Subhas Chandra Pattanayak

The Sahitya Akademi , hereinafter called Akademi, was created as India’s National Academy of Letters. But sadly it has become the Augean Stable of Indian letters.

We will examine only one aspect: its annual awards to the “most outstanding” books in Indian languages, which is its principal aspect; and see how in this aspect it has become the Augean Stable.

Primarily addressed to Orissa’s interests as is, we will begin with and continue to examine the scenario juxtaposed with the latest Sahitya award given to a book in Oriya.

This book is a novel captioned ‘Achinha Basabhumi’.

We have exposed earlier, in these pages, how the book is a despicable one, absolutely ineligible for the award and how the selection of this book was vitiated by malpractice, manipulation, and contravention of Rules.

We are now to look at the response of the Akademi to post-selection protests to see to what extent its awards stink of corruption to make it an Augean Stable.

Corruption in selection of this book as the “most outstanding book” in Oriya language for Sahitya Award 2011 had come to the attention of Sahitya Akademi sufficient ahead of presentation of the same award. But, as the selection was deliberate, it ignored the allegation.

LAB member resigns in protest

When the award was to be given on February 14, 2012, prominent member of the Akademi’s Oriya Language Advisory Board (LAB), Barendra Krushna Dhal tendered his resignation on December 24, 2011 in protest against irregularities in selection of this book. His letter of resignation had exposed the irregularities in two fronts: (1) In selecting this book, six other eminent writers – highly creative and popular – were completely ignored and (2) As if the jury members were to sign on dotted lines, they were not given enough time for a sound selection, as they were given eleven books each to read, compare and evaluate all those books in about a week’s time which was practically impossible.

So, allegation of manipulation in selection of this book was known to the Akademi by December 24, 2011.

Protest of the preeminent
member of the Jury

There were three members in the Jury: Chandra Sekhar Rath, Srinibas Mishra and Debdas Chhotray. The Akademi had made it four membered by adding the Convener Bibhuti Pattanaik to the Jury list, and by imposing him on the Jury as its President free to intervene in works of the Jury and influence its decision by way of obstruction and permission, paving thereby the way for selection of this particular book. This apart, the convener allowed regional secretary of the Akademi to play a part in the decision of the Jury, in view of which the Jury was a de facto body of five members in place of three.

However, amongst these Jury members, only one man – Chandra Sekhar Rath -was the most distinguished and preeminent one, the primacy of whose placement in the Jury stems from the emphasis laid down by the Haksar Committee and hence, whose opinion should have counted the most.

We will come to the Haksar Committee later. This much can be said now that as the activities of the three central Akademis including Sahitya Akademi were generating constant and immense dissatisfaction, the Central Government had appointed a Committee headed by Dr. H. J. Bhabha in 1964 to review their activities. Again in 1970 another Committee was appointed under chairmanship of Justice G. D. Khosla to review their functioning including action taken on the Bhabha Committee report. As both these Committees were more ignored than honored, the Central Government had to appoint a ‘High-powered Review Committee’ (HPRC) headed by Sri P.N. Haksar in 1988 “to review the working of the three Akademis, along with their affiliates and subsidiaries and the NSD with reference to the objectives for which they were set up, and keeping in mind the recommendations of Committees set up in the past in this behalf”.

In reviewing the Awards governed and given by Sahitya Akademi, this high-powered Committee had emphasized on change of criteria in appointment of Jury. Under Para 9.48 of its report, the HPRC had stipulated that, “At least one member of the jury should be a Fellow of the Akademi or an author who had won a Sahitya Akademi Award in the past”, which the Akademi has conveyed to have accepted.

This implemented recommendation of the Haksar Committee makes it unambiguously clear that the member of the Jury who is there because of being a Fellow of the Akademi or a winner of Award of the Akademi, will be of basic and guiding importance in the Jury.

And in the Jury we are concerned with, Prof. Chandra Sekhar Rath was the only member who had won the Akademi Award in 1997 for his short story compilation ‘Sabutharu Dirgharati’. So he was the most distinguished, preeminent member.

Prof. Rath had vehemently opposed the selection of ‘Achihna Basabhumi’ till the last moment in the meeting of the Jury. When with Debdas Chhotray’s secondary support it became clear that the book was bound to be selected with majority support, he had signed on the sheet of recommendation just to save the jury from the embarrassment of being fractured.

However, there, after signing, he had cried out his protests, as admitted by the Convener and in the public, after the award was announced, he had openly divulged that the selection was fixed.

On January 3, 2012, his version came to public attention through an interview published in Sambad wherein he stated that the selection was stage-managed and he had to sign on dotted lines against his conscience. This allegation from the most distinguished member of the Jury was too serious to be ignored.

The LAB Convener Bibhuti Pattanaik who, besides being the official link between the Jury and the Akademi, had arbitrarily presided over the Jury to the extent of driving it into selection of this book, had taken cognizance of Rath’s interview in response to which he had published his comments in the same paper admitting, inter alia, that Rath had put his signature most reluctantly in the selection sheet after Chhotray’s second preference added to Mishra’s adamant preference made the selection sure for ‘Achihna Basabhumi’; after which he had also raised “strong protests” against the selection of that book.

This shows that on January 3, 2012, the Akademi was also notified of the controversy over the selection.

PIL in Orissa High Court

On February 2, 2012, the Orissa High Court, on admitting PIL case No. W.P.(C) 1871/2012, had imposed an interim injunction on presentation of the Award and issued notice to the OPs comprising (1) the Union Ministry of Tourism and Culture represented by its Secretary, (2) National Academy of Letters (Sahitya Akademi), (3) the Akademi Secretary, (4) Language Advisory Board (Odiya), (5) Bibhuti Pattanaik, convener of the Akademi, (6) Chandrasekhar Rath, Jury of the Akademi, (7) Ramkumar Mukhopadhyaya, regional secretary of the Akademi and (8) Smt. Kalpana Kumari Devi, authoress of the disputed book.

So, finally, the Akademi was notified of the irregularities in selection of this book by the High Court of Orissa on February 2, 2012 also.

Corruption all around

On being thus notified of corruption in selection of this book, it was expected of the Akademi to review the selection. But corruption was so much across it, that, instead of reviewing the cultivated recommendations of its jury for Oriya language, it defended its decision to present the award and got the stay vacated by misleading the court with suppression of vital facts as well as by taking recourse to technical grounds rather than relying on reality.

Had the Akademi reviewed the selection, it could have seen from its records that the book was selected through sheer manipulation and shrewd canvassing by its authoress through her integral part in matter of the book: the publisher, Girija Kumar Baliarsingh, who had caused insertion of this book in the list to be placed before the Jury at the last moment. The mischief of manipulation is inherent in the Annual Award Rules of the Akademi.

Rule against Rule

When Sub-Rule 1 of Rule 3 provides for enlistment of eligible books by an expert in the concerned language “strictly” conforming to the “criteria of eligibility” laid down in the Rules, Sub-Rule 3 makes the LAB members eligible not to accept the list prepared by the language expert and to recommend two books each as eligible for the award.

Yet again, under Sub-Rule 1 of Rule 4, a committee styled Preliminary Panel is created comprising ten members called ‘Referees’ , who, under Sub-Rule 3 thereof are empowered to change the list of eligible books compiled with recommendations received from the LAB members.

This is the last phase of the eligibility list for the award. Hereafter, the jury is to select the book.

Thus, the Preliminary Panel is the Final Panel for altering the list created on recommendations of the LAB members and the list created on its recommendation becomes the Final List to be placed before the Jury.

