ORISSA ASSEMBLY ENDS ASSIZE WITH CONFUSED LEGISLATION

Subhas Chandra Pattanayak

A Legislative Assembly is created to create Laws. Laws must be created by proper application of collective wisdom of the Legislature. But Orissa Legislative Assembly that terminated its last session abruptly on a rash official resolution has adopted certain Bills that may be branded as Laws without application of legislative mind and may lead to avoidable conflict of interest amongst peoples belonging to different localities and categories in Orissa.

On the day of termination, the House was drowned under unprecedented pandemonium over the exposure of Chief minister’s blue-eyed female colleague Pramila Mallik in the matter of demanding for and accepting a part of bribe to grant regular pay packages for the employees of the State Women Commission and legislative composure was noticeably absent.

On such a day, amidst the pandemonium, Bills were taken up for consideration and adopted sans any discernible debate. These are the Bills to amend: (1) The Orissa Municipal Corporation Act, 2003, (2) The Orissa Municipal Act, 1950, (3) The Orissa Contingency Fund Act, 1967and (4) The Orissa Grama Panchayats Act, 1964.

Two new legislations such as The Orissa University of Technology Bill, 2008 and The Orissa Advocates’ Clerks Welfare Fund Bill, 2008 were also adopted in the same environment and on the same basis of voice vote.

Two other Bills that two land-grabbers attired as University promoters had used the Orissa Government to draft, such as The Vedanta University Bill, 2008 and The Sri Sri University Bill, 2008, were so terribly treacherous that even the treasury bench members found them unsuitable for consideration instantly.

Had the legislative composure not been affected by the pandemonium over the lady minister’s alleged misconduct, the Bills adopted might not have been adopted in the prevalent shape with embarrassing defects even in the statements of objects and reasons thereof.

For example, the two Bills amending the Municipal Act, 1950 and the Municipal Corporation Act 2003 admit in their respective statement that they are framed only “in order to avail the Central Government assistance under the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM)”. What does the amendment provide for? It provides for disclosure of the details of plans, service, expenditure etc of the urban bodies regularly at quarterly / half-yearly intervals.

Ensuring “transparency and accountability” to the public is the minimum duty the elected bodies should discharge. There was no problem in creating such duties through legislation. What was the necessity of stating that this legislation is created only to avail the assistance the central government grants under JNNURM? Does it not conversely say that had there been no stipulation for transparency packages in the JNNURM scheme, the said amendments might never have been thought of?

If the Assembly could have been allowed to give serious mind to these two Bills, this quoted portion should have been dropped from each of them and the Bills could have been vetted to declare that the amendment was necessitated to subject the officials to transparency so that the urban bodies remain accountable to the general public. Had it been possible, our peoples would have been saved from embarrassment that flows from the assumption that transparency clause is contrived just to hoodwink the Central Government in the JNNURM scheme.

On the other hand, the body of the amendment has enough material to show that the State does not seriously support transparency. It transpires from two facets of the Bills. Firstly, the reluctance factor. It is admitted in the statement at Para 3, “The State Government had made commitment to undertake these reforms during the year 2006-07 vide Gazette Notification No. 25566-Tax-16/2006-HUD dated 3rd November 2006”. What was the reason behind the two-years long delay in legislating the reform if the Government is not really reluctant to give it effect to? Secondly, the evasion factor. In sub-section 3 in both the Bills the mode of disclosure has been spelt out. To quote it, “The information ………. May be published by at least two modes, as the Municipality (Corporation) deems fit, such as affixing it on the notice board of the Municipality (Corporation) OR publishing it in the newspaper in regional language having wide circulation in the concerned municipal area OR by posting it in internet OR by public announcement OR by any other mode, as may be prescribed”. If reform was the real purpose, there should never have been so many alternatives. These multiple alternatives are capable of killing transparency through the escape root of office notice board and public announcement. Had the Assembly not been hoodwinked, the escape roots in this sub-section might have been eliminated and dependable roots like the newspaper and Internet could have been specified.

