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Jun 12, 2013 at 10:23am IST

BJD's rally for special status to Odisha reaches Delhi today

New Delhi: The Biju Janata Dal will on Wednesday push the Centre to grant a special category status to Odisha. The party is holding a 'Swabhiman Samabesh' at the Ramlila Maidan on Wednesday, which will be a culmination of the BJD's 'Swabhiman Yatra'.

The campaign for a special status has managed to get the support of 1 crore signatories. BJD chief Naveen Patnaik will also be present at the rally. The BJD claims that despite making rapid progress on several fronts, Odisha still does not fare well on many socio-economic indicators.

Speaking to CNN-IBN, BJD MP Baijayant Panda also said that the demand for a special status for Odisha is not new. Following is the transcript of Baijayant Panda's interview:

Baijayant Panda: We have been keeping up the demand for many decades, right from the days when the late Biju Patnaik first articulated this. Naveen Patnaik as Chief Minister has articulated this many many times. The state assembly has passed an all-party unanimous resolution on this and the demands have been submitted to the Prime Minister, to the government many many times. So we are not following anyone. Yes it is true that we are asserting our presence because this has been going on for many many decades. As we have been saying, whether you introduce a new criteria or not for special category states, the fact is that under the existing criteria which has been there for five decades, we qualify. We have a large part of our state which are mountainous region, we have large adivasi populations, scattered populations difficult to reach with government programmes, our percentage of people below the poverty line is also significant. It is ironic that some states are getting special category benefits who have three times the per capita income that Odisha has and twice of what the national average is. So it is unfair, it is political discrimination and there is a time when you have to say enough is enough.

Rupashree Nanda: The Planning Commission has already said no, do you have any hopes?

Baijayant Panda: Fortunately, the Planning Commission is not the be all and end all of how this country functions. Yes we are aware that the Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission has expressed his opinion on this but there is a Parliamentary panel, cutting across party lines that has said that states like Odisha deserve to get the status. In this government itself, there are senior ministers, cabinet ministers who have announced that re-examination would take place on the criteria as well as the states which are covered under the criteria. And all I can say is that we are not here to beg for something. We are here to demand our Constitutional rights and if we are not given our Constitutional rights, if the central government is not willing to listen to the voice fo 25,000 Odias gathered here and to 1 crore signatures of Odias from all across the state, all I can say is that would be unfortunate but we will not let go. We will keep up our agitation until we achieve it.

Rupashree Nanda: But why now? You had so many years to have this rally?

Baijayant Panda: First of all it is inaccurate to say that we are making this demand now. As I said from many many decades ago, when Biju Patnaik was alive and even over the past decade when Naveen Patnaik has been the Chief Minister. We have had rallies in Odisha, we have had an-all party resolution passed in the Assembly, we have had all-party delegations coming to Delhi and meeting the Government here. A rally is really a sign of frustration because it really ought not to take a rally for a state to get its Constitutional rights as per the existing criteria. So a rally is really a sign of our frustration and also our commitment. All we want to say is that rules and norms must apply fairly and impartially and not due to political consideration.

Rupashree Nanda: Is this a pressure tactic? If you get a special category status then you might veer towards the Congress party even though your chief minister has said no?

Baijayant Panda: Naveen babu, who is not just our Chief Minister but is the founder and president of BJD has already articulated our position on this. We remain equidistant from both the Congress and the BJP. And as far as the Third Front is concerned, it is still very early days. So there is no point in speculating about it now. All we are here to push for is our Constitutional right because Odisha has been developing, we can see it develop faster provided that we are not discriminated against.

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