A Surly Editorial and the Unseen Side of Money to Media

Subhas Chandra Pattanayak

A surly editorial in minister Damodar Raut’s daily newspaper ‘Sanchar’ makes us infer that the money offered to journalists at Puri by Member of Parliament Pinaki Mishra, when he was addressing the Press as President of the Parliamentary Committee on Urban Development, was deliberate and as per plan of BJD, eager to escape further exposure in chit fund and other scams.

Thrashed by severe protests over the mischief, and possibility of police action upon FIR lodged in the area PS, Mishra has termed it as “gift” and has rejected the allegation that it was an attempt to bribe the Press. “Gift to journalist” is not defined as an offense under the IPC, he has said. This shows, he has made a lot of mental exercise to escape prosecution after being caught with the corpus delicti for attempt to bribe the scribes.

Attention of the Press Council of India has been attracted to the condemnable conduct of the MP. If it entertains the allegation, bribe or gift whatever be it, would get weighed on the matrix of Press Freedom. And, I am sure, Mishra would be censored by the PCI, where the Indian Parliament has also its representation. Pinaki is conscious of what is to happen.

Therefore, he is in fidgets. The idea of describing the bribe he offered to media persons as “gift to journalists” could not have come to his mind had he not been in fidgets.

Two Mistakes

The MP has done two mistakes by linking UCO Bank to the money distribution.

Firstly, he has asserted that by handing over the money-carrying kits to journalists, the UCO Bank has done no wrong; because, Parliamentary practices provide for such services.

This is a very wrongful assertion.The reigning guidelines on tour of Parliamentary Committees do not support this claim. Therefore, BJP leader Bijay Mohapatra has termed it as an offense against dignity of the Parliament and has demanded that the Speaker of Lok Sabha, where Mishra is a member, should divest him immediately of his chair of the Parliamentary Committee that visited Puri.

And, if Bijay is not ignored by his party bosses, the point he has raised would sure hit the Parliament and if UCO Bank has really been used by the Parliamentary Committee on visit to Orissa by the chairman thereof, the Speaker would sure give him a stricture, if not dismissal.

Secondly, by exposing the UCO Bank link, he has generated a justified suspicion that he and/or his colleagues in the BJD Syndicate are holding black money in secret accounts in that Bank, so that such secret money could flow in without his signature into the money-carrying kits offered to journalists by the said Bank.

The black money angle
should be investigated into

It is imperative that the central government should investigate into the black money angle and keep the records before the public, so that the discomforting suspicion would come to an convincing end.

Therefore, the ethicality in using UCO Bank in an attempt to influence the Press and the possibility of black money stashed by BJD in the UCO Bank are issues to be looked into by the Parliament and Central Government respectively.

Mens rea

But for us the point for cogitation is: why at all Pinaki Mishra, MP of the party of Orissa’s Chief Minister, preferred a paltry sum of Rs.200/- to be offered to each of the journalists that attended his Press Conference at Puri on records? What was the mens rea?

The query pushes us towards a greater conspiracy to destroy dignity of media when, because of media activism, the BJD supremo’s credibility is suffering sharp erosion. The journalists are exposing the discernible details of the scams and of the investigations or lack of investigations thereinto, to the utmost chagrin of Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik. No other chief minister had attracted so much suspicious eyes over so many scams and loot of natural resources and tyrannic oppression on indigenous people for benefit of non-Oriya and foreign industries. In no other regime, resounding steps of compradors were so menacingly overwhelming the State administration. Slowly but steadily the curtain is being raised by the Press and the nasty inner color of the ‘MahakalaPhala’ (Trichosanthes Palmata) coming out. Naveen is to be protected from being exposed as a Trichosanthes Palmata, if BJD is to stay in power.

So the motive hidden behind Pinaki’s attempt to grease the journalists’ palm with accompanying tricks to bring that to public, was to create a situation for depletion of credibility of scribes whose alert eyes are now focused on Naveen.

Tricks can’t save

Naveen is sure, all the tricks he has contrived to mislead the people by christening all welfare projects of the State by his father’s name would fail; and he would be kicked out of office by the people, if the current trend of exposure by the Press continues.

