Rabi Narayan Nanda,
minister of school and mass education
The state government has introduced several reforms in matriculation examinations. But many measures have not gone down well with teachers. How do you plan to contain the discontentment?
I know the difficulties that a student faces during board exams. Last year, there were several problems like question paper theft, death of students while travelling to exam centres and other issues in evaluation. My primary concerns were to make centres accessible to students and stop malpractice in every form so that exams are conducted smoothly. Until and unless we reform the process, our students cannot compete at the all-India level.
But what about teachers? They are hurt with your decision not to allow them to do invigilation duty in their own schools.
The school and mass education department is for the welfare of students. Teachers have certain demands, some of which are genuine. But the government has its own limitations.
You have announced a new grant-in-aid policy for block grant school staff, who have been demanding 100 per cent grant-in-aid on par with fully aided high schools. However, they are still not convinced and have warned against boycotting matric exam duty. Why do you think teachers have lost faith in the government?
I don’t know why they are not happy. They have been demanding for a grant-in-aid policy and they should welcome it.
Two months ago, DAV schools announced a three-fold hike in fee despite the matter being pending before the Supreme Court. Parents staged demonstrations, teachers were attacked and studies suffered. Why did the government sit back as a mute spectator?
You can’t say we are silent. We are there for the welfare of students and I have instructed schools not to deprive any student from appearing for board exams if he/she hasn’t paid fees at hiked rates.
Many English medium schools have alleged that the government has not reimbursed their expenses against free education for students belonging to economically disadvantaged sections. Why?
Reimbursement is secondary. First, I have to be sure that the schools are following the Right to Education (RTE) guideline of reserving 25 per cent seats for weaker sections. We are in the process of inspecting schools. We will cancel no-objection certificates of schools if they are not complying with RTE norms.
A recent survey has revealed that the learning standard of students in rural Odisha is on a constant decline. How would you respond to this?
I have certain survey reports that indicate that we are improving. Enrolment has gone up. Dropout rate at elementary level has been falling, from 50 per cent in 2000 to 2.5 per cent at present. Teacher studio ratio is on par with national average.
Students from Odia-medium schools often face problems in communicating fluently in English. Are there plans to introduce spoken English courses for them?
Yes. We will engage experts from English teaching institutes to train schoolteachers, who will serve as resource persons for such courses.
Odisha Jan Morcha, floated by Pyari Mohan Mohapatra, has lodged an FIR against you and chief minister Naveen Patnaik for your alleged Maoist links. This happened after Odisha Loka Dal filed an FIR against Mohapatra demanding his arrest under the National Security Act for his alleged link with Maoists. How do you view these allegations?
There are many ways to fight politically. I also don’t know the truth of Odisha Loka Dal’s allegations. The police are investigating. If Pyari Mohapatra had any knowledge about our so-called Maoist links, then he could have filed a complaint against us earlier. The people of my constituency know me.
You had to resign from the ministry in April 2006 after being accused of offering illegal gratification to two Congress MLAs in a liquor tragedy case. Do you think you were dropped in an unfair fashion?
Nobody dropped me. I resigned on my own. It was like a bad dream. But after an inquiry, I got a clean chit.
There is a perception that when Maoists kidnapped BJD MLA Jhina Hikaka last year, you, being the most senior leader in undivided Koraput, facilitated his release. Is there any truth in this?
Not at all. We were all praying to God and appealing to Maoists through media for Hikaka’s release. The chief minister doesn’t encourage any unfair way of dealing with anyone. We can’t stoop to the level of Maoists. They are most unpredictable. So, if appealing for an MLA’s release is wrong, then I am at fault.
Maoists have alleged that the government, which agreed to fulfil their demands in exchange for Hikaka’s release, has not kept its word.
We never made any promises. We said we would do whatever was legally possible. We did not commit to anything that would be detrimental to people’s welfare.
Following the abduction, Hikaka was forced to almost quit his land and stay in Bhubaneswar. What kind of message does it send to the public?
Hikaka frequently visits his constituency, twice with me in recent times.
Considered one of the most trusted aides of the chief minister, Rabi Narayan Nanda, 51, represents Jeypore constituency in the Assembly
After his schooling from Balangir, he completed his intermediate studies from Dhenkanal College
A commerce student, he pursued his graduation and post-graduation from Vikram Dev College in Jeypore and DAV College in Koraput, respectively. He also holds a bachelor's degree in law and practiced law for some time before devoting himself completely to politics
A three-time MLA from Jeypore, he won his first Assembly elections in 2000 from Jeypore on a Biju Janata Dal ticket. During his first stint as MLA, he was made the minister of state for food supplies and consumer welfare
Nanda stepped down from the ministry in 2006 following allegations that he had offered illegal gratification to two Congress MLAs in a liquor tragedy case in Puri. After lying low for almost six years, he made a comeback to the ministry with a tough assignment to head school and mass education department
What would you have been had you not been a politician?
I would have been a farmer. I entered politics by accident. When I was studying at DAV College in Koraput, some students had launched a strike. I saw police officers resorting to lathicharge to disperse the crowd. I raised my voice and the police, mistaking me to be a student leader, dragged me to the police station and slapped some cases against me. They could not prove anything but that episode marked my entry into politics.