More so, Suresh Mahapatra belongs to the 1986 IAS batch. And his other batch mate GV Venugopala Sarma is also on central deputation, and currently holding the position of Member Secretary National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA). The outgoing CS Asit Tripathy also belongs to 1986 IAS batch.

Since Suresh Mahapatra has held the rank of principal secretary in the department of Water Resources, when CM Naveen Patnaik had the water resources portfolio with him, and also he had been the principal secretary to home department, headed by CM Naveen Patnaik. His close rapport with the CM has won the race of CS for him.

As per former Chief Secretary Bijay Patnaik, the norm is Chief Minister is the appointing authority of CS in a State. And it is only the seniormost IAS cadre officer who will occupy the high office. The precedent in Odisha is CM appoints one among the same seniority level officers to the post of CS.

Born in Keonjhar, Suresh Mahapatra is known in bureaucratic circles as a coy bureaucrat, who never works to hog the limelight. He loves to work quietly.

“Suresh Mahapatra has a modest nature. He is known in bureaucratic circles as a marathoner, which means he has the mental toughness to focus on his assignments without getting distracted. The reason behind Suresh Mahapatra virtually helming Home, Water Resources, Energy and Shree Jagannath Temple Authority at different points of time in his career has been attributed to his ability to maintain calmness in tough terrains and not letting the pressure weigh on him,” recalled one of his IAS colleague.

Mahapatra, who happens to be a Tennis player and had come runners up in the category of senior men (50-plus) at the 18th All Odisha Open Nalco Tennis Tournament held in the year 2016, seems to have derived this marathoner ability from the tennis game, observers feel.

Starting his bureaucratic career since 1988, Mahapatra served as the district collector in Bhadrak, Kandhamal and Puri. For his district collector stint in Puri, Naveen Patnaik Government had given him the responsibility of chief administrator of Shree Jagannath Temple Authority (SJTA) in 2015, when the all important Nabakalebar festival was to be held.

His re-appointment as the district collector of Bhadrak in 1999, soon after the devastating super cyclone had rampaged the entire coastal districts in the State, speak volumes about his ability and the then State Government’s (Congress Party was the ruling party in State then) faith on his capability to deliver a responsive administration to cyclone effected populace.

Suresh Mahapatra is believed to be the man behind OMFED’s success story. He helmed the State’s largest dairy cooperative in 1997. The streamlining of State’s milk procurement and metamorphosis of OMFED were believed to his contribution.

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