‘The UPA government is targeting Odisha’

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Biju Janata Dal MP Jay Panda tells Vaibhav Vats that a biased Centre is blocking Vedanta’s projects in his state

Photo: Shailendra Pandey

Why is the BJD plugging for the Vedanta mining project?.
There is a growing feeling in Odisha that the UPA government is targeting it. In the past few weeks, three major projects have been blocked. There was POSCO, Vedanta, and now questions have been raised about Vedanta University. This smacks of hypocrisy because in Andhra Pradesh, they have cleared the Polavaram project even though it submerges villages in Odisha. It’s quite clear that rules are being applied differently.

Why does the BJD continue to back Vedanta against the poor?

How come there is no BJD programme for the affected tribals?
You can’t say that the BJD is anti-tribal. The party’s vote share among tribals has been growing. Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik has taken steps for their development.

You say that the Centre is biased against Odisha. What is the basis for this allegation?
It’s not just my perception. It is a feeling shared by many in the state. The reasons could be political. If you take a snap poll, the answer will be obvious.

Can you explain why Odisha has become a hub of illegal mining?
Illegal mining cases have cropped up all over India. In Odisha, strict action has been taken, arrests have been made and officials have been detained. There is the MMDR Act, which governs mining in the country. The problem is that the activists and the Centre seem to think that the MMDR Act doesn’t exist.

If action has been taken, then why have similar violations committed by Vedanta been ignored?
I’m not going to talk specifically about Vedanta. The Supreme Court cleared the mining project, so I don’t know what violations you are talking about.

Why has the environment ministry then slammed Vedanta’s disregard for tribal rights?
Laws must be properly applied, but not in a hypocritical manner. The Saxena Committee report explicitly says that the Odisha government will not apply the Forest Rights Act properly. You can’t make such assumptions. In the Polavaram project, it has accepted the AP government’s claims without fuss.

Why the obsession with Andhra Pradesh?
We cannot leave Andhra Pradesh aside because the Polavaram project affects villagers in our state. The Forest Rights Act hasn’t been applied in this case.

Why are you worried about Rahul Gandhi’s proposed visit to Niyamgiri?
Not at all. He is welcome to go anywhere.

Why did Patnaik rush to meet the prime minister?
The chief minister wanted the prime minister to ensure that Odisha will be treated fairly.

Odisha is now considered the sickest state in the country. Is the BJD’s anti-poor approach a reason for the state’s slide?
In the past few years, Odisha has seen the single largest improvement in the levels of child malnutrition in the country. Our economic growth rate has eclipsed the national average for several years now.

Is growth the same thing as development?
Is bringing down malnutrition in children not the same as development? Please do your research properly.

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