Odisha Sun Times Bureau
Bhubaneswar/Rourkela, Mar 27:
After having been at the receiving end of attacks for the better part of the ongoing budget session of the Assembly, the ruling BJD on Friday suddenly turned combative accusing a central minister from Odisha of exerting pressure on Mahanadi Coalfields Ltd (MCL) to back out ‘Aahaar’ the state government’s subsidized meal scheme for the poor.
As soon as the House convened for the day, BJD members rushed to the well of the House holding placards and shouting slogans against the MCL and Central government protesting against the former’s withdrawal from the Aahaar scheme for Sambalpur city forcing the Speaker to adjourn the House.
Later, they staged a dharna in front of the Mahatma Gandhi statue inside the premises of the Assembly and alleged that though MCL had promised to pay Rs 3 crore annually for the Aahaar scheme at Sambalpur, it has now backed out.
“All these companies, which are under the Central government be it MCL, Nalco or Rourkela Steel Plant are doing injustice to Odisha. They (MCL) are extracting coal from our land, polluting our air but are not prepared to give us this money. We are not asking for it; it’s our right and Biju Janata Dal will fight for it. We are prepared to fight it at all levels,” Rohit Pujari, BJD MLA told reporters at the dharna site.
Outside the House, the BJD alleged that a Central leader from Odisha had exerted pressure not just on MCL, but also on Nalco, another central PSU, to cancel its MoU for the Aahaar scheme.
“People of Odisha will certainly like to know under which Central leader’s pressure MCL withdrew from its commitment despite a majority of board members in MCL being in favour of it. People will surely be interested in knowing which Central leader on behalf of the Central government put pressure at the board meeting not to sign the agreement. The scheme costs barely Rs 3 crore and this is peanuts for companies like MCL, Nalco, SAIL or the Tatas. Now they are pressurizing Nalco to cancel the MoU,” said BJD spokesperson Pratap Keshari Deb.
BJD chief whip Ananta Das said, while MCL is contributing handsomely to the Centre’s ‘Swachh Bharat Yojana’, it has turned down chief minister Naveen Patnaik’s appeal to contribute to the Aahar scheme.
The BJP has dismissed the charges and sought to turn the heat on the BJD, claiming the ruling party had orchestrated the allegation to divert people’s attention away from the pressing issue of power tariff hike.
“There is no reason for the BJD to protest since they did not have any written pact with MCL. The state government, which claims it has surplus revenue, could have easily implemented the scheme out of its own budget. Else, they could have sent a proposal to the Prime Minister. All this is being done by the BJD to shift the people’s attention from the urgent matter of power tariff hike,” BJP leader Pratap Sarangi said, reacting to the BJD’s allegations.
“What proof do they have? As per my knowledge, every organization has its own process for its management. The company’s board rejected it and to ascribe it to any minister or to try to make political gains out of it is not appropriate,” commented Union Minister for Tribal Affairs Jual Oram.
The state government, on March 2, launched the Aahar scheme, seemingly modelled on Tamil Nadu’s Amma Unavagam scheme.
The Aahar scheme is scheduled to take off on April 1, observed as ‘Utkal Divas’ in the state. Under the scheme, rice and dal curry would be served to the urban poor at Rs 5 per meal. The state government has decided that the funding for the scheme would be arranged from corporates from their CSR (corporate social responsibility) funds.
The Urban and Housing Development department secretary had written to MCL on this regard. However, there has been no word from MCL authorities on this account.