Ashwini Vaishnaw ‘Backstabbed’ Odisha, Says Former Minister Srikant Jena

Bhubaneswar: Former Union Minister Srikant Jena on Thursday slammed Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik for supporting Ashwini Vaishnaw Rajya Sabha candidature and also questioned the latter’s performance as railway minister.

“The BJD’s decision came as a surprise for me. In 2019, Naveen had said that he was supporting Vaishnaw on the request of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The BJD release this year states that the party is extending support to him for the larger interest of Odisha, especially in railways and telecom sectors, indicating that Modi will be back in power and Vaishnaw will again become a minister,” he said.

Jena said this prediction of Naveen clearly hints at some kind of understanding between the BJP and BJD on staying in power at the Centre and state, respectively, with mutual support. “This is unnecessarily creating confusion, especially among BJP and BJD workers. They should openly accept this secret deal and bring clarity in the state politics,” he said.

The former minister said that the East Coast Railway (ECoR) was inaugurated by Prime Minister H H Devegowda in 1996 when JB Patnaik was the chief minister in Odisha. “It was established with three divisions – Waltair, Khurda Road and Sambalpur. We had then demanded that another division should be carved out from the South East Railway and include Sundargarh, Keonjhar, Mayurbhanj and Balasore. The Centre had then said that railway zones cannot be state-centric,” he said.

After assuming charge as Railway Minister, Vaishnaw ‘backstabbed’ Odisha through bifurcation of Waltair division from the ECoR in 2019. “It was included in Andhra’s state-centric zone. ECoR earned over Rs 25,000 crore profit for Railways every year, and Waltair division alone contributed Rs 10,000 crore to it. The ECoR was not only truncated but made inoperative. The demand for a division at Balasore also went unheard despite a letter on the same from the CM,” he said.

He also blamed the Railway Minister for the triple train mishap at Bahanaga in Balasore for lack of Kavach, an automatic train protection system.

A coach factory, which was to be set up at Bhawanipanta, was also shifted to Andhra Pradesh, he alleged.

The former minister further asked how many jobs were provided to the youths of the state in the railways. “No new lines have been sanctioned for Odisha in the last five years. The work on ongoing projects, including Khurda Road-Balangir rail line, is moving at a snail’s pace. We ware still waiting for a rail line connecting Baripada with Jamshedpur. The demand of people of Kendrapada for a passenger train is yet to be fulfilled,” he said.

Jena added that the CM should have taking these into consideration while extending support to Vaishnaw. “What was the compulsion?” he asked.

He also mocked the Railway Minister for inaugurating foot overbridges in the state with much fanfare. “He is trying to fool people by giving them lollipops,” he added.

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