Bhubaneswar: 25/3/22:After a two-year hiatus, Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik came to the state Assembly Friday, to physically attend the proceedings of the House on the opening day of the budget session, thereby also seeking to silence his detractors and dispel speculation about his health condition.Patnaik came to the Assembly following a significant improvement in the Covid pandemic situation in the state. The BJD supremo’s move came a day after the Opposition targeted him again for skipping all the Assembly sessions and attending them only virtually since the pandemic broke out in early 2020.
The previous session, held in December, had to be adjourned early as the Opposition had refused to go along with it in the CM’s absence, among other issues. While the session was in progress, Patnaik had inaugurated a state-run restaurant in Bhubaneswar, drawing flak from his political opponents.
The Opposition has consistently raked up the issue of Patnaik’s physical absence from the government functions and Assembly proceedings over the last couple of years.
It is in this context that the CM’s bid to physically attend the session assumes significance, especially amid the buzz making the rounds over his “deteriorating health”. In the last one month, Patnaik has made three physical appearances at various events to send out a signal to everyone that he is in “perfect health”.
During the civic body polling on Thursday, Patnaik, wearing a mask, stepped out to cast his vote and even flashed his inked finger later. He undertook a 250-metre walk to the polling booth, located at Aerodrome Upper Primary School in ward no. 53 of the Bhubaneswar Municipal Corporation (BMC), from his residence Naveen Niwas.
In the course of the last month’s state panchayat elections, when speculation about his “ill-health” peaked as he was refraining from campaigning or meeting with his party activists, the 75-year-old BJD chief visited the Lingaraj temple in the city on 18 February. Giving a soundbite to media persons then, Patnaik had said: “Whenever there are elections, there are these rumours. But I assure you that I am in perfect health and committed to serving the people of Odisha.”
Stepping up their attack on Patnaik, the BJP and the Congress had then maintained that the CM should start going to his Lok Seva Bhawan office and attend the Assembly proceedings regularly to “prove his fitness”.
“This is the responsibility of the CM to attend the Assembly sessions…Bills, government accountability (on various issues)…how are we supposed to have a discussion on any matter if the CM remains absent from the House,” a senior Congress leader had said.
Ahead of the panchayat polls, Patnaik had also drawn flak from the Opposition leaders for attending sports events and touring districts to launch the Biju Swasthya Kalyan Yojana (BSKY) smart health cards but refraining from physically attending the Assembly sittings and his office.
On Friday, before coming to the House Patnaik also presided over a BJD Legislature Party meeting in the Assembly premises. The meeting deliberated on firming up the ruling party’s responses to counter the Opposition that would seek to corner the government during the session by raising issues over poll-related violence and “deteriorating law and order situation” in the state.
The budget session will have seven-day sittings, with the House taking up the discussion on the motion of thanks on the Governor’s address on March 26 and March 28. The session will conclude on March 31, as per its schedule. The state’s budget for the year 2022-23 will be presented by Finance Minister Niranjan Pujari in the Assembly on March 30 and the Appropriation Bill will be tabled on March 31