If we visit the two new Acts, the ad hoc approach to tricky issues may show how lackadaisically they are created. A new welfare fund has been created for the benefit of Advocates’ Clerks. Had the legislators not been struck by the rashness the government deployed in adopting the Bill for this purpose, the Petition Writers of the State might have been placed in this legislation too. The reason for this legislation shown in its statement fully applies to the Petition Writers, who constitute a core sector in Orissa’s world of litigations. They are appointed under a specific Law of the State and their legal role is well recognized in civil jurisprudence. They are omitted simply because there is no regular policy on welfare fund constitution and management in the State. Similar is the case of the Law now created for converting Burla Engineering College to a Unitary University. Conversion in this case is not at all incorrect. But incorrect is the approach. The UGC has been stressing on balance growth of technical education institutes and balance spread of Universities in a State so that regional / sub-regional imbalance in higher and technical education should be eradicated. Had the government not taken advantage of the pandemonium in the House to rush the Unitary University Bill, at least a legislative intention for balanced growth of Universities could have emerged. Sans a policy framework for establishment of Universities in the State, political favoritism has been in use for establishment of Universities, though thereby sub-regional rivalry being patronized; solidarity amongst peoples of Orissa is often disturbed. Had the House been able to make a serious business on the last day of its last session, this tricky question could have been properly cogitated and it might so have happened that the House could have framed the University policy for better management of academic resources and necessities.

But no such thing has happened. Consequently the House has passed certain Bills that are far from what a serious legislative business could have produced.

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ORISSA ASSEMBLY TERMINATES SESSION IN SUSPECTED DESIGN TO SHIELD TAINTED MINISTER

Subhas Chandra Pattanayak

After Ms. Pramila Mallik, Minister for Women and Child Development was dragged into debate over allegation that she had demanded and received bribe in advance for putting the employees of the office of State Women Commission (SWC) in regular scale of salary and after the Speaker directed the Minister to place her version in the House the next day and the government to find out and report if the allegation was true, the Government has all on a sudden used its advantage of majority in the House to end the session of Orissa Legislative Assembly eight days ahead of its schedule. The session was scheduled to continue till 31st December. And the House was to transact so much business that important Bills had been adopted through guillotine to avoid possible paucity of time. Hence, the government stand to abruptly terminate the session for want of business looks flimsy.

The SWC employees, comprising 36 persons in all categories, are not getting their salaries in regular rates for which they have been making their representations for years. Ms. Mallik being their Minister had allegedly demanded a bribe worth Rs.5 lakhs to allow regular pay scales to them. The poor employees were even made to cough up Rs. 50,000/- in advance. This is how a section of the media has carried the version of the concerned employees.

On 19th December, Congress member Lalatendu Bidyadhar Mohapatra had made a special mention of this exposure during the zero hour driving the House into frenzy.

As the Opposition insisted that the Chief Minister be made to make a statement, the Speaker had observed that as Rules permit the Government 48 hours to respond to the issue raised through special mentions, they should wait till then.

Dwelling on the subject through a point of order Opposition Chief Whip Satyabhusan Sahoo wanted to know from the CM as to what steps he has taken after his cabinet colleague was exposed in mainstream media over such unprecedented ugly instance of seeking and taking bribe from a segment of government employees to fit them into regular scale of pay.

As the CM did not come forward with any answer, gnawing pandemonium hurled down adjournment after adjournments till the Speaker, accepting Opposition views that the matter was too serious to be ignored, issued directions to the Government in the afternoon to enquire into the matter immediately.

Ms. Mallik in a statement told the House on 20th December that the allegation raised against her was blatantly baseless. She has neither demanded any bribe nor has ever taken a part thereof in advance to allow fitment of the SWC employees into regular scale of pay she maintained.

Before her statement was perused, the Vedanta University Bill was taken up. Deputy Leader of Opposition attacked it as a controversial Bill spangled entirely with defects deliberately sculptured on its body to defeat State interest and coined voluminously in order to dissuade proper application of probing mind on its mischiefs within a short time and demanded that consideration on the Bill be deferred to allow Lawmakers enough time to study it in-depth before proceeding with the business it warrants. Lawmakers across party lines were almost of the same opinion that remained unchanged even in respect to the other Bill coined on Sri University. Sensing the attitude of the House, both the Bills were deferred. But before the House was on its normal track, a treasury bench member Arun Sahu, known as a member of CM’s inner circle, suggested that the two Bills being deferred, the House should end the session, as there was no business left. Congress heavyweight Nalini Mohanty read in it a conspiracy to stop Opposition induced resolutions and other legitimate businesses. But a motion by the Government Chief Whip to end the session was adopted by voice vote and the Speaker went ahead to close the session.

