Bhubaneswar | Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik's close aide V K Pandian was on Tuesday appointed chairman of 5T with the status of cabinet minister, a day after his voluntary retirement from government service.
Pandian, a 2000 batch IAS officer of Odisha cadre, applied for voluntary retirement on October 20 and got the approval on October 23. The chief minister appointed Pandian as the chairman of 5T and Nabin Odisha programmes within hours after his voluntary retirement proposal was accepted.
The opposition BJP and Congress on Tuesday expressed surprise over the speed at which Pandian's VRS was accepted and his appointment as chairman of 5T (Transformational Initiatives).
"Shri V K Pandian is hereby appointed as Chairman 5T (Transformational Initiatives) and Nabin Odisha in the rank of Cabinet Minister. Pandian shall work directly under the chief minister," the General Administration and Public Grievance Department said.
Starting his bureaucratic career as Sub-Collector of Dharmagarh in Kalahandi district, Pandian had worked as Collector of Mayurbhanj and Ganjam districts. He came in contact with Patnaik during his tenure as Ganjam collector as Ganjam is the home district of the CM. The chief minister picked him up and he joined the CMO as private secretary in 2011.
After Patnaik became the chief minister for the fifth time in 2019, Pandian was given the additional responsibility of '5T secretary' to implement some transformational initiatives in government departments.
Congress Legislature Party Leader (CLP) Narasingha Mishra in his reaction described Pandian as a "successful administrator", but raised doubts about whether he could also succeed in politics.
Mishra, a former Law minister, said: "There is no illegality in the appointment of Pandian as the chairman of the 5T programme and being accorded the cabinet minister status. The CM has the authority to do so... ," Mishra said, adding that he was not surprised over Pandian's voluntary retirement.
"It is better late than never," Mishra said referring to the demands of opposition parties on the resignation of Pandian from government service. Both the BJP and Congress had asked Pandian to resign from government service and join politics as he allegedly misused his official position as the chief minister's private secretary while making tours across Odisha at the cost of state expenditure.
BJP Odisha president Manmohan Samal referring to Pandian's alleged misuse of power as an IAS officer, said: "That chapter is now closed. He (Pandian) has taken voluntary retirement and now it will be an open fight." Samal said everybody can do politics and there is no restriction on Pandian doing the same as he is no more in government service.
However, Samal said that what happened in the past (Pandian allegedly working as a politician being an IAS officer) was not good for democracy.
Odisha Pradesh Congress Committee (OPCC) president Sarat Pattnayak said: "Both BJD and BJP are united and like two brothers, and Pandian is their political agent for upcoming polls. It was proved by the acceptance of voluntary retirement of the IAS officer within just three days. If the BJP-led NDA government at Centre had not showered blessings, Pandian's VRS would not be accepted in just three days."
Alleging that a "big conspiracy" has been hatched against Odisha, the Congress leader appealed to the people to foil the evil design. "Due to his old age, Naveen Patnaik was unable to visit different parts of the state. So, he has taken a move to lease out the state," alleged the OPCC chief.
"The resignation of Pandian from government service is nothing but just an eyewash to grab power," he alleged.
OPCC campaign committee chairman and former Odisha chief secretary B K Patnaik on X said: "With the retirement of Shri V K Pandian, an inglorious chapter of Odisha cadre IAS has come to an end."
Congress's lone MP in Odisha, Saptagiri Ulaka said he would not be surprised if Pandian took charge as the Chief Minister of Odisha before the next elections. "such is the power structure in Odisha, no one has a clue what's happening but everyone knows who's controlling. VRS approved in 3 days during holidays Super Fast," Ulaka posted on X.
Congress leader Jairam Ramesh also wrote on X: "He (Pandian) has been a fine civil servant and helped Naveen Patnaik enormously. But it is good that a de facto situation will finally become a de jure one, and Pandian will become a political figure in his own right. It was a strange situation in Odisha for over a decade and a half with the CM being like an absentee landlord and his chief aide functioning as the state's CEO."
BJD MLA and former minister Sashi Bhusan Behera said the chief minister has taken the right decision by appointing Pandian as the chairman of the 5T and Nabin Odisha. "All the CM's actions aimed at the development of the state. Pandian can successfully carry forward the transformative works being carried out across the state," he said.
However, most of the senior BJD leaders refused to speak on Pandian's voluntary retirement and also he being accorded the cabinet minister status as the chairman of the 5T and Nabin Odisha programme.