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Odisha CM's overreliance on 5T secretary: 'Risk' of centralization, autocratic tendency

By Bhabani Shankar Nayak* 

The 5T (Teamwork, Technology, Transparency, Time, and Transformation) initiatives introduced by the Government of Odisha aim to enhance governance efficiency and effectiveness. Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik emphasizes "the 3Ts of governance: Teamwork, Transparency & Technology leading to Transformation."
He has also introduced "a fifth dimension to this – 'Time'". These vague terms offer nothing new in the history of democratic governance and fail to address the material conditions of deprivation and marginalization for most people in the state.
The 5T initiatives have overly centralized the power of governance and undermined the well-established institutional structures of policy development and implementation. While it is acknowledged that existing institutional structures for development and welfare delivery need reform, the 5T framework is unlikely to bring about the necessary changes. Instead, it serves as a camouflage for government failures, acting as a propaganda tool and functioning like an instant coffee machine.
The ethos, visions, and missions of the 5T initiatives signify more centralization of power and less of a development and governance initiative. However, whether these initiatives represent governance or centralization depends on the specific implementation and outcomes.
With the patronage of Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, the all-powerful 5T secretary or chairman undermines the political processes of development, thereby working against the deepening of democratic development in the state.
The entire 5T initiatives could be implemented by the existing government departments. What was the need for the creation of a separate power structure that centralizes power and undermines local development institutions in the long run?
The 5T initiatives focus on improving teamwork, leveraging technology, ensuring transparency, and reducing the time taken for decision-making. If effectively implemented, these measures can enhance governance by streamlining processes, reducing bureaucracy, and making government operations more efficient. 
However, the realities of governance and development reveal a different story, where the masses suffer from poverty, underdevelopment, illiteracy, and ill-health. Government intervention in these areas is crucial for the transformation of the material conditions of people in Odisha.
The use of technology and transparency measures can potentially empower citizens by providing them with better access to information, services, and a more responsive government.
However, the availability and accessibility of technological knowledge, skills, infrastructure, and technological consciousness are alien to the majority of the people in the state. Therefore, investment in technological education and infrastructure is central to harvesting technological dividends in the state. The 5T initiative appears elusive in addressing these crucial matters.
By emphasizing teamwork, transparency, and technology, the 5T initiatives may contribute to increased accountability, with a focus on achieving measurable results within a defined timeframe.
These goals can be achieved through the decentralization of power, resources, and responsibilities. However, the 5T over-centralizes power, resources, and responsibilities, which destroys any potential for reform and the transformation of democratic development with transparency.
The recent experiences of the implementation of 5T initiatives show that there is a concentration of decision-making power in a central authority without adequate checks and balances, leading to over-centralization and the exclusion of local voices. The overemphasis on technology and centralized decision-making sidelines the importance of local perspectives and grassroots-level governance, potentially resulting in decisions that do not consider regional variations and specific needs.
The overreliance on the 5T secretary and centralization increases the risk of autocratic tendencies, limiting democratic principles and public participation in decision-making in both the short and long run.
The dustbin of history will record the 5T initiatives in Odisha as another directionless government initiative with fanciful whims and caprices aimed at electoral gains, lacking evidence of social, political, and economic transformation in the interests of the people in the state.
With Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik's patronage, the all-powerful 5T secretary undermines political processes of development

Time will document the success or failure of the 5T initiatives in Odisha based on the concrete implementation of policies and programs and the extent to which they promote good governance without sacrificing democratic values. It is crucial to strike a balance between efficiency and inclusivity to ensure that these initiatives contribute positively to the state's development. 
Regular evaluation, feedback mechanisms, checks and balances, and adaptability to local contexts will be essential in determining whether the 5T initiatives serve as a tool for effective governance or lead to undesirable centralization in the long run.
The rehabilitation and resettlement of urban slums and housing for slum dwellers stand out as among the notable achievements of the Naveen Patnaik government over the last two decades. However, despite this, Naveen Patnaik has squandered more than two decades of political stability and people's trust in him within the state.
His populist managerial politics, coupled with bureaucratic interventions, has eroded local democratic processes of governance, hindering the deepening of democratic development. His political approach has proven inadequate in transforming caste, class, gender, and regional inequalities.
The evident gap between rural and urban development has widened in the state over the last two decades under his watch. These failures have impeded development and created illusions of transformation. Social progress remains stagnant in terms of democratic, secular, and inclusive consciousness.
This condition serves as a breeding ground for crime, drug-related issues, and reactionary right-wing politics, where Hindutva forces become the sole beneficiaries. How does the 5T fights these uphill battles of transformation?
History of governance and development reveals that the over centralisation of authority and power only helps capitalist development processes to grow that marginalises people, destroys environment, promotes crime and security state, undermines democracy and citizenship rights.
The people of Odisha hope that the 5T initiatives are not geared towards deepening capitalism in the state but rather toward democratic development and the political and economic empowerment of the people.
---
*University of Glasgow, UK

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