It may be that the present Assembly will have no new session. Its normal life is at the fag ends. So the House will have no opportunity to appropriately finish the issues it had brought into Assembly records including the bribe issue and breach of privilege allegations against the CM, Navin Patnaik and Cooperation Minister Ms. Surama Padhi.

Deputy Leader of Opposition Mr. Narasingha Mishra had based his privilege notice against Mr. Patnaik on the latter’s willful sleeping over the Commission of Inquiry Report on Ganjam hooch tragedy when the privilege notice served by Shambhu Nayak and Padmalochan Panda against Ms. Padhi was based on her discernible attempt to mislead the House in the massive scam spotted in Bhubaneswar Urban House Building Cooperative Society. The Speaker had assured to do the needful after examination of the notices at his end. But now, with the abrupt termination of the session, most probably that would not happen and the Members will not be able to take stock of the breach of privilege in both these cases.

On the other hand, the ugly offence Ms. Mallik has allegedly committed could not be taken stock of as appropriately as it should have been had the House not ended its session so suddenly. She, in her statement, has given such information that gives glimpses of environment congenial to corruption that exists in the office of the Minister.

The day the matter was raised in the House, she had told the media that she has instructed the Department to find out if anybody has used her name in collection of bribe. This means, she does not entirely rule out the possibility of bribe money collection from the concerned employees.

On the other hand, member Damodar Raut of Basanti Bara fame, who is also the Secretary General of BJD, in expressing solidarity with Ms. Mallik had immediately tried to intimidate the affected employees apparently in a bid to drag them into silence over the bribe allegation. He had used the Etv channel to transmit the alarming message to them that if they confirm to have given bribe worth Rs. 50,000/- to Ms. Mallik in advance against her demand for Rs.5 lakhs, they must first be booked for giving bribe.

Modus operandi of Mr. Raut in trying to intimidate the employees into silence, if designed to protect Ms. Mallik, was perhaps present in a different form in crafting abrupt closure of the session after she presented her statement in the House.

Ms. Mallik’s statement was full of so many gaps that through them anybody can find how delay was deliberate in processing the proposal for fitment of the employees into regular scale of pay.

As for example, she has said that the proposal to put 33 employees of SWC in regular scale of pay was received from the SWC by her department on 08 November 2006. No action was taken on that. The SWC repeated the proposal after more than seven months adding three more names to the previous list of 33 employees and her office received the same on 17 May 2007. She has told that now orders are issued for their fitment in regular scales of pay. She has not told the date of the issued order.

The House in order to monitor the matter arising out of bribe charge leveled by the employees of SWC against the Minister could have tried to know the real reason of such inordinate delay in disposal of the concerned file had the Assembly session not abruptly died

How else than designed the phenomenon could be apprehended?

SERVERS OF POSCO AND VEDANT SLOUGH OVER SAND ARTIST SUDARSAN PATTANAYAK

Subhas Chandra Pattanayak

Sudarsan Pattanayak needs no introduction. He is known all over the world for his unique and excellent sand art. And, Orissa is very rightly proud of him.

He is sad. Sad because the government of his home state Orissa has been sleeping over his application for a small plot of land on the sea shore where he could have established a school to impart training in sand art.

Chief Minister Navin Patnaik is running a government that puts top priority on allocation of 10 thousand Acres of land to non-Oriya Anil Agrawal on the Puri seashore to help him
Establish his private commercial hub under cover of an university by the name of Vedant.. He has exceeded all the limits of administrative zeal in helping Korean firm POSCO grab Orissa soil.

Sudarsan Pattanayak is a self-made artist who has a limitless store of good wishes for the entire world, but has no wherewithal for cultivating administration in favor of his proposed school.

OF MINISTERS OF ORISSA AND THEIR OFFICES GRABBED BY EXTRA OFFICIAL ELEMENTS

Subhas Chandra Pattanayak

If the Ministry is answerable to the Assembly, Orissa Assembly has miserably failed to monitor the Ministers.

It is the Speaker who has on many occasions expressed dismay over failure of Ministers in giving acceptable answers to queries from the Members. He has gone up to instructing Ministers to come with the proper reply within a time stipulated by him. This speaks volume of how the Ministers have tried to evade time and again.