The publisher of ‘Achihna Basabhumi’ was in this Final Panel, misleadingly styled Preliminary Panel and was the only one on whose recommendation, this book which neither the language expert nor the Advisory Board members had recommended, was incorporated in the final list by the Akademi.

That the publisher of the book Girija Kumar Baliarsingh had obtained a berth in the final panel and made the book inserted in the final list by misusing his membership in that panel style ‘Preliminary Panel’ is revealed from records of the Akademi.

Asit Mohanty, an Akademi prized author and Editor of Publications (Eastern Media) had made certain queries under RTI on selection of this book. In reply to his query at Para 5 (c-viii), the Akademi has informed that, “the awarded book ‘Achinha Basabhumi’ was incorporated in the process of award at Preliminary Panel Stage” when to query at Para 5 (c-ix), it has said that, “Sri Girija Kumar Baliarsingh, one of the members of the Priliminary Panel, was (the) only (one, who) recommended the book ‘Achihna Basabhumi’ for Award.”

Award arranged through canvassing

The role of the Regional Secretary of the Akademi as well as that of the Convener in ensuring selection of this book for the award is discussed earlier in these pages. When read therewith, the role of the publisher of this book, as exposed now on the basis of records obtained from the Akademi under RTI, makes it clear that there was a meticulously calculated, canny, clever and keen canvassing for the award for ‘Achihna Basabhumi’.

The nakedness of canvassing is manifested in inclusion of the publisher of the book in the final panel.

It is up to the Akademi to reveal as to who of the Advisory Board had recommended publisher Baliarsingh for inclusion in the panel wherefrom he could insert the book in the final list.

And for this, it also should reveal, whose pressure it succumbed to in appointing this publisher as a referee and in ignoring all ethics to accommodate this particular referee’s solo recommendation at the last moment in final compilation of the eligible books for the award.

I am afraid, it will not; because the selection of this book was steered through lobbying, in sharp contravention of the rules and ethics within the knowledge of the Akademi officials and with their cooperation, participation and support.

Withdrawal of the Award is necessary

If the Akademi officials were not been involved with this offense, on receipt of Dhal’s letter of resignation from the Advisory Board on December 24, 2011, which was sent in protest against favoritism in selection, the Akademi, in order to find out if any illegality was really resorted to in selection of this book, could have immediately reviewed the entire gamut of selection, starting from the ground list to its vetting through the Advisory Board to screening thereof by referees in the final panel coined as preliminary panel and insertion of this book for the first time in the final list, beyond knowledge and jurisdiction of the Advisory Board, at the final stage on the solo recommendation of a referee who himself is the publisher of this book.

Had it been done, the clandestine canvassing by the writer could have been noticed as the publisher of a book and the writer thereof form a single unit in appearance of the book and steps could have immediately been taken to declare the book disqualified for the award.

Sub-Rule 5 of Rule 2 stipulates that, “A book shall be disqualified for the award if it is established to the satisfaction of the Executive Board that canvassing has been done by the author.”

Therefore the chief executive of the Akademi was duty bound to bring the allegation of favoritism in this book’s context to the knowledge of the Executive Board for their action against shadow canvassing by the authoress executed through her integral part in appearance of the book, the publisher.

But the chief executive of the Akademi did not do so.

The book, which is a despicable book as shown earlier in these pages and elsewhere could not be disqualified for the award before the award was presented.

After the award was presented, the role of the publisher – the integral part of the author in bringing out the book, was disclosed by the Akademi that connotes canvassing by the writer through the publisher.

Therefore the book deserves post-presentation disqualification for the award and hence the award needs to be withdrawn.

Jury members: timid or tamed?

Award to ‘Achihna Basabhumi’ could have been nullified/withdrawn had Jury member Chandra Sekhar Rath who has kept his post-announcement protests against the selection on records, been a bit honest; and if Debdas Chhotray who, in the Jury meeting, had primarily preferred another book, could have come forward to help people know the shenanigans that had preceded this selection.

There is no doubt that the Akademi officials are aggressive offenders of the very Rules, which provide for the award. But they are so very aggressive that, members of the LAB as well as of the Jury are afraid of disclosing where the shoe pinches lest that irritates the officials.

The High Court had served notices on the advisory board members through the Convener. Had they or any of them come forward to say that ‘Achihna Basabhumi’ was not in the list compiled on their recommendation, the court could not have said that the selection of this book was processed through “different expert Bodies and Committees …… formed by the National Sahitya Akademi to select the works of different authors”. And, might be, the wrong in holding this despicable book as “the most outstanding book” in Oriya language could have been corrected.

Supposing that the Convener suppressed the court notice and did not circulate the copy thereof amongst Board members, what about Chandrasekhar Rath, who had vehemently opposed the selection of this book for the award in the jury meeting itself and had, in his Sambad interview, given the impression that he had to sign on dotted lines for which his conscience was biting him bitterly and he was in deep remorse?

From the High Court verdict it transpires that he was personally notified of the case; but he did not respond.

Had he responded to the court notice and placed the facts he had divulged through the interview, the verdict of the court could certainly have not gone in favor of the Akademi and the stay on presentation of the award could not have been lifted; because the court could not have approved the illegalities resorted to in selection of this book.

Is Rath a timid fellow or was tamed by the Akademi after the Sambad interview to stay away from telling the court the truth? The answer is best known to him.

Tamed Tenacity?

It has been revealed even by the convener that when two of the members were against the awarded book, only one member of the three member jury, Srinibas Mishra, had declared at the start of the Jury meeting that he would never support any book other than ‘Achihna basabhumi’.

He is a retired person, too old for serious perusal and evaluation of so many books of so many diversities and genres in so small a time, such as a week, as LAB member Barendra Dhal has noted in his reported resignation letter.

Had he seriously read even one book, i.e. the book he so tenaciously supported, he could not have supported the book at all.

Because, a retired teacher like him could not have supported a book of filthy, insulting and obnoxious words hurled at people of lower castes, women, widows, and Muslims; a book of contempt against societal unity, against national integration and against progressive virtues.

Why he was so fixed for this particular book? Was it also an instance of tamed tenacity? This agonizing suspicion should be cleared. But, it may be clear if Mishra honestly gives a detailed account of how and why he found this book to be the “most outstanding book” of the period.

Debdas’ surprising silence

But the other member of the jury, Debdas Chhotray, who, at the beginning, had declared that none of the books in the final list was eligible for the award, had subsequently expressed his preference for a book other than ‘Achihna Basabhumi’. What happened that he helped this book with his second preference despite it being a despicable book, is a point of public interest.

Therefore I had sent him a properly explained questionnaire, which, had he answered, could have better helped in location of malpractice, if any, in selection of this book for the national award and in projection of a despicable book as “the most outstanding book” published in Oriya language. The questionnaire is perusable here. Why a man like Chhotray preferred not to cooperate is a conundrum.

Role of the Bar at India International Centre

However, a look into old files brings me into pages of Outlook India wherein well known Hindi writer Krishna Sobti was quoted to have said, “Undoubtedly, there is a literary mafia at work.”

How the mafia works? Says Sobti, “There is always a silent decision to promote someone or the other. It’s a circuit game barred to outsiders. Only a few have access to the India International Centre bar where so many things are decided.” (Outlook India, November 01, 1995)

If Jury members are gained over in bars such as at India International Centre, New Delhi, how can one expect of them any faithful adherence to Rules of the national award?

In the same discussion, Sheelbhadra, who also drew attention to the fact that a jury member had even claimed credit for ‘getting’ a particular writer his award, has said, “Personal factors obviously influence the selection of books by the language committees”.

