Interview

Punish the errant as per Shah Commission recommendations

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Bijayshree Routray, Minister for Forest and Environment, Labour & Employees’ State Insurance, Government of Odisha

Bijayshree Routray, Minister for Forest and Environment, Labour & Employees’ State Insurance, Government of Odisha

The cases of illegal mining have rocked both the Parliament and State Assembly of Odisha. There are reports on illegal mining activities in forest areas which has adversely impacted the state. Bijayshree Routray, Minister for Forest and Environment, Labour & Employees’ State Insurance, Odisha in conversation with Mohd Ujaley says” The best way forward is to punish the errant as the Shah Commission has prescribed”

A professor turned politician, you have been involved in the state’s political landscape for many years. Lot of things have moved over the years for India, however, Odisha still seems to be stagnant. Why?

I slightly disagree with you, Odisha is not stagnant but it is true that the progress has been slow and for few years it has been steady. We have been able to attract investment and our industries and other allied organisations are moving in right direction. It has been our aim since Biju Babu’s time to explore our natural resources in efficient and environment friendly way to earn more revenue which can be used for the holistic development of the state.

We have focused on industrialisation and exploration of natural resources but there have been some impediments due to scams reported in mining and the formation of one commission after another to look into it. In spite of these, we are moving forward and by in large people have expressed their satisfaction with government. The kinds of progress we have been able to bring, have never been seen before Biju Babu’s times. Holistically, there has been 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 protest against private companies. We are taking some concrete steps to minimise such unfortunate accidents. Frequently safety audits are being done by our officers to make sure that safety regulations are followed at the plants.

We have also noticed in majority of the cases companies have appointed paid director as the ‘occupier’ instead of the ‘owner’ of the company to avoid the punishment and penalty. To make the real owner responsible for the mishap, now we are forcing companies to make their owner as occupier. I feel now the owner would be more concerned about the companies and that shall lead to better adherence to regulation and fewer accidents.

You are heading some of the key ministries such as Forest and Environment, Labour & Employees’ State Insurance. 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 wherein all the states in India including Odisha are using information communication technology (ICT) to enhance governance. Intervention of information technology has helped the government in better inter-departmental administration and ultimately resulted in good governance to the people. For, us, it has minimised the bulk of record and paper keeping activities, has streamlined the process and improved the effectiveness of our employees.

I am also the Minister for Forest and Environment. We have limited manpower and this is a huge challenge for managing forest. If you do not have enough base level worker then the forest is unguarded which eliminate the basic purpose of a good forest as forest mafia may operate without our intervention. I think ICT has bigger role to play in such areas.

Odisha has successfully utilised the central government welfare schemes. How do you look at some flagship programmes such as food security, direct cash transfer or MNREGA?

Schemes such as food security, direct cash transfer or MNREGA are welfare schemes directed to benefit people at large, which is good. But we 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. The state, in principle being a welfare state must cater to the demand of the people. India is a large country with huge diversity therefore it is integral to our existence that our focus should be on holistic development and inclusive growth of the country. The welfare schemes that you have mentioned have potential for all of these. However, their proper implementation is a big challenge.

The cases of illegal mining have rocked both the Parliament and State Assembly. There are reports on illegal mining activities in forest areas which has adversely impacted the 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 large number of illegal mining and have penalised them. We have also stopped mining at a place where there is doubt over line of demarcation. Earlier, it was manually demarcated, then GPS came and now DGPS system is available – all the systems have improved over other systems. The line of demarcation which was manually given 20 years back is not the line of demarcation today. So in the process, unknowingly some illegal mining has also happened. But 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 the Shah Commission has prescribed – to impose fine on them to the extent of the theft and illegal mining and that would surely discourage illegal mining further.

It is important to have synergy between politicians and bureaucrats for better administration. However, media reports suggest that in Odisha both of them are usually not on same page. How do you look at it?

I am not supposed to comment on this but my experience has been that certainly there is no proper cohesion which is desired to be present for better administration. With proper co-ordination the state would obviously do better because politician reflects the people’s mind and bureaucrats directly or indirectly deals with them officially. If the chain of the circle breaks so whole development process get disturbed.  So, I would definitely say for better administration, management and redressing the grievance of the people both should work in cohesion which is lacking at the present time.

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