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Orissa: Land of sun, sand and steel
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January 03, 2007

Orissa is a land of contrasts -- very much like the man who runs it. Naveen Patnaik, the Orissa chief minister, went from Page 3 to national headlines and is now wowing the pink papers.

Although he acknowledges the fact that his surname has given him the powerful post, he denies any notion that he was chosen to lead Orissa forward because of dynastic politics.

He told CNBC-TV18, "In fact, there hasn't been a dynastic question here because my father (Biju Patnaik) never contemplated any member of his family joining politics and none of us were involved as such in politics. I hadn't come here very often at all, before I entered into the world of politics."

That's also why some of his critics feel, he's made it to the top job because of his name. They also saw him as more of a culture vulture -- more comfortable in Jackie Onassis's company than with the farmers of his home state. Not knowing his mother tongue -- Oriya -- was also held against him.

But he seems to have swept negative perceptions away and provided an efficient and clean administration. This is probably why many illustrious businessmen have in the past two years taken their business to Orissa. Close to 60 MoUs have been signed including the $12 billion deal with Posco -- the largest foreign direct investment, FDI, in the country.

Orissa is amongst India's poorest state and is therefore, using its abundant mineral resources to become a top investment destination but not without the criticism. He doesn't think he's going too fast when it comes to developing the state.

He told CNBC-TV18, "This state government has brought in a policy of value-addition -- we are the pioneers in value-addition -- meaning that the state gets that added revenue from value-added products and also what is extremely important is that our people get jobs -- both directly and indirectly. These MoUs although, they are mainly mineral based; we have also done MoUs on many other things, which are not the natural assets of the state."

"As far as information technology is concerned, all the major players have now come to the state. There have been MoUs in the education sector - a major university is coming up near Puri, which is  going to in fact have Olympic standard sports facility. Apart from this, we have MoUs in the power, healthcare and in the cement sectors."

But even before this, an earlier chief minister, JB Patnaik, had also signed 50 MoUs and nothing had happened after that. So, why will this time be so different? Patnaik explains, "Well, it is a reality because amongst other things -- the market is also very encouraging for that (MoUs). As you know major players like Lakshmi Niwas Mittal have come here, Posco has brought the largest FDI ever and the Tatas have also come in and they are very serious about the whole process."

"And amongst the more than 40 MoUs in the mineral sector that we have signed in the last two years, about a dozen of them have already gone into production in the iron and steel sector. So, already an investment of Rs 16,000 crore (Rs 160 billion) has been realized as far as production is concerned. So, they are very much becoming a reality."

But there are other criticisms - that many of these MoUs that have begun work are the smaller companies, while the larger projects that could actually make very visible changes to the fabric of Orissa and where there is scope for mass employment or creating social infrastructures -- projects like Posco, Tata Steel, Mittal-Arcelor have yet to be finalised. So, the larger projects on which Orissa's development hinges haven't really taken off.

He explains, "Talking about Posco -- the state government has earmarked more than a 1,000 acres of land. Mittal will very shortly tell us where they wish to set up their plant. As far as the Tatas are concerned -- that process has begun, people have started accepting their compensation and certain families are conducive to all that. Also, let me tell you that now Orissa has the best  rehabilitation policy, which many people say is the best in the country. When you talk about the much larger plants, such projects happen in phases."

What's more, he assures that now major infrastructure is coming into the state -- in the way of highways, railways and ports.

But a majority of the population of his state also survives on agriculture (and tourism) and his critics feel that more should be done for agriculture, rather than him concentrating on rapidly industrialising the state.

But he feels that such measures that are needed to aid farmers and women in his state are already being carried out.

He cites a self-employment programme for the emancipation of women called Mission Shakti. Now,  more than 2 million women are involved in this self-help group and it's spread all over the state. As far as the drought affected areas of the state are concerned, he says, "We have the watershed mission which is doing well, then we have some waterlogging problems in coastal Orissa -- there is a project that's doing well as far as waterlogging is concerned."

"Only very recently, we have announced we want to make proper ponds for fisheries, which will give employment to more than 1 lakh (100,000) people. So, as far as agriculture is concerned, all the projects are in progress. The first important thing is obviously the majority of our people who are tied to agriculture and certainly the most important thing is to fight poverty. Now, if more attention is given to industrial matters, it's because it's considered more newsworthy."

He adds, "Here's one simple example -- for the last 60 years, the only major steel plant in the state, which came up half a century ago was the Rourkela steel plant, that was built in what was a totally forested area but you never hear about starvation at Rourkela because everyone is involved either directly or indirectly."

"When these plants come up and when downstream production begins and when ancillary industry begins, then a lot of people are going to have a livelihood and a job and that is our priority."

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