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Mainstream, VOL LIX No 26, New Delhi, June 12, 2021

Remembering Arjun Charan Sethi: The genteel politician | Rup Narayan Das

Saturday 12 June 2021

by Rup Narayan Das

Late Shri Arjun Charan Sethi, whose first death anniversary fell on 8th June this year was a eight time Member of Parliament and was the Union Water Resources Minister in Atal Behari Vajpayee’s cabinet in 2000. Born in a humble family in his ancestral village in Odong in Bhadrak in 1941, by dint of sheer hard work and perseverance, he could rise to the pinnacle of success as a Union Cabinet Minister. It was his conviction and commitment for the poor and down trodden that impelled him to join politics leaving behind a secured job as a school teacher and later as lecturer of a college in his native place. Respected for his honesty, integrity, and character, late Shri Sethi joined public life in 1971 when he was elected to Lok Sabha from Bhadrak constituency. His untiring zeal and zest for public services could be gauged from the fact that he whole heartedly plunged relief and rescue operations when the districts of Balasore and Bhadrak were severely affected by cyclone in 1971.

Besides being a member of Lok Sabha, he also represented Bhandaripokhri Assembly constituency in 1990 and later from 1995 to 1998. As a veteran Parliamentarian he was a member of several important Parliamentary Committees and was also Chairman of the Committee on Papers Laid on the Table of Lok Sabha from 1998-99.; and also Panel Chairman of Lok Sabha and successfully conducted the proceedings of the House. He was appointed Union Water Resources Minister in May 2000. His induction to the Union Cabinet was indeed the recognition of his long standing Parliamentary career, probity in public life, honesty and capability. The revision of National Water Policy of 1987 and its adoption incorporating subsequent changes in 2002 was a significant achievement of late Shri Sethi as Union Water Resources Minister. He also successfully piloted the Inter-State Water Dispute (Amendment) Act 2002 which greatly facilitates solving of inter-state water disputes in a time bound manner. On his initiative, the Ministry of Water Resources set up a permanent Water Quality Assessment Authority under the Environ (Protection) Act 1986. At his initiative extensive scientific studies were undertaken by the Central Ground Water Board to analyse the arsenic contamination in ground water in affected areas of West Bengal. In international dimension the most enduring contribution of late Shri Sethi was the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the Government of India and the People’s Republic of China regarding sharing of hydrological information relating to Yalu Zanbu/ Brahmaputra in flood session during the visit of the Chinese Premier to India in January 2002.This enables the two countries to share hydrological data between them after a gap of forty years, which is very helpful in flood forecasting in the north-eastern parts of India.

Late Shri Sethi also contributed significantly for the development of water resources in Odisha. He expeditiously gave clearance to many major and medium water irrigation projects under Central Water Commission in the state. The state was also offered financial assistance under the Accelerated Irrigation Benefit Programme (AIBP). Another significant achievement relating to the irrigation projects in Odisha was the launching of the Central Sector Pilot Project for arresting salinity ingress through ground water recharge. The main objective of the Project which was launched by Chief Minister Shri Naveen Patnaik in May 2001 at Haldiganda in Chandbali Block is to prevent salinity ingress and development of additional irrigation potential in identified creeks in the state. Under his directive the Central Ground Water Board under his ministry had identified districts in the state for taking up deep tube wells for provision of safe drinking water.

Late Shri Sethi also nurtured his Bhadrak constituency and adjacent Balasore district. Modernisation of Bhadrak Railway station, and Bhadrak Post Office were two important projects for which people will always remember him. Through his efforts it was possible to introduce Bhadrak-Balugan DMU Service in July 1993. The inauguration of the Computerised Reservation in Bhadrak Railway station was also his accomplishment. Besides, he also provided for stoppage of the Falaknama Express and Trichinapali Express at Bhadrak Railway station. Through his persistent questions in Parliament and efforts, the rudimentary works for the Dhamara Port was also initiated.

Above all late Shri Sethi was a down to earth politicians who was always rooted to the ground. A dignified and self-respecting person he never hankered after position and power. Such kind of politician and people’s representatives are rare today.

(The writer, a retired joint secretary of Lok Sabha Secretariat, was Officer on Special Duty to late Shri Sethi when he was Union Water Resources Minister; a currently a senior fellow of Indian Council of Social Science Research, Views are personal.)

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