Professor Bhabani Prasad Dash (BPD) was closely associated with the OEA since its inception. He was its Secretary during 1978-83 and President in 2002. He played a crucial role in nurturing the OEA for about half-a-century. In order to obtain a glimpse of the long journey of the OEA, Dr. Amarendra Das (AD), the current secretary of the OEA, had a rendezvous with Professor Dash at his residence in Cuttack in the presence of Professor Rabi Narayan Patra (former Secretary, OEA) and Professor Satyakam Mishra (former President, OEA). The complete discussion is available at the YouTube Channel of the OEA https://youtu.be/tVtIKeCSVXo Here are the slightly edited excerpts of the conversation.
AD: Sir, you have been associated with OEA since its inception and were even present in its very first conference of OEA. Please tell us something about the formation of the OEA.
BPD: The Association was formed in Ravenshaw College in 1968. Some of the economics teachers of the college came together to discuss forming such an Association for the economics teachers of Odisha (then Orissa). Some of them were Dr. Khetra Mohan Pattnaik, Dr. Ghanshyam Das, Professor Baishnab Charan Parida, Dr. Benudhar Mishra and Dr. Baidyanath Misra. Initially, they had correspondence with economics teachers from various colleges of Odisha. After getting a positive response, on January 26, 1968, a meeting was convened at the historic Assembly Hall of Ravenshaw College and that day was marked as the Founding Day of the OEA. The meeting was presided over by Dr. Sadasiv Misra and attended by, among others, Dr. Baidyanath Misra and teachers from Ravenshaw College and a few teachers from various colleges. I and one of my friends from Sambalpur (Gangadhar Meher College) were also present. Around 40 people participated in the meeting. It was decided there that the Association should be registered. Some other important decisions for the Association were also taken. Since then every year the OEA has been holding its annual conference in different colleges/universities of Odisha. The first President was Dr. Sadasiv Misra and the first secretary was Dr. Baidyanath Misra. A few others were kept in the executive committee and it was decided that the association would bring out a biannual journal with one conference issue and another open issue. This continued up to 1985 and after that it became an annual issue.
AD: Sir, when did you take the responsibility as the Secretary of OEA?
BPD: Well, exactly not sure but I think it was from 1978 to 1983 when I was in Ravenshaw College. I remember it was proposed at the Berhampur conference when Dr. Kisan Kanungo was the President and Dr. Benudhar Bhuyan was the Secretary. Some of my friends told me that they would propose my name and asked me not to deny. Finally, in the election I won and became the secretary.
AD: Sir, during the initial years, how did the Association manage the finances? Was it getting any financial assistance from some source?
BPD: No. There was no such financial support from any organization or the government. Only, the “Youth Welfare Board”, whose secretary was Dr. Baidyanath Misra, gave an annual assistance of Rs. 4000 that eventually increased to Rs. 6000 in the subsequent years. Then, to generate additional funds, we decided to increase the number of Life Members of the association. With much effort, we were able to make 100 life members. At that time the life membership fee was Rs. 100. Thus, we generated Rs. 10,000 from the membership fee. After meeting all expenses, we saved some funds for future needs as well. Then around 1982, a conference was held with the initiative and collaboration of the state government in which the OEA received Rs. 50,000. That time Mr. Balakrishnan was the Development Commissioner who had facilitated all these. Also, the Planning and Coordination Department gave an amount of Rs. 10,000 to the Association. In that conference we had saved almost Rs. 16,000 out of Rs 50,000. Later on, during the time of Shri Jugal Mohapatra, IAS, as the finance secretary, the Government of Odisha started giving Rs. one lakh every year. Finances of the Association improved gradually and with the surpluses a corpus fund had been generated.
AD: Sir, who became the Secretary after you relinquished the position?
BPD: After me, Professor Bidyadhar Nayak took over as the secretary of the Association followed by Professor Rabindra Kumar Mishra, Professor Bimal Kinkar Mohanty, Dr. Rabi Narayan Patra and now you, Dr. Amarendra Das. Well, talking about the position holders before me, the first secretary of the association was Dr. Baidyanath Misra followed by Dr. Srish Chandra Patnaik, then Dr. R. L. Agarwalla, Dr. P. K. Dash and Dr. Benudhar Bhuyan.
AD: Sir, those days when the conferences were hosted in colleges, how was the level of enthusiasm among the teachers?
BPD: We had to go to the colleges to persuade and convince them. But the colleges used to first ask us for financial support to host the conference. However, we would tell them that they had to host and mobilize funds for the conference and that the OEA would not be able to provide any financial support. Moreover, if after the conference they had any surplus funds left with them they should donate it to the OEA. In fact, we had to persuade the colleges to host the conference telling them that they would be exposed to a wider audience if they host the same and that would be beneficial for them.
AD: In the initial years of the OEA, the Chief Minister (CM) used to attend the annual conference. Did that reflect the importance of conferences during that period?
BPD: No. The conference was never of that much of importance for the politicians. The Chief Minister would ask us to send the suggestions coming from the deliberations. But they never paid any attention to these.
AD: How many years did the Chief Minister come to the OEA conference?
BPD: For many years in fact. Mr. Janaki Ballabh Patnaik came thrice; once as a central minister and twice as the CM. He came as he was close to Dr. Baidyanath Misra.
AD: Sir, gradually the CM stopped attending the conferences of the OEA. What could possibly be the reason?
BPD: Well, when Janaki Babu was invited to the OEA conference he used to come very late. In fact, he used to reach in the evening. This used to upset the entire programme and last-minute rescheduling had to be done. So, to avoid such situations we decided not to invite politicians. Only if we had to invite someone from the government, then we would approach the Governor and none else with a political background.
