Investment charmer. That’s how Odisha CM Navin Patnaik is known in the corporate sector. Even his political rivals do not hesitate to admire him when it comes to getting big fat investment proposals to the state. His penchant for industrialisation has often been criticised as bending laws to favour industry. However, there seems to be a twist in the tale. Navin can be equally harsh and unsympathetic to industry when it comes to promoting golf. That’s not all, the state government can flout rules to extend undue favour to the state’s lone private golf body i.e. the Bhubaneswar Golf Club (BGC). The Industrial Infrastructure Development Corporation of Odisha (IDCO), a state government undertaking, gave away 36 acres of prime land in the heart of the capital city of Bhubaneswar to BGC, originally meant for IT companies. The Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) in its recent report on Odisha has pointed out that IDCO's decision to award the land meant for setting up IT firms to BGC on the ground of “permissive possession” was irregular and arbitrary. Due to the undue favour to BGC, the state exchequer lost around Rs 180 cr of revenue, the report says.
The Industrial Infrastructure Development Corporation of Odisha (IDCO) was set up in 1981 as a state government undertaking to facilitate the rapid and orderly establishment of Industries, Trade and Commerce in the state. In 2001, IDCO acquired 205 acres of government land to set up Infocity Industrial Estate and create high quality infrastructure facilities for setting up export oriented IT firms. Of the 205 acres, IDCO allotted 30 acres to BGC (August 2001) on permissive possession after signing a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA), according to which, BGC was allowed only surface use of the land for developing greenery and a golf course at a meagre Rs 10,000 per annum. Though the land was not coming under the permissive possession category, IDCO overruled the Revenue Department notification and allotted the land to BGC, the report has pointed out. There was a stipulation in the beginning to construct a permanent structure thereon, since the land was to be provided to software companies as and when demand arose.
Surprisingly, an audit noticed that though nine applications (May-August 2009) for allotment of 19.30 acre land were received to set up IT industries, these units were denied on the plea of non-availability of land. Due to such irregular permissive possession, IT companies were deprived of land in Bhubaneswar, the report says. Due to the denial of land to IT companies, the state lost huge investments and employment opportunities. “The Navin Patnaik government plays a dual role in land allotment, it allots land to those who are powerful and influential. Industrialisation is a limited slogan and is used mostly to give away valuable land to people close to the government,” senior BJP leader Bishnu Das said.
IDCO allotted one more acre of land to BGC (Feb 2003) for construction of a permanent golf pavilion at Rs 5 lakh per acre against the government rate of Rs 25 lakh, resulting in an undue benefit of Rs 20 lakh to the club. BGC then constructed a pavilion without obtaining requisite approval of the building plan. However the BGC disapproves of the CAG’s claim of violation of rules by the club. “We have not violated any rules in either taking the possession of the land nor construction. Rather the state industry department facilitated in setting up the club,” says J B Pani, Secretary of BGC.
However, the club was in irregular possession of 36.535 acres as per the July 2010 report of the Executive Engineer (civil). Thus there was undue benefit extended to BGC. Due to the favour shown to BGC, the state lost revenue to the tune of Rs 178 crore, the CAG report said.
Interestingly, the present CMD of IDCO Vishal Dev, who is also the member of Bhubaneswar Golf Club, declined to comment on the findings of the CAG report.