IT Business Roundtable: Reigniting Odisha’s Growth

IT Business Roundtable: Reigniting Odisha's Growth

Close on the heels of a devastating super cyclone, Odisha presented the image of a wrecked economy. The state synonymous with poverty and starvation death lacked a robust political leadership to lift its sagging fortunes.

To pile up miseries, a cyclone of rare intensity had pounded the state’s coast in 1999, claiming over 10,000 lives, leaving behind a trail of despair. It was at this juncture that a reluctant and reclusive political jumped into the state’s political minefield. Naveen Patnaik. A name otherwise identified well with the elite high societies of London and Delhi. A writer of some caliber with an acknowledged taste for arts and heritage. But politics was never his cup of tea.

Naveen, though, had a clear advantage of pedigree being the son of the flamboyant Biju Patnaik, the most adored leader Odisha has produced. His foremost priority was to perpetuate the Biju legacy. Biju’s vision of a resurgent Odisha, propelled by industrialization resonated loud with the state’s hoi polloi. And, Naveen showed ample political astuteness early on. He broke free from the erstwhile Janata Dal to float an eponymous party called Biju Janata Dal (BJD). Then began the story of the pied piper of Odisha’s politics who not just sold promises but delivered when it mattered.

Alongside Biju’s vision, the BJD has been recording spectacular wins in poll after poll on the performance plank. Today, Naveen’s BJD has won five elections on a trot, and that perhaps, is the greatest testimony to his political success. When he was drafted into Odisha’s political circuit, the state’s economy was in the doldrums.

Odisha had to take the overdraft route to pay salaries to its officers. But what a transformation his leadership has wrought! Over the last eight years, Odisha has clocked a growth of over 8 percent, consistently outperforming the national average and overcoming the ghosts of the Hindu rate of growth which the state reeled under from 1950 to 2000. True, Odisha still has substantial catching up to do with other developed states on key Human Development Indicators. Yet, the state leadership deserves all kudos for scripting a turnaround and creating an ecosystem of jobs that has stemmed from the migration or large-scale exodus of labor.

Aligning with his legendary father’s vision, Naveen has revved up Odisha’s investment engine and made the state a plum investment destination. Its abundance of mineral wealth, availability of competitive and efficient workers, a stable political climate, uninterrupted power, and water supplies coupled with a congenial policy narrative have tilted the scales of industrialization in its favor.

The Poscos, Mittals, Tatas, and Jindals are all eyeing Odisha to set up and consolidate their manufacturing bases. The cumulative investments the state has drawn since the lifting of the license permit quota raj has exceeded Rs 15 lakh crore. What has also kept the investment clock clicking for Odisha is Naveen’s no-nonsense passion for reforms in governance. The state boasts of a seamless single-window portal- GO SWIFT or Government of Odisha Single Window Investment Facilitation and Tracking that tracks the entire project life cycle for an investor. Today, the average time taken for approving a new investment project in Odisha has shrunk to a mere 19 days.

Naveen has stewarded governance to new highs. With his 5T initiative, he has reset the paradigms of citizen-centric governance. In sync with the 5T governance model, the state machinery will leverage technology to deliver time-bound and transformative outcomes. Naveen has anointed his most trusted lieutenant VK Pandian as the 5T secretary.

This powerful officer has been making surprise visits, many at unearthly hours to appraise the progress of key infrastructure works. Adding strength to the 5T governance model, Naveen has rolled out Mo Sarkar (or My Government) wherein the citizens are made direct participants in decision making and enhancing the quality of governance. This system mandates top officials of the Chief Minister’s Office to make randomized calls to aggrieved citizens to check the quality of services delivered at public institutions, especially the state-run hospitals and police stations. The performance appraisal of officers is linked to their service to citizens under Mo Sarkar which makes it an even more compelling model in participatory democracy.

Besides giving a major facelift to governance, Naveen has been instrumental in positioning Odisha on the international sports map. Bhubaneswar is India’s new sports capital. The laidback, temple city shot into the limelight when it first played host to an athletics event, readying everything in a span of just 90 days. Next, it took up sponsorship of the Men’s and Women’s hockey teams and hosted the Hockey World Cup.

Naveen’s credo in public service is starkly different from other hard-nosed politicians. He still remains a recluse, doesn’t make a splash in the front pages of the print media. He has been the perfect epitome of ‘The lesser you speak, the more you connect’, an adage of his own coinage. Naveen has refrained from mudslinging or below the belt swipes at his political adversaries.

Instead, he has sharpened his focus on welfare economics and people-centric schemes. Beginning from Mamata to the much applauded KALIA, his government has a scheme for every stakeholder- be they girl children, pregnant women, Anganwadi workers, senior citizens, meritorious college students et al. Any random vox pop anywhere in Odisha would confirm Naveen’s credentials as the peerless leader. To say that Naveen is second to none in politics would be an understatement.

The factoid is, there is no second leader to steer Odisha to transformation.

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