Naveen Patnaik rejects criticism of his officers eclipsing ministers

ByDebabrata Mohanty
Sep 25, 2023 06:55 PM IST

Naveen Patnaik said his officers’ district tours were done in a decentralised and transparent manner to address the legacy issues pending for years

Odisha chief minister Naveen Patnaik on Monday rejected the criticism of his officials eclipsing the importance of ministers, saying that their district tours were done in a decentralised and transparent manner to address the legacy issues pending for years.

Odisha chief minister Naveen Patnaik. (File Photo)
Odisha chief minister Naveen Patnaik. (File Photo)

The issue was raised by the Oppostion legislators as soon as the Assembly convened on the second day of the monsoon session on Monday. They demanded that an adjournment motion on whether ministers were inferior to secretaries be debated. As the Speaker rejected the motion, chief minister Naveen Patnaik said the allegation was unfounded as the motive was to resolve people’s grievances in the best possible manner.

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“The mammoth exercise was carried out in more than 190 locations in a period of six months. A total of 57, 442 petitions were collected and as of date, 43, 536 petitions have been resolved or disposed of. Petitioners were given written replies and phone calls made on feedback through Mo Sarkar. I would say with all conviction that this is one of the biggest and most effective peoples’ grievances redressal exercises carried out by any government in the country,” Patnaik said.

“When Covid happened the CM grievance cell was closed due to restrictions for almost two years and it was restarted after normalcy returned. However, post Covid we noticed that the average number of grievances and people coming to grievance cell had come down. I thought of reaching out to the people, by taking the CM grievance cell to the door steps of the people to cover all blocks and urban local bodies of the state in the shortest period possible. Huge money and time has been saved by the CM Grievance Cell travelling to the door steps of people,” he added.

Over last few months, the visit of VK Pandian, CM’s private secretary, to all the 30 districts triggered a row with leaders from the ruling Biju Janata Dal (BJD) as well as opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) asking whether it undermined the ministers. Senior MLA and media baron Soumya Ranjan Patnaik was expelled from the BJD last week after he said the tour expenses of Pandian may be as high as the amount spent on Chandrayaan 3 mission. In his editorials, he asked if officers were more important than ministers and urged the private secretary to resign from IAS and join politics.

BJP MP Aparajita Sarangi and Congress leader Bijay Patnaik petitioned the DoPT seeking punitive action against the 49-year-old officer over alleged violation of All India Service (Conduct) Rules during his district visits.

Over allegations that his officials, including Pandian, travelled to districts using chopper, Patnaik said it would have taken one and half years to do the same exercise by road compared to chopper. “Everyday conducting three to five meetings in different locations is humanly impossible within a window of 10am to 3pm. In the last three and a half years, about 40 crore has been spent on chopper. On an average, 1 to 1.5 crore is spent on chopper every month. In the past six months when chopper was used extensively to reach out to the people, the average expenditure was the same- around 1 to 1.5 crore per month. It is completely false and misleading to say that excess expenditure has been made,” he said.

The chief minister said opposition members should be happy that so many grievances in their areas have also been resolved. “I do not understand how someone can oppose the solving of people’s grievances. Such opposition is anti-people and people will give them a befitting reply for such attitude. After all we are in public service and peoples’ grievances are our topmost priority. People are happy… peoples’ representatives are happy …Opposition members should not be unhappy because of political reasons,” said Patnaik.

However, BJP leader Mohan Majhi said the CM’s statement did not address any of the issues raised by the Opposition, “Our adjournment notice was that democracy has collapsed and whether minister or secretary is superior. However, it is unfortunate the way Speaker cancelled it without citing any reason. MLAs have the right to ask questions on the expenditure of departments. Similarly, we also wanted to know about the expenses incurred during CM’s secretary’s visits, arrangements, security and helicopter use. But without any reason, the Speaker rejected it,” said Majhi.

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