Should we not know what Khushwant Singh has said in the same story?

In recalling his decision to quit the Sahitya Akademi’s award panel after a writer, whom he had reported for lobbying for her book, not only got the award but even declared her husband would get one the following year, Singh has said, “The kind of lobbying that goes on is shocking. In particular, there is a rampant scandal in Punjabi awards. I can’t think of a single Akademi award-winning book that has been commercially successful: they are simply unreadable.”

And, who can say, the India International Centre bar is barred to Punjabi writers?

Sanctuary of literary mafia

In their well documented write up captioned ‘Literary Mafia’ Amit Prakash and Y.P.Rajesh have exposed how award fixers are ruling the roost in the Sahitya Akademi.

“A talented Indian language writer today would need to be both influential and old, if not dead, before he is read and formally recognized by ……… the Sahitya Akademi.

“Though it is still a gentleman’s game compared to the vicious politicking, scandals and goondaism that plague the art world, the fortune and fame of many Indian writers are determined by a well-entrenched literary mafia in Delhi. A society for mutual admiration, it is a close knit group of ‘established writers’ and writer-bureaucrats who lord over vast networks of patronage. Outsiders stand little chance of breaking into this circuit and stumble in either by default or for sheer want of a favorite in a particular category or language”.(Ibid)

Exposure by Chittaranjan Das

Famous essayist and author, late Chittaranjan Das has described his experience as a member of the jury of the Akademi in Pragativadi dated June 30, 2003.

When, to avoid canvassing, it is a must for the Akademi to keep secret the names of the Jury members and this secrecy is so absolutized that no member of the Jury can know who the other members are, Das has revealed in his write-up, how he was approached by the other two members of the jury one by one and pressurized by both of them to select a particular book to ensure the award for a particular person.

Even a close friend of Das, who was not in the Jury, was used to pressurize him in support the same book, Das has said.

He has even revealed that both the other members of the Jury having decided ahead of the Jury meeting to select that particular book, his signature was formally collected by an officer of the Akademi on the sheet of paper reflecting the pre-session decision.

If Akademi officials were not involved with such award fixing, how could Das be known as a member of the Jury to others and how other two members could be gained over to have selected the book even before the Jury met?

This stripping of the Akademi by the eminent essayist, who was revered not only as a great litterateur but also as a paragon of Gandhian virtues, makes it clear that the Akademi of letters has become a sanctuary of literary mafia.

The allegation that the Convener had made

It reminds me of how in the matter of Sahitya Award-2004, in a public function of the Akademi itself at Balasore on 8 February 2010, its Convener Bibhuti Pattanaik had set the State’s literary environment ablaze by claiming that the climate of corruption prevalent in the country has also affected the nation’s highest awards for literature.

As an instance, in a conniption, he had exposed how Prafulla Mohanty had succeeded in bagging that award by bribing Jury member Manoranjan Das, with dismaying details.

It is an irony that with the same Bibhuti Pattanaik continuing as the Convener, the Award-2011 has gone to a despicable book by manipulation through illicit nexuses!

What else than the wrong practices of entertaining award-fixers in the Akademi could be responsible for this?

Awardee known
four months ahead of selection

As reported on 27 December 2007, an open appeal to the Central Culture Minister was made by eminent writers including Mahasweta Devi, Krishna Sobti, Ashok Vajpeyi, Vishnu Khare, J.P.Das, Pratibha Ray,and Ajit Cour to save the Akademi from the labyrinth of irregularities and from the grip of award fixers.

But amongst these signatories, there is one such writer who had bagged the award by manipulation!

Four months ahead of announcement of the award,former Secretary of Orissa Sahitya Akademi Dr. Hara Prasad Paricha Pattanaik had told me the name of who would get the award. And, when this particular person got the award, to what extent procurement of the award has become easier for the unscrupulous became crystal clear. In a different context, in a 2007 discussion, I have kept this information on records in these pages.

Multiple devices

“Controversies around awards in other Indian languages are not as loud as those in Hindi, which drag in all sorts of isms — cronyism, casteism, political affiliation, ideology”, says Neelabh Mishra in Outlook India of March 08, 2010.

So, not only New Delhi’s India International Centre bar, but also multiple devices like bribe, cronyism, casteism, political affiliation, ideology et cetera are in active use in selection of books for Sahitya Award.

Chronic corruption

Who but the intelligent persons can be writers and, as writers, aspire for national awards? But it also is a fact that whosoever is corrupt, is intelligent.

Like birds of the same feather, intelligent people may flock together without the risk of being easily caught for differences in avocational genre.

So in the Akademi, there is always a generic nexus between the intelligent ones with literary aspirations and the intelligent ones who thrive on corruption. Resultantly, corruption is chronic in the Akademi.

Salvaging attempts screwed up

Attempts were made to salvage the Akademi from this labyrinth in 1964 by reviewing its activities though a Committee headed by Dr. H. J. Bhabha and again in 1970 though another Committee headed by Justice G. D. Khosla. As findings thereof had no impact on the Akademi, a high-powered Committee headed by P. N. Haksar was appointed in 1988 about which we have already mentioned. This being a high-powered Committee, action on its recommendations was supposed to be sure. But mafia ruling the roost in Akademi matters screwed it up.

Parliamentary Standing Committee does a dig

With a Communist Sitaram Yechury at the helm, the Parliament’s Standing Committee on Transport, Tourism and Culture thought it prudent to look at the functioning of the autonomous cultural bodies including the Akademi and in the process stumbled upon the Haksar Committee report ignored by the Akademi, abandoned by the Government and buried under dusts of time. It had to force the Ministry to retrieve the report, but it failed to find if any action was taken thereon; because, the concerned files were reported to be missing.

In introducing how it stumbled upon the Haksar Committe report, the Standing committee says, “The Committee had received inputs from various quarters, governmental and nongovernmental including Media, about the working of our premier cultural bodies – Sangeet Natak Akademi, Sahitya Akademi, Lalit Kala Akademi and National School of Drama. The issues ranged from their constitution, composition, mandate and mainly their general functioning. It was felt that most of these institutions were not able to live up to the original mandates set out by their founding fathers. Controversies of different kind involving these institutions that keep cropping up from time to time, had caught this Committee’s attention. Questions were also raised about the indifference and helplessness shown by the Ministry of Culture to do anything in the face of autonomy enjoyed by these institutions.(Para 23)

“In view of this, the Committee wanted to find out if these institutions set up during the initial years, were able to make the desired contribution towards enriching, promoting and preserving our arts and culture”. (para 24)

“To begin with, the Committee prepared a questionnaire and sent to the Ministry of Culture for furnishing replies, based on which it could begin its deliberations. During the deliberations, the Committee came to know that similar sentiments about the functioning and activities of these institutions had existed even during the sixties and thereafter, which is why different Committees had to be set up for going into their working”.(Para 25)

Files gone missing

The Standing Committee came to know of three different Committees constituted for the purpose in the past, the last being the Haksar Committee, which was a “High-Powered Review Committee” created for the purpose of salvaging the Akademis.

It “asked for a copy of this High-Powered Committee Report (Haksar Committee) from the Government and it was surprised to know that files relating to action taken to most of its recommendations had gone missing and the Ministry of Culture was trying to locate them. However, a copy of the Haksar Committee Report was furnished to this Committee. The recommendations/observations of this Committee (Haksar Committee), in fact, were an eye-opener to this Committee that were found to be as relevant today as they would have been more than two decades ago when it was submitted to the Govt. of India in the year 1990”, the Parliamentary Standing Committee has noted at Para 26 of in its report tabled in the Parliament on 17 August 2011.

