Bijayshree Routray, Minister for Forest and Environment, Labour & Employees’ State Insurance, Government of Odisha
“The economy of Odisha has not been stagnant, we have been developing at a slow and steady pace,” says Bijayshree Routray. In conversation with Mohd Ujaley
A professor turned politician, you have been involved in the state’s political landscape for many years. What is your view of the development work being done in Odisha?
Odhisa has been developing at a slow and steady pace. We have been able to attract investment, our industries and other allied organisations are moving in right direction. It has been our aim since Biju Babu’s time to exploit our natural resources in efficient and environment friendly way to earn more revenues which can be used for the holistic development of the state. We are focused on industrialisation and exploration of natural resources but there have been some impediments due to the scams reported in mining and the formation of commissions looking into the scams. In spite of these, we are moving forward and most of the people are satisfied with the government. Holistically, there has been an improvement in our economy and also in the attitude of the people for growth.
In Odisha, callousness of private companies has led to frequent accidents which have resulted in loss of life and mass protest by labourers. What is being done to address such issues?
I agree there have been frequent accidents and mass protests against private companies. We are taking some concrete steps to minimise such unfortunate accidents. Safety audits are being done frequently by our officers to make sure that safety regulations are followed at the plants. We have also noticed that in majority of the cases the companies have appointed paid director as the ‘occupier’ and not as the ‘owner’ of the company to avoid the punishment and penalty. To make the real owner responsible for the mishap, we are now forcing the companies to make their owner as occupier. I feel this should lead to better adherence to regulation and fewer accidents. I also feel that this would lead the owners to be more concerned about their companies.
We aim to exploit our natural resources in an efficient and environment friendly way to earn revenues which can be used for the holistic development of the state.
Key ministries in the state are being held by you. In this light, what steps are being taken by the government departments to use ICT for improving efficiency and transparency?
I think it is the time for all the states in India to use Information Communication Technology (ICT) to enhance governance. Intervention of information technology has helped the government in better interdepartmental administration and ultimately resulted in good governance to the people. It has led to minimising of the bulk of record and paper keeping activities; it has streamlined the processes and improved the effectiveness of our employees. I am also the Minister for Forest and Environment. If we do not have enough base level workers then the forest remains unguarded which gives scope to the forest mafia to operate without our intervention. We have limited manpower and this is a huge challenge for managing the forests. I think ICT has a bigger role to play in such areas.
Odisha has successfully utilised the central government welfare schemes. How do you look at some of the flagship programmes such as Food Security, Direct Cash Transfer and MNREGA?
Schemes such as Food Security, Direct Cash Transfer or Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) are welfare schemes which are directed to benefit people at large. But we also have to make sure that it reaches to the real intended beneficiaries. People have gradually become more conscious and they want social security and more of social welfare. Being a welfare state, we must cater to the demands of the people. India is a large country with huge diversity and therefore, it is integral to our existence that our focus should be on holistic development and inclusive growth of the country. The welfare schemes mentioned have potential for all of these. However, proper implementation of the schemes is a big challenge.
The cases of illegal mining have rocked both the Parliament and the State Assembly. There are reports on illegal mining activities in forest areas which have adversely impacted Odisha. In your opinion what is the best way forward?
Basically, there are two sides to illegal mining in the state, one is wilful disobedience of line of demarcation and another is unintentional disobedience. We have detected many instances of illegal mining and have penalised them. We have also stopped mining at places where there is doubt over line of demarcation. Earlier, it was manually demarcated, later we started using GPS and now DGPS system is available, all the systems are an improvement over the previous ones. The line of demarcation which was manually given 20 years back is not the line of demarcation today. As a result, some illegal mining have also happened unknowingly. But at the same time, I conceive that many of the ground level employees of the government were aware of illegal mining. In my opinion the best way forward is to punish the errant as prescribed by the Shah Commission. It says, to discourage illegal mining, fine should be imposed on the errant to the extent of the theft or illegal mining.