15 years on, Naveen Still Chasing ‘Biju’s Dream’

By Dhrutikam Mohanty *

Biju Janata Dal, the party named after legendary leader Biju Patnaik, never tires of claiming that it is striving hard to realize Biju’s dream of building a prosperous, industrialized Odisha. But it has precious little to show by way of results on the ground for all that ‘tireless striving’ over the last 15 years.

Naveen garlanding Biju Patnaik

Nothing highlights the contrast between Biju Babu’s dream and the stark reality on the ground better than the fate of the Posco mega steel plant project near Paradeep, which was to have been the ‘biggest single FDI’ in the country. Ten full years after signing a MoU with the Odisha government, the Korean steel major finds itself not an inch ahead of where it was on June 22, 2005. If anything, it is now worse off now that the amended MMDR Act has nullified the assurance of captive iron ore mines that it had taken for granted then.

Posco, however, is only the visible example of the Naveen Patnaik government’s failure to walk the talk when it comes to industrialisation.

Biju Patnaik , who was very fond of saying with his characteristic elan that the next generation would be a ‘steel generation’, had tried all he could to set-up a second steel plant in the state when he became the Chief Minister of Odisha in 1990. Being a seasoned industrialist and statesman, he was convinced that it was difficult to arrange an investment of  Rs 4,000 to 5,000  crores from domestic sources. Then he tried to bring in direct foreign investment for the project. In 1990-91, Biju negotiated with South Korean steel maker Posco to be a partner of his ambitious project, Kalinga Steel. Posco had been asked to study the feasibility of a port-based steel plant at Paradeep. But this negotiation couldn’t go very far as the mandarins in the Steel Ministry of Government of India decided that there had to be a major change in policy if states start going on their own for such massive projects with direct investments from foreign countries. Ultimately, Posco backed out of the project when the site was shifted from Paradeep to Daitari. Thereafter, Biju Patnaik had tried to rope in London-based business magnet Swaraj Paul, Chairman of Caparo Group, but it also ended in failure.

Biju couldn’t fulfill his dream as his party didn’t get a mandate to rule Odisha for a second term in 1995. But why has party that swears by him and is headed by his illustrious son Naveen Patnaik failed to realize his dream even after 15 years of uninterrupted, unchallenged rule?  Posco, the same company that his father had tried to do business with, Posco, was supposed to complete the first phase of its 12-million ton steel plant near the port town of Paradeep at a cost of Rs. 52,000 crores  by June 2010, as per the terms of the MoU it had signed with the Odisha government on 22nd  of June 2005.   But five years down the line, work on the project has not even taken off.

Biju’s dream of an industrialized Odisha has been shattered by the callousness of state government. Big investors left Odisha with disappointment as they didn’t get appropriate cooperation from government to set up industries. The world’s largest steel maker Arcelor Mittal backed out of its proposed 12 million tonne steel project in Keonjhar after signing MoU in 2006 as the government failed to provide land even after it waited five long years. Major projects by Indian and global giants like Tata, Birla, Vedanta and Jindal have fallen way behind schedule or – as in the case of Vedanta – running at a vastly reduced capacity due to shortage of ore.

Most mega projects in the state have been stalled primarily because of the vexed issue of land. Then there have been other issues like environmental violations and agitations against displacement that have pushed the onward march of industrialisation back. For a while in its second term beginning 2004, the BJD government under Naveen Patnaik’s leadership looked like it was making sincere efforts to realize the industrialization dreams of  Biju Patnaik. MoUs were signed with a vengeance with big industrial houses of the country and abroad amid great fanfare. Rosy pictures of GDP growth, employment generation and economic transformation were showcased for the awe-struck Odia people. But nothing substantial has come out of those spate of MoUs, Almost a decade after, the BJD government is still ‘striving to realise Biju Patnaik’s dreams’!

Bhaskar Parichha, a political biographer of Biju Patnaik observes, “The present government is not following Biju’s pattern of operation. He was a man of strong will force and believed in political solutions of crises. Decisiveness and prompt action was his success mantra and the source of his popularity. Be it construction of  Paradeep Port  or the Expressway which connects the port with mines, or reorganization of districts from 13 to 30, he has done it at a lightning speed.”

But BJD legislator and former minister of Naveen cabinet Subrat Tarai defends his party and its leaders thus; “Both our party and government are committed to translating Biju Babu’s industrial dreams into reality. As you know, almost everywhere, there is a protest movement against mega projects. Government is trying to resolve issues by taking people into confidence. Along with this, cases have been filed by social bodies against the projects in different judicial and quasi-judicial forums; this is also one important reason behind the slow progress.”

The growth dream that the ruling BJD government has been selling the state for the past 15 years is already under a reality check. The State has been on the top of the lists of many investors eyeing big projects. But the problem-ridden present and uncertain future of existing investors due to various anti-industry movements and indecisiveness of the Naveen Patnaik-led government are now making investors wary.

Fifteen years after the party named after him came to power, Biju Babu’s ‘dream’ remains just that: a ‘dream’ !

dhrutikam mohanty

  • * Dhrutikam Mohanty is the Editor of ‘Cine Sambad’ 
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