‘Odisha needs more varsities’

Hot seat: Bijay Kumar Patnaik, IAS (retired), former chief secretary and current president of Vedanta University project

By Subhashish Mohanty
  • Published 23.05.15

You passed out from an Odia medium school, yet you cracked IAS, climbed the ladder of the state administration and became the chief secretary. Now, you are president of the Vedanta University project. It reflects the ambitiousness of the Odia middle class. Do you find this ambitious streak missing in the younger generation?

Today’s generation is more ambitious and assertive than my generation. They are more aware and more educated as compared to my generation. They are even brighter and more exposed to several things. Our job now is to harness that brightness and guide it in the right direction.

Do you think that students in Odia-medium schools can compete with their counterparts in English medium schools?

It’s not a question of the medium of instruction. If a child is a good student, he will do exactly what his counterpart in the English medium is doing. It all depends on the calibre of the student and how industrious he is. Our job is only to guide them to realise their full potential.

You served the state as a bureaucrat for nearly 35 years. Being an Odia, you must have a vision for Odisha. Do you think that the state is progressing in right direction?

See, Odisha is unfortunately labelled as one of the most backward and least developed states. Things have changed. We are progressing and our overall situation has improved a lot. The poverty ratio has come down. The poorer parts of the state are now progressing well. I can say, we are moving in the right direction. Now, our objective is to move faster and catch up with the rest of the developed states of the country.

Are you happy the way Odisha is progressing?

We have achieved something definitely. If we all strive hard and work harder instead of working against each other, the state will definitely progress and we will be reckoned as a 
developed state in the coming days.

Your new assignment as the chief of the Vedanta University project (to be set up by the Anil Agarwal Foundation) has already stirred up a controversy. A section of people have criticised you for accepting the post. What’s your view on the controversy?

The reason why I have joined the foundation is that they are going to set up a world-class university here. We Odias love to read. We are doing well across the country as well as the world because of our intellectual property. We have no other assets to showcase. To me, the university will work in that direction and help them in achieving their potential and harness that intellectual property.

People express their reservation over your decision to take up the job in the Vedanta Foundation saying that it reflects a conflict of interest.

There is no conflict of interest. The All-India Government Servants’ rule states that within one year of your retirement, you cannot accept any private job. 

I joined the foundation nearly two years after my retirement. So, where does the conflict of interest arise?

Being president of the Vedanta University project, you have to run after the state administration to get many things done. Wouldn’t you feel awkward to approach the officers who had worked under you?

Let me be very frank on this issue. I am no longer the chief secretary of the state. I am a common citizen. One should be very clear that people do not pay you the same respect when you are not in power. 

I am now working for a good cause with a clear intention. While doing this, one has to shun ego. I will have no problem in approaching people to get some work done as I am working for a good cause.

Vedanta’s Lanjigarh project has already been mired in controversies. Your assignment with the foundation is bound to create controversies. Don’t you agree?

Let us differentiate between the two entities - one is a company and another is a foundation. The company’s work should not affect the foundation’s work. The Birla Institute of Technology and Science, Pilani, is set up by a foundation of the Aditya Birla Group. It has nothing to with the company affairs of Aditya Birla. Similarly, if you go back in history, you will find that Tata Memorial Hospital was set up by the Tata Group. It has nothing to do with Tata Steel. Tata Steel’s work will not affect Tata Memorial Hospital. In this case also, the two institutions will work as separate entities.

Is there a need for another university, when the state has so many universities and central institutes such as IIT and AIIMS? 

Odisha needs more universities and more educational institutions. We should welcome all the educational projects. The IIT and AIIMS will focus on one area but this university is a multi-disciplinary university. We should remember that we can only be able to eradicate poverty from the state only through education. 

When will the university come up?

The crucial factor for the project is land. The land related cases have reached the Supreme Court. Once the land issues are resolved, we will be able to start some activities within two years.

What do you have you say on the contentious issue land compensation for the project?

More than 3,000 acres have already been acquired for the project by the administration. The people have already accepted the compensation amount decided by the district collector. However, they are yet to get other benefits under the rehabilitation and resettlement package. Once this is decided, we will go ahead and see that people get what is their due.

Do you think there is any alternative site for the university other than Puri in view of the agitation and legal wrangles?

Now the issue is pending with the Supreme Court. Once the case is settled, efforts would be made to set up the institute near Puri. But if the legal issues continue, we will think of an alternative site as we are 
committed to set up a world-class university. 

If we miss the bus this time, we will certainly lose a big project worth Rs 15,000 crore. We should keep it in mind that other states are also eyeing this ambitious project.

You must feel bad when people target you on this  issue.

I can only say that my intention is to set up a big university. I have no other intention. I had four years of service left (as member of Odisha Human Rights Commission) and was enjoying all respect and power. But I quit all this to set up a university that will harness the intellectual property of the state and bring glory to it.

The Vedanta University project must have the backing of the chief minister…

Anything that happens for a good cause in the state has to have the blessings of the chief minister.

Bureaucrats do influence the decisions of their political masters. Now that you are out of that circle, how do you look at this?  

Political decisions go through a complex process. Civil society, administration and peoples’ representatives have to be taken into consideration before arriving at a decision. Decisions are taken keeping the peoples’ interest in mind. One cannot attribute the decision to a single person or a single apparatus.

What is your take on red-tapism in bureaucracy?

Bureaucracy is always accused of going slow not only in Odisha but also across the country. There are many constraints through which bureaucracy works. It is not right to say that they are not interested in work. If you do something in haste, there will be problems and there will be people imputing motives to what you do. We have to understand this.

Did your appointment in the Vedanta University Project have Naveen’s backing?

Not at all.