It is not that this odd has crippled the Assembly entirely. Some of the astute Members have sometimes succeeded in making Ministers vomit how administration has failed in their respective departments. But it is marked, whenever this happens, the Ministers usually shift the responsibility for the admitted failures to the bureaucracy that according to them is too recalcitrant to execute programs properly. As for example after stark failure in using the available funds earmarked for welfare of Scheduled Tribes and Scheduled Castes and Backward Classes was established by facts and figures in course of an adjournment motion on 18th December, Welfare Minister Chaitanya Prasad Majhi has attributed this failure to the bureaucracy.

But what the Ministers themselves are doing?

Almost all the Secretaries are disgusted that Ministers are making inordinate delays in disposing of files at their level irrespective of how urgent they are. In most cases, delay is deliberate and extraneous consideration is the suspected cause.

Extra Official Elements (EOE) in fact control the offices of several Ministers.

Under the Rules of Business, a Private Secretary (PS) is the officer, who peruses the files endorsed to a Minister and briefs him in order to help speedy disposal thereof. Therefore responsible high-grade officers are posted as PS to Ministers. But most of the Ministers allow themselves to be guided by EOEs in disposing off files. No file moves in a Minister’s chamber till the EOE wants it move. The bond between the Minister and EOE is secret. But it is the EOE that really matters. As for example, no file gets disposed off unless Mishra asks Health Minister Sanatan Bishi to clear it. No file moves in the chamber of the Labor Minister Pradipta Kumar Nayak unless Mangaraj wants it to be disposed off. Mishra and Mangaraj are samples of how certain individuals, not officially engaged to do what they are doing, are controlling the officials of Ministers’ offices

A disgusted PS may be available to you on query about a file to say that he cannot place the file before the Minister unless the Minister calls for that. When Damodar Raut was Minister of Information and Public Relations, this was the reply I had got from his PS on query on an accreditation file. Unless you put up the file how should the Minister know of it and how come he will call for the file unless he is informed of the file having come to him from the Department? I had queried. From the reply of the PS, I got it that the EOE on whom the Minister was relying upon to dispose off files specifically coming from the I&PR department was a journalist who obviously was acting Mishra / Mangaraj to Dama Raut at that time. And the syndrome continues.

Watch the office of any Minister and mark how many days are delayed in disposal of files, you get the picture of how EOEs have taken over administration. Lobbies galore. Normal rule derailed.

The Assembly should have asked Chaitanya Prasad Majhi as to how speedily he has been disposing off files coming to him from the department and should have taken a stock of which sort of files have taken how many days in his office for disposal.

But, why he alone? The same question should have been asked to every Minister. If any Minister says that he / she is not guided by an EOE, the details of time he / she has taken to dispose off files vis-à-vis the nature of files read with the period of pending should be reviewed by the Assembly.

Orissa needs to be saved from the grip of lobbyists and commission agents. Therefore there should be a social audit on file disposal in the offices of Ministers with emphasis on locating and weeding out EOEs who thrive on corruption and sans greasing whose palms files seldom move. But this cannot happen unless there is a law enacted specifically for this purpose.

Can the Assembly play any role in it? Before naturally the present Assembly breathes its last, can it at least coin a resolution in this regard?

How long should we watch Ministers escaping unpunished for non-functioning / malfunctioning of their respective departments even as EOEs continue to control their offices?

TRANSFER OF CMD IS NOT ENOUGH; DETERMINE HOW CORRUPTION HAS CRIPPLED OMFED

Subhas Chandra Pattanayak

Chief Minister Navin Patnaik has risen to the occasion and shunted assertive IAS officer Hrushikesh Panda out of Orissa Milk-producers Federation (OMFED). He is placed under General Administration Department as an officer without specific duty.

This administrative action was necessitated after Panda’s audacity was discussed in these pages on December 13, 2008.

He had, in the matter of fixation of retail rate of milk, pooh-poohed the authority of the Chief Minister and his further continuance as Chief of OMFED would have put the government at a level to be laughed at.

But transfer of Panda is not enough. The government should institute an enquiry to determine as to what extent corruption has crippled the monopoly cooperative merchant of milk in the State.

LIC CHAIRMAN SURPRISINGLY SILENT OVER SEX OFFENSE IN HIS BHUBANESWAR BRANCH

Subhas Chandra Pattanayak

The Chairman of the Life Insurance Corporation of India, Mr. T.S.Vijayan was served with an ultimatum on 24 November 2008 seeking action against Mr. Nihar Ranjan Tripathy, ADM of the Corporation’s P&GS Unit at Bhubaneswar, who is accused of sexual harassment perpetrated on a lady employee in the premises of the branch office on 16 October 2008. But surprisingly he is silent and the lady employee continues to endure the insult.

