Achyut Samanta, who was recently elected to the Rajya Sabha from Odisha by the ruling Biju Janata Dal, is a first-time parliamentarian. Founder of the Kalinga Institute of Industrial Technology (KIIT) and Kalinga Institute of Social Sciences (KISS), he has worked tirelessly among tribals of the state, providing them free education, accommodation, food and healthcare from class one to post-graduation with vocational training. Fifty-three-year-old Samanta lost his father when he was just four and grew up in abject poverty with his widowed mother and seven siblings.

Samanta’s initial encouragement provided the much-needed boost to Dutee Chand who recently won two silver medals – in 100 metres and 200 metres – at the Asian Games in Jakarta. He backed her when she was waging a long battle after being barred from competing in 2014 because her levels of testosterone exceeded the guidelines laid down for female athletes. A determined Dutee, however, decided to fight it out against IAAF’s hyperandrogenism clause in the Court of Arbitration for Sport, based in Switzerland.

Samanta is a member of several national and international bodies where he puts forth the various steps he has taken to spread education among tribals and also how he managed to convince tribals in Naxal-infested districts of Odisha to send their children to school. In an interview to SRI KRISHNA, Samanta revealed what he plans to do as a Member of Parliament, focusing on problems plaguing tribals and weaker sections of society and the issues faced by Odisha.

Q: This is your first term in the Rajya Sabha. What are your plans?

A: I am first of all thankful to the Chief Minister for making me a member of the Rajya Sabha. I would say that it is a recognition of the work I have done in the last 26 years in the state towards the upliftment of tribals, marginalised, scheduled castes, scheduled tribes and poor sections of society.

I have been doing developmental work particularly for the welfare of the downtrodden. During my tenure in the Rajya Sabha, I will be able to raise issues pertaining to people who have been really marginalised in society and in the country. This is my first stint in the Rajya Sabha. Before this I was never in politics. I am happy that now I would be able to raise issues of deprived sections of society.

Q: What are the major issues that you propose to focus on?

A: The major issues I would be raising in the House would be those concerning Odisha since the state has been neglected in many ways. I have been focusing on developmental work with special emphasis on school education and medical education among the marginalised, tribals and weaker sections of society, farmers and food security and also with regard to giving employment to the youth. These are among the various issues that I plan to raise in Rajya Sabha when it commences its next session.

Q: You have been working among the tribals in the state and specially in the Naxal-infested areas of Odisha. What are the major problems that you faced when you began your work in these places?

A: We began work in these areas about 26 years back and you can imagine what conditions prevailed at that time among the tribals. They lived in their own world and had superstitious views. It took time to convince them and their children on the need to have an education. In 1992-93 when we began work in these areas, it was indeed very difficult. However, gradually we could manage to convince the tribals to send their children to school.

Now a revolution has taken place with the tribals sending their children to our institute for education and my organisation Kalinga Institute of Social Sciences (KISS) working among the tribals. Naxalism and Maoism has indeed been spreading in these areas since they are working among the tribals and influencing those who are 14 years and above.

We faced a lot of challenges when we began our work among the tribals in this region. But our will power and determination enabled us to execute our task of spreading the importance of education among the tribals and other downtrodden sections of the community. Through KISS which we set up in these areas, we were able to overcome the initial challenges that we faced.

Q: How has been the response of the Odisha government to your projects?

A: The Odisha government as also other state governments and the Central government have recognised and liked the work that I have been doing among the tribals and have appreciated the progress made by KISS and given us immense encouragement. The state government in whatever way possible has been helping me immensely though not financially. I am glad that the work which I began almost a quarter of century ago has been recognised.

BJD from the beginning has been pro-people and pro-development of the state. Our Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik has been very popular because of the welfare activities that the state government has undertaken. He has been doing a lot of work for the development of all sections of society. He has created several hubs in the state like industrial hub, education hub, sports hub. Soon the state government is setting up a health hub in Bhubaneshwar.

Q: As Member of Parliament, you are entitled to MPLADS fund of Rs 5 crore per annum. How do you propose to use this fund?

A: MPLADS is of great help to members for their area development. Since I have been working for the welfare of tribals for the last 25 years, the funds from MPLADS would enable me to carry out schemes of permanent nature for the welfare of tribals. I have selected one tribal dominated district in Odisha where I will do maximum infrastructure and other work with the funds provided under this scheme.

Q: Your views on the recent voting that took place in the Rajya Sabha for the post of Deputy Chairperson of the House with the BJD backing the candidate of the ruling party.

A: The election of Deputy Chairperson was smooth and nice that it was completed within a few minutes. I am very happy with the entire process as the Rajya Sabha Chairman conducted it so smoothly.

Q: Kalinga Institute of Social Sciences (KISS) has also been encouraging sports and you recently had an athlete from KISS, Dutee Chand, winning two silver medals at the Asian Games in Indonesia. What are you doing to encourage sports?

A: We are providing free education and free boarding and lodging to over 25,000 tribal children at KISS. We are giving quality education to these children and also providing top-class sports facilities for students. We have contributed tremendously to sports and have produced over 5,000 sportspersons with 71 international players in 16 events and 8000 sportspersons in 32 sports events at the national level.

The increased participation in sports by youth would help in solving problems as the focus of these youngsters would be towards something constructive and it would also boost the health of the youth who would then not indulge in other activities.