Decision of the Standing Committee

Convinced of the relevance of the Haksar Committee report, which was produced on the basis of in-depth scrutinization of “the records of the institutions including the agenda and proceedings of their policy-making bodies, executive and academic bodies and internal committees” on the one hand; and on the other hand its interaction “across section of people active in the fields of performing and visual arts, language and literature, education and cultural administration over the country”, but was lying abandoned, the Standing Committee “felt that it would be unnecessary duplication of efforts and resources for the Parliamentary Committee to start another exercise of reviewing the working of these institutions as it had initially decided”.

Therefore, the Committee “took a decision to review the implementation of the recommendations of the Haksar Committee and report its observations/recommendations to Parliament which might sensitize the Government, Akademis, NSD and the people at large, about the significance as well as the neglect of these bodies in our nation’s life”. (Para 28-29)

Concerned as we are only with the Sahitya Akademi in this essay, we will look into the affairs only of this Akademi as mentioned in the Standing Committee Report to the extent that is relevant to the topic in our hand: the Annual Sahitya Awards.

At Para 9.46 of its report, the HPRC headed by Haksar had observed, “The Sahitya Akademi needs to take note of the general dissatisfaction regarding the present system of deciding its annual awards.” To query of the Parliamentary Committee on this point, the Akademi refused to agree to this, as there has been no objection over its present system of selection.

The Standing Commiittee has refused to accept the the version of the Akademi. It has noted, “The Committee endorses the recommendation of the HPRC and is of the view that selection process is not without any controversy. It is true about Sahitya Akademi award also. What is needed is to follow a very transparent and comprehensive selection process with least scope for favoritism, etc. The existing selection process may be re-examined accordingly and intimated to the Committee.”

The Haksar Committee had further said that, “The juries must apply the most exacting standards. If no book or author in any given language comes up to the mark, no prize need be awarded. The existing guideline to this effect should be strictly enforced.” (Para 9.51 of its report) To query of the Standing Committee on this count, the Akademi said that the recommendation has been “implemented” and the Standing Committee took note of it. But as shown in this chain of discussions in these pages, it is clear that the recommendation is observed more in violation than implementation. Corruption has engulfed the entire process.

“Our conventional wisdom says that a society bereft of art, music and literature will consist of people as good as animals with no horns and tails. The main challenge before us today is to protect and promote our tangible and intangible cultural assets at a right perspective.” The Parliamentary Standing Committee had introduced its report with this note.

Challenge remains a challenge

But the challenge has remained a challenge. The Akademi has remained the Augean Stable of Indian letters, as is established by award to ‘Achihna Basabhumi’.

It is time, the Standing Committee of the Parliament, in this context, should find time , to review the implementation of its views. And, the sooner it is done, the better.

Sahitya Award 2011: A Happening That Should Not Have Happened

Subhas Chandra Pattanayak

Achihna Basabhumi, which should not have got the Central Sahitya Akademi Award, has got it on the strength of a decision of Orissa High Court on a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) that had challenged the selection of the book for the Award.

But a perusal of the order of the High Court that helped this book receive the Sahitya Award 2011 gives the feeling that had the PIL petitioner conducted the prosecution in right earnest, the result could have been different.

The Court has held that the petitioner’s case was not maintainable as a PIL by accepting the version of the award winner that the petitioner being a writer and publisher himself, had a private interest in challenging the Award.

Had the petitioner properly pleaded his case, he could have pointed out that no book either written by him or published by his firm was contesting for selection. So he had no private interest in challenging the selection and therefore the description of the case as a private interest litigation was not correct.

Fundamental Duty is a Public Interest Duty

He could have pleaded that, as a dutiful citizen, it was his fundamental duty to challenge the wrong selection, which was made in violation of the Annual Sahitya Akademi Awards Rules, hereinafter called the Rules.

He could have cited Article 51A of the Constitution of India that has laid down the fundamental duties, which every citizen should perform as a part of the general public, in public interest.

Under clause (e) thereof it has been stipulated that, it shall be the fundamental duty of every member of the general public – a citizen – “to promote harmony and the spirit of common brotherhood amongst all the people of India transcending religious, linguistic and regional or sectional diversities; to renounce practices derogatory to the dignity of women”.

The PIL petitioner should have convinced the Court that when these tenets are in jeopardy, it should be the duty of any member of the public to try every method, including judicial, to remove that jeopardy.

The book in question bears ingredients against harmony and goes against the spirit of common brotherhood as contemplated under the constitutional provision cited above. As for example, in page 515, Mrs. Indira Gandhi is castigated for having married to a Pathan in spite of being the daughter of Pt. Nehru, a Brahmin. In page 53, it has declared that it cannot be countenanced if a Brahmin child is made to sit on the same floor to study with a child of Kandara caste.

It uses terms that encourages the practice of using words and epithets absolutely derogatory to the dignity of women. As for example, in page 33, insulting and offensive words like Randi and Jarata are used against a woman. On the basis of meaning spelt out in Purnnachandra Ordia Bhashakosha, when Randi is an abusive Oriya word that equates a widow with a whore, Jarata stands for a woman who till old age remains a harlot. As such, the expression in this page – Randira Jarata Dosa Katigala – Randi is absolved from becoming a Jarata, is pregnant with the suggestion that, if a woman is a widow, she must be thriving on prostitution.

Words in this book are offensively used against people of schedule castes. As for example, in page 55, people of Keuta caste are depicted as harebrained and insultingly called ‘Shala” in the sense of being one, whose sister is fucked. Kandara caste people are called scavengers (Hedakhia) in page 260.

Muslims are also not spared. They are described as untouchables. As for example, in page 256, it is said that an untouchable person shall be doubly untouchable by touching a Muslim. In page 300, it is stated that Muslims are untouchable like all of the untouchable castes, rather baser than the untouchables because of being eaters of beef.

In view of such sample expressions and samples cited in and placed as above, Achihna Basabhumi is a book that goes against the tenets of Article 51A(e) of the Constitution and carries ingredients that are injurious to promotion of “harmony and the spirit of common brotherhood amongst all the people of India transcending religious, linguistic and regional or sectional diversities” and are contributory to “practices derogatory to the dignity of women”.

It also contravenes Article 51A(f) that calls upon the citizens “to value and preserve the rich heritage of our composite culture” by, as shown supra, depicting hatred for scheduled caste people, hatred for dignity of women, hatred for Muslims.

What should be the duty of a dutiful member of the general public -a citizen – in this case? He should expose the mischief, should try to make the general public aware of this mischief, should adopt all methods, including judicial, to defeat this mischief.

So, any step including legal step taken in this respect must be construed as a step in public interest.

Had the PIL petitioner convinced the Court of this, the verdict could have been different. And, the PIL might not have appeared as a private interest litigation.

A fit case for PIL

At Para 10 of the Judgment, the Court has rightly said, “Public Interest Litigation is not in the nature of adversary litigation. The purpose of PIL is to promote the public interest which mandates that violence of legal or constitutional rights of a large number of persons, poor, down-trodden, ignorant, socially or economically disadvantaged should not go unredressed. The Court can take cognizance in PIL when there are complaints which shocks the judicial conscience. PIL is pro bono publico and should not smack of any ulterior motive and no person has a right to achieve any ulterior purpose through such litigations”.

The petitioner had every opportunity to convince the Court that neither any book authored by him nor published by his firm being in the fray, the PIL he had filed was “not in the nature of adversary litigation” too.