Nobody knows since when the LIC of India has developed such culture of recalcitrance in dealing with crimes of passion. But, the way the accused officer is protected till date speaks volumes of how now it sloughs over its legally required duty to protect dignity of its lady employees.

The East Central Zone Insurance Employees’ Association, in its Working Committee meeting held at Patna, Bihar, in a resolution on 28 November 2008, has “unequivocally condemned the uncivilized behavior, use of highly objectionable words, display of body language aimed at outraging the modesty of the lady employee” by Mr. Tripathy.

The resolution goes on to note, “ This meeting notes with serious concern that even though such an ugly and unbecoming incident occurred on 16th October 2008 inside the office premises and that too during the office hours and even though the victim lady …………..Assistant, P&GS Unit, Bhubaneswar has immediately lodged a written complaint with the SDM, LIC if India, Bhubaneswar Division with a prayer to give her due justice, the Bhubaneswar Divisional management has not taken any worth mentioning steps on such a serious matter and has tried to wash off its hands by referring the complaint to a hurriedly constituted Divisional cell. Even after lapse of over one month, the Divisional cell has not started its enquiry let alone investigating the matter. Even the victimized lady’s request to transfer the accused officer from that office so that the enquiry process is not vitiated is not acceded to, which is nothing but blatant violation of the LIC’s CO circular and the verdict of the Supreme Court. Rather, direct and indirect threats are hurled at the concerned lady employee pressurizing her to withdraw her complant. Even the management was made aware of all these by our organization, no step has been taken till date purportedly to shield the erring officer”.

The Employees Association, “while condemning such uncivilized action of the erring officer and the inaction of the management” has demanded that urgent steps be taken to “punish the guilty and give justice to the victim and till then, to transfer the concerned officer from his present place of posting in interest of justice and fairplay”.

The LIC Chairman has been asked to “take note that any delay in taking action against Mr. Tripathy is the same as abating in continuous humiliation and harassment” of the insulted lady. He is surprisingly silent.

IS NAVIN PATNAIK TOO WEAK TO HANDLE HRUSHIKESH PANDA?

Subhas Chandra Pattanayak

Chief Minister Navin Patnaik, whom non-Oriya, even foreign industrialists use as an instrument to grab Orissa’s natural resources and corrupt ministers as well as bureaucrats use as a shield, is perhaps too weak to handle IAS officer Hrushikesh Panda.

Panda, Chairman-cum-Managing Director of public sector cooperative business joint of milk producers (OMFED) has shown his guts in ignoring instruction of Navin Patnaik in the matter of hiking retail price of OMFED milk as he has revived the rate struck down by the CM on October 31, 2008.

To total disadvantage of consumers he had arbitrarily hiked the retail rate of milk from Rs.20 per liter to Rs.24 with immediate effect on 16 October 2008 without even any prior announcement. Investigative journalists had shown how the hike was vitiated with impropriety and how OMFED had become an Augean stable. Sharp protests from consumers rocked the corridors of power. The Chief Minister was warned by every one of his cabinet whenever whosoever of them met him. It took fifteen days for the CM to rise to the occasion and to impose a reversal of the price to earlier rate. Simultaneously, he constituted a high-power committee for finding out if price hike of OMFED milk was necessary and if so, what should be the fair price. The committee is working on that and its report is yet to be finalized.

This was not to be digested by Panda.

He is a man who does not like to be subdued. Even his career as an IAS officer has occasions to attract scathing criticism from members of Orissa Legislative Assembly leading to unanimous decisions for stringent actions against him including suspension.

There are occasions when administrative authorities have seen in him streaks of insubordination and there are occasions when the judiciary has intervened in disciplinary actions against him.

Affected OMFED consumers are inclined to suspect that Chief Minister Navin Patnaik’s order for keeping the milk rate stymied at the previous level till the high-level committee determines a just rate and the Government approves the same is struck by the same streak.

If OMFED’s decision to increase the rate is not forthwith nullified by the Government and Panda is not tamed to honor Government orders, it will be clear that Navin Patnaik is too weak to handle Hrushikesh Panda.