‘Conspiracy was hatched against me’

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By TT Bureau
  • Published 27.11.10

There are rumours that you don’t get along well with Aparajita Sarangi, the secretary of mass education department. It is said that there are differences between you both on issues like dress code and banning entrance exams in primary schools. To what extent is this true?

These are baseless rumours created by the media. These are internal issues of the department which should not be discussed in public.

But in a news report you had said you were “ignorant” that Sarangi had ordered government and private schools to ban exams for admissions to Classes I to VIII. Were you really not aware?

We have to be practical about certain issues. Before taking any important decision, it should be debated upon. People should be made aware of the pros and cons of such issues through debate. It is for the people that the department is working. If we try to impose a decision on someone it could have a bad repercussion.

Coming to the dress code controversy, your choice was beige saris with navy blue border for primary school teachers while Sarangi ordered them to wear pink saris with black blouses. What is your take on this?

First of all, we are not giving teachers any allowance for uniforms. Secondly, there is no law in the country regarding dress code for teachers. I do not support imposition of any kind. The teachers’ suggestions about the colour and design, whether they agree or not to this concept, should be taken into account.

Do you think it is proper for a secretary to make policy decisions and announce schemes without consulting the minister concerned?

These are internal matters. We are trying to work on things that have gone wrong. I also welcome the chief secretary’s views on ensuring coordination. The department’s work will be implemented effectively if there is proper coordination.

So do you mean to say things went wrong?

No comments.

What do you have to say on the issue of appraisal of your performance by the party?

The party has every right to judge the performance of the department. We have already given a list of our achievements to the party for consideration. We have even published booklets and organised public meetings to to highlight our achievements.

The Opposition has been demanding your resignation for your alleged involvement in a coal scam. What is your take on this?

When I was the chairperson of Orissa Small Industries Corporation, the coal business was not there. So, there is no question of my involvement in the so-called scam.

Then why does your name crop up time and again in connection with the scam?

There is a political motive behind it. A conspiracy was hatched against me. Since the investigation is on, I would not like to comment on the issue.

Coming back to your so-called cold war with Sarangi, it was reported that you poured your heart out before the chief secretary. Is that baseless too?

This news is wrong. Why should I complain? The media is always trying to cause a rift between me and the secretary. No wrong message should go to the public from this department.

How would you describe your relations with Sarangi at the moment?

Well, it is not bad.

From leader to minister

School and mass education minister Pratap Jena (44) — widely known for his fiery speeches — is among the better-known youth leaders of the ruling Biju Janata Dal (BJD).

Jena, who holds a master’s degree in mathematics besides a bachelor’s degree in law and a post graduation diploma in business management, was elected to the state Assembly for the first time in 2000 from the Kishan Nagar constituency. He won the seat again in 2004.

In 2009, he shifted to the Mahanga assembly constituency and won with ease becoming a minister in the Naveen Patnaik government.

Jena, who hails from Cuttack, joined student politics in 1985 making his debut as the secretary of the Science Society of Ravenshaw College.

Jena’s reputation as a student leader grew after he was elected president of the students’ union of Madhu Sudan Law College, Cuttack in 1990-91. He was the president of State Chattra Janata Dal from 1992 to 2002. He also held a number of other key organisational posts before becoming a minister.

The minister courted controversy after his name figured in the multi-crore coal scam and his differences with Aparajita Sarangi, the commissioner-cum-secretary of his department, over dress code for teachers and some other issues became public.

what would you have been if you Had not been a politician?

Honestly, I had never thought of joining politics. I was always more interested in
academics. I completed my master’s degree in mathematics and then went on to do a post graduation diploma in business management from the Institute for Management of Innovation and Technology — the only institute that was directly managed by the government at that time. My target was completing MBA and even journalism fascinated me for a while. But somehow I entered politics and the rest, as they say, is history.