One of the general managers of Mahanadi Coalfields Limited (MCL) has accused you of demanding Rs 5 lakh from him to meet your office expenses and you have labelled the allegations as “baseless” and “motivated”. What do you think is his motive?
The officer in question here has been involved in many illegal acts, including selling good quality coal to a particular company and keeping his cut. In this way, he has caused heavy losses to MCL. I had raised this issue with higher officials a year ago. He was recently transferred and feel I am responsible for this. So, out of frustration, he said I was demanding money from him. The chairman-cum-managing director of MCL is looking into the allegation and I am consulting my lawyer to file a defamation suit against the officer.
The BJD and BJP have demanded a CBI inquiry into your alleged involvement in this case. BJP president Jual Oram has threatened to approach the Ethics Committee of the Parliament and even the Prime Minister regarding this issue. Are you ready to face an inquiry?
I welcome all sorts of inquiries. Oram is ventilating his anger against me because of political reasons. Tribal people have distanced themselves from Oram and elected me to the Lok Sabha from Sundargarh constituency, which he used to occupy earlier. Now, it is his frustration speaking. And the BJD, instead of taking up my case, should join hands with the Congress in facilitating the CBI inquiry into the mining scam, which has rocked the state.
Oram had also accused you of using a fake certificate to win the Sundergarh Lok Sabha seat reserved for STs. He said you are enjoying the status of a tribal even though you are not one. An RDC-level probe is going on at the behest of the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes.
When Oram was a Union cabinet minister during the NDA rule, why didn’t he use his power to order a probe? I am a tribal and belong to the Bhuiyan community. Any attempt to delete Bhuiyans from the tribal list will be met with resistance. Oram is aware of this. Many tribal people from my community have won elections earlier. Where was Oram then? The probe will prove everything.
Do you think there is a larger conspiracy against you?
Yes. There are people, including some influential leaders in own my party (Congress), who have interest in the illegal coal business and don’t want to see me as a minister in the Union cabinet. A reshuffle at the Centre is imminent and they feel if I am included in the ministry, all their misdeeds would be exposed. They will no longer be able to run their illegal coal business. This fear has led them to launch a campaign against me.
Maoists have already spread their base to 20 districts of the state. What needs to be done to curb Maoism?
Maoism has become a serious issue. Their presence is growing because of the state government’s failure to implement developmental schemes in tribal areas. The government must concentrate on their economic and social development.
Can you be specific on how the Maoist menace can be checked at this moment?
Efforts should be made to bring them to the mainstream. A tribal regiment should be constituted which will instil a sense of pride and confidence in them. It will also help develop a patriotic attitude. I had suggested these steps at a national-level meting presided by AICC president Sonia Gandhi.
Do you support the state’s initiative to appoint tribal people as Special Police Officer (SPO) to fight against the Maoists?
Yes, there is nothing wrong in it. The state needs to be freed from the clutches of Maoists.
Taking into account the infighting in the state unit of Congress, do you think your party would be able to come back to power in the 2014 elections?
Yes, I believe so. But the leaders need to sit together and work on better coordination. During a recent meeting, Rahul (Gandhi)ji asked the state Congress members to name leaders who can work here but they were unable to give even five names. Such is the difference of opinion among them. However, you will soon see a drastic change in the working of the Congress. In 2014 elections, we will return to power.
If that happens, do you hope to become the chief minister again? You headed the state in 1989 and again in 1999, but for a duration of around three months each time. Don’t you have some ambition to complete a full term of five years?
I don’t have any such ambitions. I have always done my work without expecting any reward. I was happy being the chief minister and enjoyed it while it lasted. But I have never changed with change of power and position.
Politics in his blood
Hemanand Biswal, 72, is a Lok Sabha MP from Sundergarh and a former chief minister of Odisha
Hailing from Jharsuguda district, the Indian National Congress party leader completed his Plus Two studies in arts from Government College, Sundargarh. He acted in various plays during his school and college days. After getting an intermediate degree, he became a schoolteacher and remained in the profession for about four years
Fascinated by politics since childhood, he entered the big stage in 1974 by winning an Assembly seat. The six-time MLA was the minister of health and family welfare from 1985-86 and minister in-charge of panchayati raj, housing and public grievances and pension administration in 1994. He has also been a member of various Assembly committees
He became the chief minister for the first time in 1989, succeeding J.B. Patnaik and again after a gap of nearly 10 years, in 1999, as a successor to Giridhar Gamang. However, both times, he stayed in power for a brief period of three months. In 2009, he was elected to the 15th Lok Sabha from Sundargarh constituency, defeating Jual Oram
During his political career, Biswal has been embroiled in at least two major controversies, including furnishing a fake ST certificate during the Lok Sabha elections. Earlier this week, a senior officer of Mahanadi Coalfields Limited levelled allegations against the seasoned politician of demanding money for running his office
what would you have been Had you not been a politician?
My father was the sarpanch of our village and since childhood, I was exposed to a political atmosphere. I always wanted to do something for the society and used to be fascinated by youth movements and political campaigns. After completing my Plus Two, I became a teacher in my village high school and even in that capacity I used to take up issues concerning the development of the school and of the area as a whole. I was more an activist than a teacher. So, if not politics, I would have been a social worker, serving the people of this state.