He could have told the Court that “large number of persons” – the scheduled caste people, who are “poor, down-trodden, ignorant, socially or economically challenged” as well as the women and the Muslims, have the “legal or constitutional rights” not to be depicted in insulting and derogative terms in permanent ink in any book. But they have been so depicted – as samples given supra prove – in Achihna Basabhumi.

He could have pointed out that in honoring this despicable book with the national Sahitya Award 2011, meant for the “most outstanding book”, the “legal or constitutional rights of a large number of persons” – belonging to the scheduled castes as well as women and Muslims – not to be offended by insulting and derogatory depictions, are severely “violated”.

In moving the Court against this “violation”, the petitioner could have said that he had no “ulterior motive” and had no aim “to achieve any ulterior purpose” through the litigation.

Had he pleaded his case in this light, the “violation” of “legal or constitutional rights of large number of persons” – the members of scheduled castes, women and Muslims – not to be depicted in “insulting and derogatory” terms, could have “shocked” the “judicial conscience” of the bench and the case could have been taken cognizance of as a fit case for PIL and the order of the Court could have been different.

Acquiescence under pressure does not make a decision fair

The Court has relied upon a jury member Chandrasekhar Rath’s reported version in The Telegraph that reads, “At times, many factors for the selection of a work for an award remain unknown to the public. But, since the Akademi has entrusted us with the responsibility, we carried out the job to the best of our ability”. And, by accepting this version of Rath as genuine, the Court has held that the selection of the book for the award was genuine.

Had the petitioner sincerely pursued his case, he could have unfold before the Bench what Sri Rath really meant by saying, “many factors for the selection of a work for an award remain unknown to the public”.

The Rules and Procedure are the known factors that govern the selection of a work for an Award. And, they are available and known to the public. So, what really remains unknown?

The contravention of the Rules remains unknown.

The shenanigans in promoting a particular book for the Award in virtual nullification of the “ground list of eligible books” prepared by “the expert(s) appointed by the Akademi for for the specific purpose remains unknown.

The corruption in selection remains unknown.

The tricks of favoritism/nepotism used for selection of a particular book for the Award remains unknown.

The design to select a particular book for the Award by rejecting better books remains unknown.

The tricks of making the juries surrender to pressure for selecting a particular book for the Award remains unknown.

And many such nefarious activities of any office-bearer of the Akademi to obtain by any means the Award for a book of his/her preferred person, notwithstanding how despicable might be that book, remains unknown.

When Rath told the Telegram that “many factors for the selection of a work for the award remain unknown to the public”, he had kept these factors in his mind.

This is clear from Rath’s another interview given to a very well-known editor of literary journals and a national Sahitya Akademi prize winner Asit Mohanty, published in Orissa’s top circulated daily, The Sambad on January 03, 2012.

In this interview he has made the public know that selection of Achihna Basabhumi for the Award was predetermined and was imposed upon the Jury by convener Bibhuti Patnaik on the basis of extra-jurisdictional strength purposefully bestowed upon him for the day by the regional secretary of Sahitya Akademi, Ramkumar Mukhopadhyaya when the meeting of the Jury had commenced.

Rath has stated that, contrary to Rules and Procedures in vogue, before the Jury started its business, Mukhopadhyaya, had imposed Patnaik on the Jury to “preside over its meeting” and to “participate in its business”. As such, the Jury, which is a three member body de jure, became a four member body de facto and, Patnaik not only presided over the Jury without any legal right, but also “dominated” over its deliberations arbitrarily and created situations for selection of this particular book for the Award, Rath has said.

The Annual Sahitya Akademi Award Rules on the ‘Jury and its function’ has made it clear that the “Convener shall act as the link between the Jury and the Akademi”. But instead of acting as a link, he presided over the Jury and dominated over its deliberations, controlled its decision making, blocked other books from being considered and ensured the selection of this particular book – Achihna Basabhumi – for the Award.

So, the same Chandrasekhar Rath, whose version in The Telegraph has been relied upon by the Court in holding that, “selection of book was entirely made by a three member jury committee consisting of eminent Odiya scholars”, has in reality shown in his interview taken by Mohanty how illegal was the selection and how he had acquiesced in to put his signature on dotted lines against his conscience.

But the Court could not know of this. Had the petitioner produced Rath’s interview published in the Sambad before the Court and insisted upon taking cognizance thereof, and argued that acquiescence under pressure does not make a decision fair, perhaps the order could have been different.

Shenanigans expose Hobson’s choice

Rath’s interview to Mohanty has exposed the shenanigans in selection of Achihna Basabhumi.

Even though books from four sectors of literature – novel, poem, short story and critique – were placed before the Jury, convener Bibhuti Patnaik, who illegally presided over it, did not allow the Jury members to select any book other than a novel. Rath had proposed that one book each from the four categories be shortlisted first, and then, out of the four shortlisted books the best one be selected. But Sri Patnaik rejected that proposal and directed the Jury to select a novel only, though the Procedure laid down by the Akademi never gives him any carte blanche to do this.

Freedom of the Jury members to use their wisdom to select the best one from the books placed before them thus being illegally denied and scope of selection thus being arbitrarily restricted by Sri Patnaik, there was no way other than discarding all eligible books except the novels.

Rath has clearly stated, had it been possible to prepare the shortlist with one book each from of the four categories for final selection, he had the doubts if Achihna Basabhumi,brought to the consideration zone of the Jury through manipulation over the list of eligible books prepared by the “Expert”, could have qualified for a place in the said shortlist. But, Patnaik not only rejected the proposal for the shortlist, but also used tricks to ensure selection of this particular book from the novels, the only category available to the Jury.

He has given a picture of this trick. After members of the Jury were browbeaten to discard the eligible books belonging to other categories, only books in the novel category remained for consideration. There were four novels.

One of the Jury members, Srinibas Mishra, had declared from the very beginning that he shall not support any book other than Achihna Basabhumi for the Award. This man was included in the Juri purposefully because, as a caste supremacist he was expected to support Achihna Basabhumi – not nominated by the “expert” that prepared the original list of eligible books, but by tricks brought before the Jury – because sic passim in this book are abusive words hurled at scheduled cast people and Muslims whom the caste supremacists hold as untouchables. The parochial creed of this man is discernible in the fact that only he was chosen by convener-cum-unauthorized President as to why he does not support Satakadi Hota’s novel Mukti Yuddha, to which he had the reply that Naxalites being eulogized by Hota as fighters for emancipation, he does not think it proper to select this novel for the national Sahitya Award. To this man, no other book than Achihna Basabhum merited consideration, even though the book, as shown supra, is interlaced with insulting and derogatory expressions against schedule caste people, women and Muslims in a pattern that sneers at social harmony, spirit of common brotherhood and our composite culture.

When another member the Jury (Debdas Chhotray) said that he prefers another book (Paunshagadare Sunara Dhuli Mo Dhanamali) to Achihna Basabhumi for the purpose of the award, that book was declared a non-novel. A book was rejected on the ground that it was the only novel published in a particular year and the rest one was rejected under the plea that its author being younger in age can wait for the Award, Rath has informed.

Thus by highhandedly eliminating three of the four novels from the list of four, the Convener, who illegally presided over the meeting and interfered in and controlled the deliberations of the Jury from beginning to end, finally projected Achihna Basabhumi as the book of his choice and the only eligible book for the Award and stressed on its acceptance.

The PIL petitioner could have apprised the Court of this illegality in selection of this book as exposed by Rath.