AD: Sir, if we talk about the quality of the papers during that time then what would be your views on that?
BPD: Well, quality of the papers was mostly seen in the open issues. If it was not a standard paper, then it was rejected outright. But in the conference issue, mostly all papers were published. But once when I was in Khallikote College, we proposed that the conference issue should also be scrutinised to a certain extent. It was decided that the papers not meeting the minimum standard would have only the abstracts published in the conference issue and the rest as full papers. The first editor of the journal was Dr. Bidyadhar Misra, followed by Dr. Baidyanath Misra.
AD: Sir, you have attended almost all the conferences, haven’t you?
BPD: No. I missed two of the conferences. One at Bargarh and the other at Banki
AD: What changes have you noticed in the conferences of the OEA over the years?
BPD: Not much. One significant change is the increase in participation in the conference. Initially, to increase the participation, it was decided to give the one-way travel fare to the participants. Subsequently, as our financial position improved, we decided to give the two-way actual fare to the participants. This increased the participation to a good extent. Then in the Kendrapada conference, we decided to reduce this to one-way fare reimbursement and finally as the attendance kept increasing, we decided not to give travel allowance anymore. However, now attendance is good. Also, another change is that over the years the participation of young scholars has increased.
AD: Sir, speaking about the research culture in Odisha, do you feel there has been any improvement?
BPD: Yes, there has been quite a lot of improvement in research over the years.
AD: Sir, if we may ask you, apart from you, who are the major contributors to the OEA who played an important role in the development of the Association, whom would you name?
BPD: Dr. Baidyanath Misra, Dr. Benudhar Mishra, Prof. Baishnab Parida, Dr. Basudeb Sahu and Dr. Adwait Mohanty. My involvement in the Association was at a personal level. I along with Dr. Baidyanath Misra used to visit the host colleges twice or thrice before every conference. Even we started the publication of the Souvenir. Later on, Dr. Baidyanath Misra stopped accompanying me and left the complete responsibility on me to visit the conference venue and cater to the needs of the conference. One good memory. I used to attend the annual conferences of the Indian Economic Association and that was how I had developed personal relation with Dr. P. R. Brahmananda. When the OEA conference was hosted at the Evening College in Rourkela, I had invited him to attend our conference. He was surprised to know that such an Association existed in the state since 1968 and enthusiastically gave his consent. Later on before the commencement of the conference when I visited the venue nothing was in order and the collector of that time asked me if everything was ok. I replied that things were not alright and he immediately ordered his municipal staff and prepared the venue in the most spectacular way and everyone was taken aback seeing the grandeur of the conference hall. All the eminent economists of Odisha had attended the conference at Rourkela – Dr. Sadasiv Misra, Dr. Baidyanath Misra, Dr. Bidhyadhar Misra, Dr. Khetra Mohan Patnaik and Dr. Ghanshyam Das. Dr. P. R. Brahmananda was extremely impressed with discussions with all these dignitaries and requested me to cancel his ticket and postpone his return till the end of the conference. I feel the success of a conference depends on two things: “Meeting and Eating”. Both the aspects were really impressive at the Rourkela conference and that was really a memorable meet.
AD: Sir, please tell us about the Silver Jubilee Celebration of the OEA.
BPD: The celebration was done in Ravenshaw College. Dr. Surendra Nath Mishra was the President and Dr. Bimal K. Mohanty was the Secretary. Shri Biju Patnaik was invited as the chief guest. Biju ji was a visionary. He never talked of politics when invited to an academic congregation. In fact, he never liked long and irrelevant speeches. I remember once he went to Khallikote College and spoke on Economics for one hour and everyone listened to him with pin drop silence. He was an intellectual personality indeed.
AD: What was the growth of the size of the OEA during the Silver Jubilee?
BPD: See, the growth of the Association depends on the number of members. It was limited to about 150 that time. During my time it was 110 and then gradually it increased. Now it is much more, I think.
AD: Yes Sir, now we have almost 700 members.
BPD: Very Good.
AD: What would you say about the Golden Jubilee Celebration of the OEA at NCDS, Bhubaneswar conference in 2018?
BPD: Well, actually the conference was planned to be done in Ravenshaw, the birth place of the OEA. We all wished for it. Even Ravenshaw had given consent but somehow during the last minute due to some issues they withdrew and since Dr. Baidyanath Misra was there, he somehow managed to conduct the conference at NCDS under the leadership of Professor Srijit Mishra on an urgent notice as we could not find any other host for that conference.
AD: Sir, the inaugural session of the Golden Jubilee Conference had almost 400 attendees.
BPD: Yes, may be. But the pomp and show would have been much more had it been hosted in Ravenshaw.
AD: Sir, Lastly, what message would you like to give to the Association for its future as you are one of the pioneering members of the OEA?
BPD: See, the Association is such that whoever comes or whoever goes matters little, the Association continues – ever-going, ever-growing and everlasting. Since I was personally involved with the OEA, I wish that the Association survives forever. To keep the Association alive, basically two things are needed. One is the personal involvement of some people. It should not be that “let the Association go its way and we shall go our way”. Second, more and more participation and involvement of the academic community are essential. In fact, I have always told Dr. Baidyanath Misra that we should encourage young scholars to come, participate and speak something. That is the way they will grow and let go of their fears. The Association will grow with them. The Association will and must continue. But how it will continue depends on the efforts put by some like-minded people who are willing to work in favour of the Association. Lastly, I would say “Long Live OEA”.
AD: Thank you so much sir for your valuable time and information.