2021: Odisha weathers cyclones but is game for sport

2021: Odisha weathers cyclones, hits political turbulence but is game for sport

Patnaik, during the year, announced a slew of sops -- ranging from smart health cards to financial packages

Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik. Credit: PTI File Photo

Two cyclones and a flood amid a raging Covid-19 pandemic tested Odisha's resilience in 2021, but the state was game for a sport that brought India laurels, making the year a bitter-sweet memory.

The year was as much about turmoil as it was about triumph, as India's men's hockey team, sponsored by the Naveen Patnaik government, clinched a medal in Tokyo Olympics after a gap of four decades, bringing glory to the country. Its players, some of them from the remotest corners of Odisha, were accorded a hero’s welcome.

The women’s team, too, performed well at the event, missing the bronze by a whisker, with Patnaik, who relentlessly supported both the teams, declaring that the sport is a way of life in Odisha’s tribal regions, where children learn to "walk with hockey sticks”.

More laurels were in store for the state as the year progressed. Badminton player Pramod Bhagat bagged gold in Paralympics, and with that the coastal state seemed to have emerged as a sports hub of India. The chief minister, besides increasing the budget for sporting activities, announced cash prizes for all players who made the country proud.

Patnaik, during the year, announced a slew of sops -- ranging from smart health cards to financial packages -- for the pandemic-affected population, as the second wave of Covid-19 brought economic activities to a halt in Odisha, much like any other state.

Over 6,000 people lost their battle to the viral disease, and many more were left suffering, with the administration grappling to fortify the health infrastructure and speed up the vaccination drive.

What came as a relief for the Covid-stricken economy was ArcelorMittal Nippon Steel’s proposal to set up a 24MTPA integrated steel plant at an investment of over Rs 1 lakh crore. The project is expected to generate employment for 1.6 lakh people.

The coastal state, where cyclones have almost become a routine affair, had to undertake massive evacuation drives twice in the year as ‘Yaas’ and ‘Jawad’ slammed its shores. Cyclone “Jawad’, thankfully, lost its steam by the time it reached the coast of Puri, but triggered heavy rainfall in the coastal belt.

Crops got extensively damaged across the state due the two cyclones – one that struck in May and the other in December – and a flood caused by depression-induced rainfall.

On the political front, a series of protests and rallies over two murder cases rocked the Assembly, first during the monsoon session and then in the winter session.

Opposition parties alleged that law minister Pratap Jena was involved in the murder of BJP leader Kulamani Baral and his associate Dibyasingha Baral, a charge denied by ruling BJD.

A case of kidnap and murder of a school teacher later in the year grabbed headlines across the nation, after the victim’s remains were found buried on the premises of the institute where she worked. Minister of State for Home DS Mishra was accused of shielding the prime accused in the case, and the BJP and the Congress sought his immediate resignation.

Patnaik, however, refused to drop him from the ministry, and faced the wrath of protesters. The chief minister's convoy was pelted with eggs by opposition BJP activists in Puri.

Nonetheless, the BJD managed to bag the Pipili seat in a bypoll, which was necessitated by the death of sitting MLA Pradeep Maharathy.

In July, three Odisha leaders found place in the Narendra Modi ministry, including Ashwini Vaishnaw, a bureaucrat-turned-politician, bringing cheer to the state BJP.

Another talking point in the year was Odisha’s dispute with Andhra Pradesh over a cluster of villages along the interstate border. The matter was resolved with Andhra CM Y S Jagan Mohan Reddy visiting the state and formulating a strategy with Patnaik to keep any trouble at bay.

An espionage case at the Defence Research Development Organisation (DRDO) in Balasore set alarm bells ringing in the security establishment. A high-level probe was instituted and five employees were arrested.

As another eventful year reached its end, centenarian teacher Nanda Prusty, who dedicated his entire life to teaching poor children and adults free of cost, died of age-related ailments, a month after he was honoured with Padma Shri – the fourth-highest civilian award.

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