New Role, New Hope

Bhubaneswar: A day after the Centre cleared his voluntary retirement as IAS officer, the Odisha government on Tuesday appointed Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik’s close aide V K Pandian in a new role with the rank of a Cabinet minister, indicating that his influence in the administration will remain untouched. The former bureaucrat has been appointed Chairman of 5T (transformational initiatives), which he headed previously as Secretary, and Nabin Odisha, a programme aimed at pushing rural development.

He will work directly under the Chief Minister, according to an order issued by the state general administration department. Although Cabinet rank had been given to many former bureaucrats earlier as well, this is the first time one will be reporting directly to the Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik.

According to sources, the new responsibility vests Pandian, who hails from Tamil Nadu, with immense authority to drive the 5T initiative that has its footprint in almost every department of the state government. The Ts stand for transparency, teamwork, technology and time, leading to transformation.

Launched in Naveen’s fifth and current term to overhaul the administrative apparatus, 5T is believed to be the brainchild of VK Pandian, the Chief Minister’s private secretary since 2011. Under it, the state government claims to have transformed over 4,000 high schools, with refurbished classrooms, laboratories and playgrounds.

Some of the top priority infrastructure projects of the BJD government have also been taken up under the 5T initiative under Pandian’s direct supervision. These include transformation of Puri into a world-class heritage city, upgradation of SCB Medical College and Hospital in Cuttack, redevelopment of major shrines and transformation of colleges.

“These projects are going on in full swing and are nearing completion. Pandian will be directly credited for the success of these projects,” said a senior government officer who did not want to be named. Similarly, the recently launched Ama Odisha, Nabin Odisha (our Odisha, new Odisha) scheme is a repackaging of the Ama Gaon, Ama Bikash (our village, our development) scheme, which was launched ahead of the 2019 polls and is considered to be one of the primary factors in Naveen’s electoral victory that year.

Like Patnaik approved projects through videoconferencing under the Ama Gaon, Ama Bikash scheme on request of the people, similar provision has been made under the Nabin Odisha scheme, with an estimated budget of Rs 4,000 crore.

Under the Nabin Odisha programme, every panchayat will get Rs 50 lakh to take up different projects such as strengthening internet connectivity, developing science parks, training facilities, skill centres, projects to bridge the gap in education infrastructure, providing banking facilities and digital infrastructure at the village level. Development of places of historical and religious importance are also part of this initiative.

“Almost every village will get at least one project up to Rs 10 lakh under the Nabin Odisha scheme. Pandian will have the authority to look after these projects directly. If people will get a project of their choice in their village, it will naturally douse the anger against the government if there are any,” said a senior bureaucrat. Amid speculation that Pandian may take the plunge into politics ahead of the 2024 elections, insiders in the ruling BJD said the former IAS officer can now publicly intervene in party affairs since he is no longer bound by the all-India service conduct rules.

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