Column: Depoliticize Industrialisation

By Ashutosh Mishra

Bhubaneswar: Nearly two decades ago when South Korean steel behemoth, POSCO signed an MoU with Odisha government for setting up a steel mill in Jagatsinghpur district the then government led by Naveen Patnaik touted it as its crowning glory. The agreement symbolized the arrival of Odisha on the country’s industrial scene and an indication that big investors were willing to stake their money on projects in the state.

POSCO was quickly followed by ArcelorMittal, arguably the world’s biggest steel manufacturer. Euphoria ran high and Patnaik, who was then running a coalition government with the Bhartiya Janata Party, made the most of it in electoral terms. And then the bubble burst. Mittal was the first to pull out citing land acquisition problems. And then POSCO, having battled a string of problems including a popular resistance at the project site, decided that enough was enough.

Ever since industrialisation in the state has lost most of its sheen notwithstanding initiatives like ‘Make In Odisha Conclave’ through which the state government has been trying to showcase its industry-friendliness, its ability to host big corporates. The two conclaves held so far have succeeded in creating a positive buzz but results on the ground have been far from satisfactory. Only a fraction of the proposals received has been actualized which means mandarins of the concerned departments need to work harder.

Besides the industrialisation drive needs to be depoliticized in order to produce desirable results. The government should be more eager to promote industries and less to tout big-ticket projects as political trophies because it distracts attention from the real objectives of the drive. The priority should be turning new project proposals into reality.

The MoUs, in any case, is only an expression of intent with basic conditions for the establishment of a project laid down. It is a mere agreement which should be no cause for celebration. The number of MoUs that the government has signed may be cited by it to score points against its political opponents but that does not represent the true picture of industrialisation in the state. The fact is even a large number of project proposals are still awaiting the government’s nod.

Grounding a project is easier said than done. POSCO’s fate should be a lesson for the state government which claims to be so eager to create an industry-friendly environment in the state. The South Korean company had scaled down its land requirement for the project in view of the agitation by the would-be oustees but it still failed to set up its project.

Dealing with the agitation had become a political problem for the state government which was perhaps not ready to risk its electoral repercussions. But the government must remember that most of the big industrial houses coming to the state will face similar problems which they would expect it to solve for them.

For the industrialisation drive to succeed the government will have to adopt a bolder approach and stop making compromises for the sake of votes. Politics and industrialisation cannot go hand in hand.

(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are author’s own and have nothing to do with OTV’s charter or views. OTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same)