Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik recently appointed Biju Janata Dal (BJD) members as advisors to several Public Sector Undertakings (PSUs) and government programmes, taking the total number of advisors in the state to 36.
Advisors are specialists who offer subject-specific assistance and supervision to relevant departments and programs as opposed to secretaries of the departments and IAS officers, who are generalists.
The move has left the opposition leaders baffled since there are no guidelines regarding the functioning of these advisors, and because it may clash with the functions of heads of the departments.
It has raised several eyebrows in the opposition camp, with the Leader of Opposition in the state Assembly and BJP leader, Taraprasad Singh, accusing the ruling party of creating unnecessary advisory posts in an attempt to keep its MLAs and ministers from exiting the party.
Senior journalist Sandeep Sahu said that it was a mere compensation stunt for the BJD leaders who did not get a ticket in either the Lok Sabha or state Assembly elections, or to the ones who had lost the polls.
“This move is aimed at rehabilitating them and giving them something to cheer about, because there isn’t much of a role or contribution from an advisory position to the organisation they have been designated to,” he said.
At the end of the day, when it comes to taking a call on any issue, it will be the departments’ principal secretaries and subordinates, and not the advisor, Sahu said, adding that there is also a possibility of their advices not being accepted by the bureaucrats in the department.
There are a total of 39 state departments and 56 working PSUs in Odisha. Some of the departments to which advisors have been appointed are the Agriculture department, Odia Literature and Culture department, Special Development Council, State Commission for Women and Social Welfare board among several others.
BJD defends appointments
While the functions of these advisors still remain obscure, BJD MLA Latika Pradhan told The Federal that the appointment of advisors were essential as they add expertise and value to their respective departments to help formulate new plans.
“Former Women’s commission chairperson has been appointed the advisor of Mission Shakti. She has worked with Mission Shakti initiative at grassroots level which gives her the leverage to add more value to the programme as an advisor as she has the knowledge and experience required for it,” Pradhan said.
The MLA added that there was some vacuum in various departments which the advisors could fill with their expertise.
BJP general secretary Prithviraj Harichandra said that the appointments were unfortunate as they were wasting the taxpayers’ money by creating futile posts. He further accused the state government of spending over plum posts in order to rehabilitate the jilted BJD bigwigs who were denied tickets to election or those who had lost the polls.
Amid worries that these posts, the salaries and grants allotted for them, would cost the already burdened state exchequer heavily, Latika Pradhan quipped that these are normal expenditures and would not make a difference to the state’s exchequer.
“It is highly essential for officers to be given their own working space and cars to move around. So, that cannot be counted as an extra financial burden,” she said. However, she ruled out any red beacon light privileges as the practice was removed in 2017.
But, what proves the Oppn’s allegations
In what looks like almost proving the opposition’s allegations, several former legislators, ministers and immediate family members of BJD leaders have been given posts in various departments.
Wife of Odisha Skills Development Authority chairman Subroto Bagchi, Susmita Bagchi, has been appointed chairperson of Mo school program, while former minister and senior BJD leader Pushpendra Singhdeo, who lost the recent Lok Sabha election, has been nominated as member of Western Odisha Development Council.
Another former MLA, Priyadarshi Mishra, who was denied ticket in the Parliamentary elections, was appointed chairperson of the Odisha State Housing Board.
When the State Planning and Convergence minister Padmanabha Behera was contacted by The Federal for the motive behind the announcement, he refused to answer.
However, in a press briefing earlier, he had denied rumours of rift in the party and claims of appeasement politics. He said that the appointments were made only for speedy development of the state.
In addition to the above appointments made, the BJD appointed observers to all its 30 districts to oversee the party’s organisational works. Some of the heavyweights who lost this year’s general elections, including Sanjay Das Burma and Maheswar Mohanty, have also been appointed as the party’s observers.