He could have challenged how a first preferred book was declared a non-novel. He could have challenged how an eligible book was wiped out from consideration zone not because of any deficiency in the book, but simply because of the younger age of its author, despite there being no provision in the Akademi’s procedure for consideration of any book on the basis of age of its author. He could have challenged the illegality of rejection of an eligible book under the plea that it was the only book published in a particular year, though the rules are specific that not any single year but “the three years prior to the year, immediately preceding the year of the award”, must be the basis of consideration for selecting a book for the Award.

But the petitioner did not apprise the Court of these illegalities that were enforced upon the Jury to choose Achihna Basabhumi as the only book available.

He could have told the court that Hobson’s choice might have been a matter in selection of a horse, but cannot be and must not be countenanced in selection of a book for the nation’s highest official award in literature. But he did not do it. Had he attracted the Court’s attention to these blatant illegalities, the order could have been different.

The Convener acted ultra vires

That, instead of acting as “the link between the Jury and the Akademi” as stipulated under the Procedure, the convener was interfering with the Jury work and shepherding the jury members into a situation to select Achihna Basabhumi, is corroborated, though unwittingly, by the convener himself.

As for example, he has said that he had raised objection, when jury member Debadas Chhotroy expressed his choice for the novel Paunshagadare Sunara Dhuli Mo Dhanamali.

“I objected to acceptance of this book of Debraj Lenka as a complete novel, because it was a book of only 98 pages”, he has said.

Is there any definition that stipulates that in order to be accepted as a novel a book must be containing more than 98 pages?

Where from the convener got such a definition?

And, who was the convener to intervene in Jury work and raise objection to a jury member’s choice?

The PIL petitioner could have raised these questions to show the Court how the selection procedure was affected by arbitrariness of the convener, who acted ultra vires through and through.

He could have shown to the Court that the convener’s role. under the Rules and Procedure of the Akademi, was limited to acting as “the link between the Jury and the Akademi” and to ensure that the meeting of the Jury was conducted in proper environment and to the satisfaction of the jury members. But, as admitted by him, he intervened in the meeting, interfered with the proceedings, objected to evaluation of books by jury members, blocked the expression of their wisdom in selection of the best book by unauthorizedly vetoing a member’s rightful choice, imposed on the Jury that a novel cannot be accepted as a complete novel because its page numbers were 98 even though no where a novel is defined to be a book of large number of pages and obstructed proper application of mind by the jury members to the business in their hand, over and above restricting the selection for the book for award only to the sector of Novels.

Had the petitioner been able to do this, the order could have been different.

To the Court, the wrong has appeared right

To the Court it has appeared that “not only the eminent Jury Members, but also the Executive Board” has examined “in every respect as to whether the book is worthy to get the Award or not” (Para 11 of the Order). But to have the Court form this view, it has been fed with the wrong data in absence of proper prosecution by the petitioner.

The petitioner could have told the Court that the Executive Boards of the Akademi has not at all examined “in every respect as to whether the Book is worthy to get the award or not”. It has just formally approved the Jury recommendations and announced the Award. The Rules under the heading ‘Declaration of Award’ has limited the scope of the Executive Body in this respect by laying down that, “The recommendation of the Jury shall be placed before the Executive Board for formal approval and announcement of the Award” Rule 6 (1).

On the other hand, from what the convener of Akademi’s Language Advisory Board has said in his written statement that he has published in Sambad in reaction to Rath’s interview published in the same paper, it transpires that the Jury did not function in normal condition and had to acquiesce in machinations to select Achihna Basabhumi.

From what the convener in his statement has said, it is clear that, the Jury decision was severely affected by his personal participation, vetoing and vetting. Thus it was not a fair, proper and legal decision.

Besides, the strength of the Jury was also tampered with behind back of the Akademi in order to cow down dissent voice, if any, against selection of Achihna Basabhumi.

With the convener imposed upon the Jury to preside over it with participation in its decision making, the Jury no more remained a committee of three members as stipulated under the Rules, but became a body of four.

Yet, from a different angle, it was made de facto a body of five, inasmuch as, besides Patnaik, Mukhopadhyaya was the one, who, sans any provision, declared that Achihna Basabhumi was the book that was selected by the Jury, a fact, which Patnaik himself has disclosed in his statement.

Under the Rules, it is the three members (and three members only) of the Jury that should “examine in every respect” (to quote the High Court words as noted supra) the books for selection, and come to the conclusion; and handover their recommendation for the Award to the convener (he being the link between the Jury and the Akademi) after signing thereon in his presence, who then would merely countersign the signatures and submit the same it to the Akademi for formal approval and announcement under Rule 6(1) accordingly.

The Rules provide that, if the Jury finds that there is no book worthy of selection for the Award, it can, under Rule 1 (2) refuse to select any book from the list before it and sign the result sheet accordingly, which the convener is to merely countersign and submit.

So, wherefrom this Mukhopadhyaya got the power to conclude and declare that Achihna Basabhumi was selected by the Jury, if not this selection was stage-managed under his supervision and monitoring?

The petitioner could have raised this question and proved that the decision of the Jury was stage-managed under Mukhopadhyaya’s supervision and monitoring and the Convener’s ultra vires activities and hence was improper and illegal. Had he done so, the order might have been different.

Rath’s objections corroborated

Rath’s claim that he had objected against imposition of Achihna basabhumi is corroborated even by the convener.

He has clearly stated that, after Mukhopadhyaya declared Achihna Basabhumi as the book selected, Rath had vehemently objected thereto and had opposed the selection, already, by then, declared by Mukhopadhyaya.

But ultimately Rath had succumbed to his pressure and signed on the dotted lines, for which, the convener has thanked him, though in his interview published in Sambad, he has condemned himself,

and vowed not to agree to be a Jury member of the Akademi in future.

Relevant objections to illegalities galore

Not only Rath from the Jury, but also eminent persons of letters associated with the Akademi have put on records their objection to illegalities galore in this selection.

As for example, Satakadi Hota, the most known gentle face amongst men of letters in Orissa, who has tremendous experience in matters of Indian Sahitya Award, having had two terms of incumbency in the Akademi’s Language Advisory Board for Oriya, besides being a current member of its General Council, has put it on records that like mines are being looted by mafia, in Sahitya Akademi, the mafias are also looting the Awards. And, he has added force to this statement in an exclusive interview to a highly esteemed literary journal, ‘Chandan’ in its January 2012 issue (Issue-1, Vol.V).

A close friend of Convener Bibhuti Patnaik, literature activist Barendra Krushna Dhal, also a central Sahitya Akademi Prize winner and the founder secretary of Bhubaneswar Book Fair that has revolutionized bibliophilism in Orissa, has resigned, on records, from Oriya Language Advisory Board of the Akademi after selection of Achihna Basabhumi in protest against discernible malpractice in this selection.

The PIL petitioner could have placed all these instances before the Court to counter the opposite party assertions that the selection was fairly done by the entire three member Jury. Had he done so, the order might have been different.

Incompetent members in the Jury

At Para 15 of the order, the Court has taken it that the Jury committee that selected Achihna Basabhumi as “worthy to get the Award for the year 2011” was constituted with “eminent experts”. It looks like a wrong assumption.

Far from being “eminent”, the members of the Jury were incompetent to evaluate the Novels.

None of them was an “expert” on Novels.

When the selection was arbitrarily limited to Novels, “eminent experts” on Novels should have evaluated the books in the list.

But no member of the Jury has any visibility in the field of evaluation of Novels.

None of the Jury has ever noticeably criticized a Novel or brought out any critique on Novels.

None of them has any published work on Novels.

None of them is either a scholar on Novels or has ever been referred to as such by any scholar.

None of them is recognized as an “expert” in the field of Novels.

