Bhubaneswar, Oct. 21: Politics took the centre stage with the BJD and the Congress engaging in a blame game over the Centre’s alleged failure to come to the state’s rescue in its hour of crisis.
Firing the first salvo, BJD leaders accused the UPA government of being apathetic towards the state’s plight following the double blow of cyclone and floods within three days. Apparently feeling slighted that the Centre had chosen to send a senior bureaucrat here in the wake of the cyclone, a BJD leader said they would not be satisfied with anything less than a visit either by the Prime Minister or the Union home minister.
“While the Prime Minister and the Union home minister rushed to other states, which faced natural calamities much less severe than us, they have not shown the same magnanimity in our case. Even no other central minister has visited the state,” said panchayati raj minister Kalpataru Das, calling it a case of shameless discrimination.
Two senior BJD leaders also spewed venom against the Centre on the issue. Accusing the UPA of not releasing single pie so far for relief and reconstruction in the state, revenue and disaster management minister Surjya Narayan Patro said: “Enough is enough! We are not going to tolerate this neglect anymore. The Centre has left us to fend for ourselves and whatever we have done so far in the affected areas has been done with our own resources.” BJD youth wing chief Sanjay Das Burma echoed the same.
Almost simultaneously, the state government announced a special package for the cyclone victims. Among others, students, artisans and farmers will benefit from the package.
The rebuttal from the Congress was strong and furious. Dismissing the charge of central neglect, Union minister for chemicals and fertilisers Srikant Jena said the BJD was raising the issue more as a smokescreen to hide its own failures on relief and rehabilitation front.
“An amount of Rs 523 crore has already been earmarked for the State Disaster Response Fund. The state has so far spent only Rs 527 crore. So where is the ground for complaint?” he said while seeking to remind the BJD leaders that in 1999 when a supercyclone struck the state, the then Prime Minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee, did not deem it fit to visit the state. “The funds that the central government had then allocated is yet to be completely utilised,” he said.
Jena said the Naveen Patnaik government was targeting the Centre deliberately to divert public attention from the embarrassing controversy over chief minister’s recommendation for the allotment of Talabira-II coal block in favour of Aditya Birla Group-owned Hindalco industries. The CBI is probing into the issue under the Supreme Court’s supervision. “The investigation should be taken to its logical end,” he said.
The minister said the state government could not hide behind the clarification issued by the Prime Minister’s office in the coal block allotment case as Odisha was the licensing authority and the Prime Minister could not afford to ignore its recommendations. Jena said that had the right to mine bauxite, chromite and iron ore been exclusively with the Odisha Mining Corporation, the state would have earned Rs 20,000 crore per annum and it would not have felt the need to turn to the Centre for help in the wake of natural calamities.
On the other hand, state BJP sought to debunk the BJD’s claim of having provided relief to cyclone victims in all the affected districts. “The truth is that a large number of people are still crying out for relief. The government should form an all-party committee to supervise relief operation,” said senior BJP leader Biswa Bhsuan Harichandan.