Hot seat - Damodar Rout,
Health and family welfare minister
You are back in the secretariat as a minister again. How does it feel to silence your critics who said it would not be easy for you to make a comeback?
I have been elected to the Assembly for six terms and have been a minister six times. My efficiency and integrity has never been questioned. I never spent time thinking whether I would be reinstated as a minister or not. That is for the chief minister to decide. He asked me to resign (last year) and I obliged. If he feels somebody else, and not I, should be given a particular work, he gives them a cabinet portfolio. I don’t take anything to heart.
After finance minister Prafulla Ghadei was sacked, he said some of his old friends and colleagues had “poisoned” the mind of the chief minister. Can you guess who he was referring to?
How can I comment on that? It is his personal feeling. When I was dropped, I didn’t say once that someone had poisoned the chief minister’s mind.
But you had indicated the involvement of Pyari Mohan Mohapatra, believed to be the second power centre in the Biju Janata Dal and confidant of chief minister Naveen Patnaik.
No, never. I simply said that I would obey the decision of the chief minister. But when there were debates at various places to dig out the political reasons for dropping me, I said that a second power centre in the party was unacceptable. I have been saying that all through. I did not come up with it after I was dropped.
So, why do you think Ghadei was sacked?
It is the chief minister’s prerogative. He decides who should be inducted afresh, who should be dropped, and who should continue in the cabinet.
Naveen babu might have observed his (Ghadei’s) performance as a political colleague and finance minister and felt that his continuation might be detrimental to the cabinet.
You have crossed swords with Mohapatra many a time in the past. Now, he has been suspended from the party following a failed coup attempt against Naveen while you have been inducted into the ministry. Do you feel vindicated?
It is for the people and the media to analyse the entire episode.
The very day I tendered my resignation, I told my media friends that there was nothing to worry about.
It was my duty to see to it that unethical elements did not creep into the party. In a regional party, a second power centre is always dangerous and unacceptable.
There is a view that Pyari Mohapatra was binding the party together and that the BJD will soon disintegrate, buckling under its own pressure. Do you think it can come back to power in the 2014 elections?
Look at the other regional parties.
In Samajwadi Party, Mulayam Singh Yadav’s son became Uttar Pradesh chief minister. What happened to Amar Singh, who was taking pride in being the second power centre?
In AIADMK, Tamil Nadu, Jayalalithaa came to power. What happened to Sasikala, who was claiming to be second in-command?
Here too, Naveen babu is the only leader. It hardly matters if the so-called second power centre isn’t there.
Mohapatra recently claimed that he helped you secure a ministerial berth after the 2009 elections. Did you ever approach him?
Never. Rather, he was instrumental in influencing Naveen babu not to give me the portfolio he had decided to allot to me.
There is a buzz that you are not happy with your present portfolio — health. Which department would you have liked to head?
Every department is important. Everywhere there is adequate scope to work for the people.
Health hazards are always a bother for any government. It is my sacred duty to ensure that health care services reach people appropriately and in time.
You have also been put in charge of the newly created micro, small and medium enterprises department. What are your plans to develop the industries under this department?
Micro, small and medium industries have a great employment generation potential. These will bring more products to the market.
We started Khadi and Gramodyog on August 15 and also opened a centre for khadi garments.
We have decided to create 100 new societies and revamp 34 defunct societies. Funds have been allocated already.
Do you feel your return to the ministry has been a befitting reply to people who were trying to sideline you in your own constituency?
Hooligans and criminals like Bapi Sarkhel and some elements in the party were trying hard to deprive me of a BJD ticket from Paradip. But not only did I get a ticket, I also won the elections by a margin of over 33,000 votes.
Just as there is no alternative to Naveen Patnaik in the state, it is very difficult to find an alternative to me in Paradip.
I have been enjoying the love and affection of the Paradip people for the last 40 years.
Do you feel that your BJD MLA from Jagatsighpur Bishnu Das, who is your political rival, has failed in his attempt to project you as anti-Dalit?
I have great regard and respect for Dalits.
Under my efforts, a kanyashram (residential girls’ hostel) exclusively for Dalit girls is functioning in Paradip.
There is another sevashram in Padmapur area of Ersama block.
Bishnu Das is a Dalit, but what has he done? In the name of Biju Workers’ Union, they have killed four Dalits. Did he extend any sympathy?
But I sympathised with their families like one of their own. I am not anti-Dalit. Bishnu Das is a Dalit killer.
After Pyari Mohapatra’s exit, it is alleged that you have started taking a lot of interest in the mining belt of Keonjhar and are frequently visiting those areas. What is the reason?
I am representing the Paradip constituency for the last four decades.
Lakhs of crores of rupees have been invested in the area but even my arch rivals cannot claim that I have taken a booty or undue advantage from the industrialists.
Opposition parties and the media have alleged that there is serious corruption in mining operations in Keonjhar and I have been vehemently defending the government.
Naveen babu being the head of the state is unnecessarily being blamed for corrupt people looting our mines.
It is my duty to ensure that the poor people of Keonjhar are not exploited by the mining mafia or unscrupulous elements gaining backdoor entry into the BJD.
Where is the Posco project headed now?
The state government has not renewed the MoU with Posco. However, 2,000 acres are in our hands.
With Posco, the area will be highly benefited. So, will the Jagatsinghpur district and the state.
It will come up on the seashore, not on agricultural land.
The local people were cultivating betel vine on government land and after a few years, the subsoil water is going to be exhausted. So, betel vine cultivation will stop being pursued.
I believe Posco will be set up soon. It can change the fate of the area and its people.
With heart and mind
A veteran leader who wears his heart on his sleeve, Damodar Rout, 70, is the minister for health and family welfare
He was dropped as agriculture minister last May for alleged anti-Dalit statements and a verbal spat with Pyari Mohan Mohapatra, known to be chief minister Naveen Patnaik’s trusted aide
He was re-inducted into the cabinet in the August 2 ministry reshuffle
He also heads the micro, small and medium enterprises department
A science student, Rout graduated from the Odisha University of Agricultural Technology, Bhubaneswar, as a veterinary surgeon and was working as the information officer of the animal husbandry department in Cuttack
It was then that the late Biju Patnaik offered him a Janata Dal ticket to contest Assembly elections in 1977, which he won from his home constituency, Erasama
He was re-elected for five more terms
In his entire career, he has been the minister for nearly 16 departments
A pioneer in the formation of the ruling Biju Janata Dal in 1997-98, he has won Assembly elections on a BJD ticket all three times — in 2000, 2004 and 2009
He takes interest in reading, writing poems and short stories and organising socio-cultural activities