After so many scathing attacks on the wrong selection in public, in the media, in TV panels and even in editorials in prominent newspapers, none of the so-called scholar members of the Jury has defended the selection, when the only member of the Jury to have opened his lips on the selection, Chandrasekhar Rath, has given enough indication that the selection was stage-managed, improper and unfair. It is worth mention that Rath is the only member in the Jury who, to his credit, has two novels,for which, although he is not any expert in evaluation of novels, he may be taken as an author endowed with a novel-sense. And, to him, Achihna Basabhumi was not worthy of consideration for the national award and he, even admitted by the Convener, had vehemently opposed the selection of this book for the award.

The PIL petitioner should have brought to the attention of the Court these instances of deficiency in the Jury members and argued that none of them was competent for evaluation of Novels and had he done so, the order could have been different.

Maneuvering in enlistment of eligible books

Two prerequisites are essential for Sahitya Award. They are: enlistment of a book as eligible for the Award and recommendation of the book as selected for the Award.

Sub-Rule (1) and (2) of Rule 3 of the Rules provide for preparation of the ground list of eligible books by “an expert” or at best “two” appointed by the President of the Akademi from panels of maximum five names sent by each of the members of the Language Advisory Board. On contact, many of these members have told me that they had not submitted any panel, when only one member has informed that he had signed on a pre-prepared panel in the regional office of the Akademi at Kolkata. It indicates that the Expert, if any really appointed, was appointed illegally sans a valid panel in contravention of Rule 3(2).

There is reason to apprehend that no real expert was appointed to prepare the ground list; as otherwise, 11 books out of 16 in the ground list could not have been of a single publisher, from whose stable, another one – the Achihna Basabhumi – could enter later to the list of eligible books.

To get the correct information in this regard, on January 27, 2012 I had sent the following mail to the Akademi, wherein I had written:

“selection of achihna basabhumi for sahitya akademi award, 2011 has generated such resentment amongst oriya authors that it is necessary to find out where from the mischief emerged.

to my query, many members of the advisory board have revealed that they had not recommended any person for appointment as expert for preparing the ground list of books. curiously, 11 out of the 16 books in the ground list are of a single publisher known to every author of orissa worth the name.

on the other hand, the book in question was not in the ground list.

so, we want to know: (1) who was or were the expert or experts that prepared the ground list? and (2) on whose recommendation achihna basabhumi was placed in the shortlist before the jury?

as stink of manipulation is thick in the air in this respect, please favor me with the answer to these two questions.

i am accredited to govt. of orissa and professionally entitled to the information sought for”.

Shockingly, the Akademi did not dare to answer my queries. Therefore, it is suspected that no real expert was appointed as required under Rule 3(2) and the ground list was stage-managed by obtaining somehow the signature(s) of some obliging person(s) on the said list.

However, not accepting but acceding for the purpose of discussion that an expert or two experts were appointed, who prepared the ground list of books eligible for the award, it is worth noting that in this list, Achihna Basabhumi was not included as eligible for the Award.

This means, it was not found eligible for the Award under the criteria fixed under Rule 2(1).

It is also possible that, by the time the ground list of eligible books was to reach the members of Language Advisory Board under Rule 3 (3), the publisher, from whose stable 11 out of 16 books had entered the ground list, had not published this book. We shall look into this aspect at a later stage. Let us first see what the Rules say about preparation of the ground list.

Sub-Rule (3) of Rule 3 is the provision that says of this.

It stipulates that, “in preparation of the ground list, the Expert or Experts shall strictly conform to the criteria of eligibility laid down in these Rules”.

Criteria of eligibility for the Award is fixed under Rule 2.

Sub-Rule (1) thereof stipulates that, “in order to be eligible for the Award, the book must be an outstanding contribution to the language and literature to which it belongs.”

This makes it clear that Achihna Basabhumi, in order to meet the criteria of eligibility, was to have been found to “be an outstanding contribution to the language and literature” of Orissa.

It has nowhere been found to be so.

It came to the list placed before the Jury only by way of maneuvering in stark contravention of the criteria fixed under Rule 2(1), because contribution of this book to language and literature of Orissa is nil.

No scholar or critique has uttered a single word depicting its contribution to Oriya language and literature till and after it was enlisted for selection, whereas after its selection, the sky of Orissa’s language and literature has been shrouded under objections from eminent authors and language lovers of the State.

We have exposed supra how obnoxious words and derogatory expressions used freely and profusely in this book have made it despicable for whosoever has respect for “harmony and the spirit of common brotherhood amongst all the people of India” and to “the dignity of women” and to “our rich heritage of composite culture”.

Such a despicable book can have no contribution to language and literature, as contribution is a word that connotes positiveness.

Therefore, instead of being “an outstanding contribution” this book is an outrageous embarrassment to Orissa.

And, hence, placement of this book in the list before the Jury as eligible for the award was an act of annihilation of the criteria of eligibility as laid down under Rule 2(1).

If the Akademi has not acted illegally in promoting this book for the Award, it should have come forward to disclose who annihilated Rule 2(1) and at what stage, specifically as it was originally not found eligible for the Award on the basis of criteria of eligibility.

Silence of the Akademi shows that it has succumbed to manipulation in awarding Achihna Basabhumi.

The PIL petitioner should have raised these points before the Bench to help the Court reach at the mala fide modus operandi behind selection of this book and Orissa could have been saved from being embarrassed over a despicable book getting the highest official national award as the most outstanding book of its language and literature; because, the Court could not have approved the annihilation of Rule 2(1) and other relevant Rules and then the order could have been different.

Time frame shattered

Selection of the book for Award is subjected to a particular time frame.

Under Sub-Rule 1of Rule 1 of the Annual Sahitya Akademi Awards Rules, it has been made specific that, “there shall be an award every year for the most outstanding book by an Indian author, first published in any of the languages recognized by the Sahitya Akademi during the three years prior to the year immediately preceding the year of the award”

By way of illustration, it has been laid down therein thus: For the award of 2004, books published between 2000 and 2002 would be considered.

Thus, for the award, two unavoidable prerequisites are prescribed. One, publication of the book within the stipulated time frame and two, the book becoming the most outstanding book within the period under the time frame.

Therefore, for the Award 2011, Achihna Basabhumi was to have been published between 2007 and 2009 and to must have emerged as “the most outstanding book” in those three years amongst all the other books published in the same period.

But the book was neither published within the time frame nor was established within the time frame as “the most outstanding book”.

First we will look into the time frame.

The publisher claims that it was published in 2009, in the last leg of the time frame, in November.

But it does not match with the version of the authoress.

In an interview to Dr. Binapani Debata in January 2010, the authoress of Achihna Basabhumi had stated that she had just starting to write a novel, although since 1986 she had written only the short stories. (Jugashree Juganaree: February 2010, p.7).

Her version “just started” (Ebe Arambha Karichhi) makes it clear that she had started her first Novel writing since 1986 at the time she had given the interview.

Admittedly, she having not written any Novel before that, and Achihna Basabhumi having not been published before 1986, it is clear that, this is the book she she had started writing in January 2010.

This being the fact from the mouth of the authoress, it is absolutely impossible that it was published by November 2009.

The publisher, obviously has backdated its publication after being assured by the Akademi convener Bibhuti Patnaik that if so backdated, he may help the book bag the Sahitya Award. This is why, it was absent in the ground list of eligible books submitted by the Expert or created in the name of the Expert.

