Odisha: How Will the BJD Govt's Decision To Abolish Contract Jobs Impact Looming By-Poll?

Described as the 'golden moment in Odisha's history' by the ruling BJD, the momentous decision comes at a time when all major political parties are in the thick of campaigning for the Dhamnagar assembly by-poll.

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Bhubaneswar: In a pathbreaking move, the Naveen Patnaik-led Biju Janata Dal (BJD) government in Odisha on Saturday, October 15, announced the abolition of the contractual recruitment system forever and the regularisation of over 57,000 existing contractual employees.

Patnaik, who turned 77 on Sunday, described the move as a “golden moment in the history of Odisha” in his special address to the people soon after his Cabinet gave its nod to the decision which would put an additional annual burden of Rs 1,300 crore on the state exchequer.

The decision also fulfils a longstanding demand of state government employees who had held a massive demonstration in September demanding the abolition of the contractual recruitment system and equal pay for equal work. “This was long awaited. We are grateful that the government has finally made the announcement,” said Abani Mohanty, a state government employee.

Significantly, the announcement about the abolition of the contractual system has come at a time when major parties in the state are in the thick of campaigning for Dhamnagar assembly by-poll. Though Congress, too, has put up a candidate, the real contest is between Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which had won the seat in 2019, and the ruling BJD.

The BJD, which has won all the bye-elections held in the state since the General Elections of 2019, is facing a tough challenge not only from BJP but from its own party rebel Rajendra Das who filed his nomination against the official candidate Abanti Das.

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With the rebel candidate likely to damage the prospects of the BJD, chief minister Naveen Patnaik, who also doubles up as the party president, is himself gearing up to hit the campaign trail in Dhamnanagar. Patnaik had refrained from campaigning in two previous bye-elections at Pipili and Brajarajnagar, but Dhamnagar is different because of the presence of a rebel in the fray. Patnaik Cabinet’s nod to the abolition of the contractual recruitment system is expected to have a major impact on the by-poll outcome.

“Government employees constitute a sizeable vote bank in a large number of constituencies. Even in the constituencies where they are not a deciding factor they are capable of influencing the outcome by campaigning in favour of a particular candidate. So the decision of the government will not only impact the outcome in Dhamnagar but it will also have a long-term effect which could benefit the ruling party in the next General Elections,” said political analyst Shashi Kant Mishra.

Opposition leaders, who dismissed the announcement as Patnaik’s latest political stunt, remain skeptical about the government’s ability to keep its promise. “They say that services of over 57,000 contractual employees will be regularised. But who are these people? We want to know their identity. We refuse to take this government at its word. There have been many such promises in the past but nothing happened,” said state BJP general secretary Golak Mohapatra.

However, notwithstanding the politics, the decision in itself seems historic. The importance of the move was reflected in the chief minister’s special address to the people where he talked about his days of struggle soon after taking over the reins of the state in 2000 in the wake of a super cyclone which killed over 10,000 people and destroyed the economy of the state.

Odisha chief minister Naveen Patnaik. Photo: PTI.

“In the year 2000, with the blessings of all of you, I got an opportunity to serve mother Odisha. The post super cyclone situation and the fragile financial conditions were the biggest challenges for me. The state was running on overdraft.  The government was dependent on Reserve Bank for wage and means,” said Patnaik describing it as a “black period” for  Odisha’s economy.

“The state exchequer was empty. There was tremendous pressure on our economy. We were lagging behind in various fields including health, education, infrastructure, agriculture, irrigation and many others. Our priority then was to bring improvement in all these sectors within our limited resources. Government recruitment was stopped completely. We were forced to abolish government posts and it was very painful for me. The youths of my state were running from pillar to post for employment with the government. I was really very sad. The only thing that was on top of my mind was…when would the situation improve.  When would our children get regular recruitment in state government?” recalled an emotional Patnaik.

However, things started improving with better financial management and good governance and the government introduced the contractual recruitment system in 2013.

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“It was, too, a difficult decision for me. Now our economy has improved significantly. Odisha has created a new identity for itself in the field of development in the country. Last year, we substituted the contractual recruitment posts with initial appointee. Today, I am delighted to announce that the state Cabinet has decided to abolish the contractual system of recruitment permanently. Even today, there are no regular recruitments in many states and they are still continuing with the contractual recruitment system. But in Odisha, the era of contractual recruitment has come to an end. I was waiting for this moment,” said Patnaik.

The chief minister, who described it as a “golden moment” in the history of Odisha which was “strong and empowered ” and moving ahead with confidence, called upon all government employees to abide by his new 5-T (Team work, Technology, Transparency, Time and Transformation) formula of governance to be able to give their best. The 5-T initiative is Patnaik’s most important administrative initiative in his fifth term as the chief minister of the state with his private secretary and the state’s most powerful bureaucrat V.K. Pandian acting as Odisha’s first 5-T secretary.

The 5-T initiative, which is the most important component of Patnaik’s good governance formula, is expected to get a boost following the government’s decision to abolish the contractual appointment system and regularisation of existing contractual employees. The decision of the government, which was notified on Sunday coinciding with the birthday of chief minister Naveen Patnaik, is also expected to further cement his position as the unchallenged leader of Odisha.