From another interview to Chandan January 2012, the authoress has stated that she was informed by a contemporary friend that this time the Sahitya Award was going to be given to her (Tate Ethara Kendra Sahitya Akademi Puraskara Dia Heuchhi). She refused to divulge the name of her friend; but it was clear that he must be Bibhuti Patnaik as no other friend of her was privy to the decision before its announcement. So, it generates suspicion that Bibhuti Patnaik must have arranged the Award for this book and sure of his prowess to arrange it, he could have asked the publisher to backdate its publication to 2009, which he has done.

After the controversy over the selection of this book rocked the state, the Sambad on January 13 reported how there was reason to suspect that publication of the book was backdated. Extremely irritated over this report, the publisher hurled a statement against the same at the Sambad.

In this statement, he said that the authoress of Achihna Basabhumi had sent the book to him in 2008 for publication. The book was printed and published by November 2009, but was immediately freezed as he was tormented to see that the book was full of mistakes. He was so tormented that he had to reprint the entire book containing so many pages at a huge cost.”

If this is true, the book was not in active life in 2009, because published in November it was freezed immediately for a total correction and reprint.

But this statement of the publisher smacks of falseness when compared with the version of the authoress. In the interview to Chandan cited earlier, the authoress of the book has stated that she had finished the novel in December of 2008 and as the publisher wanted to publish it, she had given him the book in 2009. So the publisher’s claim that she had “sent the book to him in 2008 for publication” is false.

Both the publisher and the authoress seem to have been in worries over the authoress’ interview published in Jugashree Juganari as that was indicating that the book was not published within the fixed time frame.

So both of them were trying to bring in 2008 and 2009 into the publication of the book.

And, as the axiom goes, to suppress the lie that the book was published in 2009, different lies are uttered by both of them.

But, despite that, in this interview, the authoress has inadvertently disclosed that the book was not published till December 2011.

The authoress was asked: When 2009 is mentioned as the year of publication of Achihna Basabhumi in the inner page of the book, why was it that readers could see the book for the first time only in the Rajdhani Book Fair held from 1 to 12 December 2011? She answered, “After i completed the book when bedridden in December 2008, Girija kumar Baliarsingh had expressed interest to publish it through his publishing conern: Kahani. In January 2009 he had taken the manuscript from me. The delay is done by him. So, ask him for the answer to to this question”.

Thus, the authoress of the book has admitted that the book was not published till the Rajdhani Book Fair held in December 2011, because the publisher was responsible for the delay in publication.

Undoubtedly it establishes that the book was not published in 2009 as has been shown.

That the book was not published by November 2009 as claimed by the publisher is also established by another important source.

The Rajdhani Book Fair has brought out a revised edition of its index of Oriya authors and their books published up to 2009.

Books published by Baliarsingh up to November 2009 are placed in this index and to our query, the Book Fair secretary informed that the data published in the index are supplied by the publishers.

In this index there is no trace of Achihna Basabhumi.

Had it been published by November 2009 as claimed by Baliarsingh, it must have been placed in the index as other books published by him by November 2009 have been placed in this volume.

There are more such evidences that prove that the book Achihna Basabhumi was not published in 2009.

Hence, it had no eligibility to be considered for the Sahitya Award 2011.

In selecting this book for the Award, the time frame fixed by the Rules has been shattered.

It is illegal.

The PIL petitioner should have brought these facts to the attention of the Court and had he done this, I believe, the order could have been different.

Not outstanding, but outrageous

It deserves note that in providing “Criteria of eligibility for the Award”, the Rules Stipulate, that, “the book must be AN OUTSTANDING CONTRIBUTION to the language and literature to which it belongs”, but in specifying which book should be given the Award, it has been laid down that it must be “THE MOST OUTSTANDING BOOK”.

We have discussed supra the first part of the above phenomenon and shown that the instead of being an outstanding contribution, the book is an outrageous embarrassment to people of Orissa who pride on and love the magnificence of their language.

Now, therefore, we should see, if the book is the most outstanding book of the relevant period.

There is no definition of the word ‘outstanding’ in the Rules of the Akademi. So we will have to depend on the Dictionary meaning. The Dictionary relied upon by many, Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary and Thesaurus, defines the word ‘outstanding’ as:
(a) standing out from a group: Conspicuous,
(b) marked by eminence and distinction noticeable.

In view of this meaning, in order to be the most outstanding book published during the period from 2007 to 2009, Achihna Basabhumi was to must have stood out from all books published in the same period as most conspicuous and must have been most noticeable for eminence and distinction.

It had never happened.

Firstly, for not been published in the period from 2007 to 2009 and secondly, for not having earned noticeable eminence and distinction in valid comparison with other novels published in the relevant period and thirdly, for being a despicable book on the ground of use of obnoxious, vulgar, insulting and derogatory words against majority of people belonging to schedule castes, against women and against Muslims in stark disregard to harmony and spirit of common brotherhood of our people and our composite culture.

So, the book is never the most outstanding book of Oriya language and literature.

The PIL petitioner should have placed before the Court this aspect of the book. And, had he done so, the order could have been different.

The real issue was not the issue before the Court

From the Rules discussed heretofore, it is clear that the only basis on which Sahitya Award is given to a book is that the book must have been the most outstanding book of the language and literature to which it belongs, subject to its publication within the prescribed timeframe.

When a dispute arises on selection, whether or not the book is the most outstanding book published within the prescribed timeframe should be the crux of the issue before the Court.

But as we mark, it was not at all the issue before the Orissa High Court.

Under Para 8 of the order we find only three issues framed by the Court for consideration. They are: (i) whether this writ petition in the nature of Public Interest Litigation is maintainable? (ii) whether the petitioner is entitled for the relief as sought for in the writ petition? (iii) what order?

So the question – whether the book was the most outstanding book published within the prescribed timeframe? – which really connotes public interest, was not at all the issue before the High Court.

The case craved for inclusion of this question as the core question for consideration, specifically as the Court, under Para 2 of the order, has noted that, this was briefly the case. Why the judicial conscience could not rise to this question is a conundrum.

Premature Dismissal

But it seems that the Court has not taken up this question under grounds mentioned under Para 13 and Para 14 of the order, wherefrom it has gone to dismiss the case.

Therefore, it would be better to look at these two Paras. They are as hereunder.

13. It is further well settled principle laid down by the Supreme Court in a catena of decisions that undoubtedly, the Court does not have the expertise in all subjects. Therefore, it has to be slow in disturbing the decision taken by the Committee of experts, working in the field, have day to day experience, and which has acquired special skill and special knowledge in the subject and the field.

14. In this regard a Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court, in the case of The University of Mysore & Anr. Vs. C. D. Govindrao & Anr., AIR 1965 SC 491, held that in academic matters where the decisions under challenge has been taken by the Committee of Experts, “normally the Court should be slow to interfere with the opinion expressed by the experts”.

When Para 13 projects a “settled principle” according to which the Court “has to be slow in disturbing the decision taken by a committee of experts”, under Para 14, the Court has cited a Supreme Court decision “in this regard” that says, “normally the Court should be slow to interfere with the opinion expressed by the experts”.

In view of this, if the Court was not able to immediately arrive at a decision on whether or not the book Achihna Basabhumi was the most outstanding book of Oriya language and literature, published during the stipulated period within 2007 and 2009, it should have gone slow in disposal of the case as ordained by the Supreme Court, quoted by it, instead of dismissing the case before arriving at a correct answer to this question through its own process.

Hence, the dismissal of the case is a premature dismissal. And, thereby Oriya language and literature, as discussed supra, are left to be infested with a despicable book, honored with the highest official award of the nation meant for the most outstanding book.

This is a happening, which should not have happened.