Therefore, when several BJD members of Assembly and Parliament are in jail under judicial custody consequent upon exposure of scams, and possibility of exposure of his own involvement as the real operator of various scams through frontmen is gaining vigor, and media is digging out how he has acted a comprador of mine-grabbers like Jindal, and people have started suspecting him over the scams as a result of Press activism; the attractive Trichosanthes Palmata red-ball is at the verge of getting ripped off, attempts were made through Pinaki to show the people that the Press Reporters cannot be relied upon, because they are susceptible to external influence guided by bribes or gifts, howsoever small be the volume and the value.

Surly Editorial in Sanchar

The design to denigrate the Press, so that the people won’t be inclined to believe in what the journalists report, is spelt out in editorial of Sanchar, the paper of BJD heavyweight Damodar Raut, dated November 14, 2014, where attempts have been made to make out why the journalists are gainable by bribes or gifts and not reliable.

Sanchar has a marked nuisance value. When it was a periodical, Raut had got back his ministership by blackmailing Naveen Patnaik in a banner therein that read – “Belgium Glass ru Parada Khasuchhi” (Mercury is falling from the Belgium Glass). And, as Raut is now functioning as a minister, the daily avatar of the same Sanchar has, in the editorial cited supra, has aspersed the journalists, because of whose watchful eyes, it is difficult for Naveen to escape.

The evil and opportunistic design of Sanchar is bare, when, while shedding meretricious tears on plight of the journalists in the regime of Naveen Patnaik, the crabby editorial says that, most of the newspapers are not paying the journalists their due salary and therefore, they have no other way than depending on payola for giving publicity to whosoever wants. Knows as he of this, Pinaki had arranged cash gifts for them in both his press conferences at Puri and Bhubaneswar. The Puri scribes protested; but media persons of Bhubaneswar took the money with pleasure, the editorial has said. The entire editorial, captioned “Sambadikanka Swabhiman” is a shrewd attempt to destroy the public image of the scribes, so that whatever they report on economic offenses sic passim the State administration shall not be taken seriously. Thus, the Sanchar of minister Damodar Raut has tried to provide necessary support to the mischief of the ruling party executed through Pinaki Mishra.

Obviously the putrefactive viruses have taken up new masks, such as this editorial and terming the bribe offered to journalists as “gift”.

Acrobatics won’t work

But such wordy acrobatics will not work.

People know, if press persons had ever been guided by avarice, the felonious activities of political leaders and top brasses of administration that are exposed and on exposure of which governments have gone out of power time and again, and judicial inquiries have brought out hidden offenses of the rogues that rule, and leaders have been incarcerated, and plutocratic governments have been forced to allocate funds for welfare of the wretchedly poor, could never have been possible in India.

And the offenders know, the power they are misusing can never last for ever.

Money to media has failed at Puri, and will fail everywhere despite Sanchars and Arnab Goswamies.

As conscience cannot be wiped out, so also Press cannot be suppressed through money and innuendoes.

Attempts to foil Health Minister’s assurance; only the rich to get safe blood!

Subhas Chandra Pattanayak

In reply to an adjournment motion moved by Opposition Chief Whip Prasad Harichandan on 1st September 2012, Health Minister Dr. Damodar Raut had assured that Orissa would adopt NAT PCR system to ensure appropriate screening of blood to avoid AIDS from transfusion.

A boy of only 17 months was found infected with AIDS by accepting transfusion of blood obtained from Muncipal Hospital Blood Bank, Bhubaneswar. The news was broke by orissamatters.com in 8 July 2012 and Sri Harichndan had very ably brought the matter to the attention of the Assembly.

Dr. Raut in his reply noted that people of Orissa have made monumental mark in blood donation and from 126076 units in 2000; blood collection has reached 307022 units in 2011. People’s eagerness to donate blood to save the lives of fellow citizens needs be equally honored by the government’s readiness to supply safe blood to needing patients through proper screening. Therefore, Dr. Raut said, in a meeting on 22 August 2012 the Government had consulted all the Blood Bank Directors and Officers in a conference and had taken a decision to jettison the rapid test method of screening and adopt ELISA method to screen out AIDS virus in the Blood Banks.

As Harichandan pointed out that ELISA is not the latest technology to screen AIDS virus, but NAT PCR is, the Minister had appreciated the position and had assured to adopt the latest method; for nothing is more valuable than human life and moreover, as patients’ confidence in blood banks would diminish if AIDS virus escapes the deficient screening. He however had declared that the method being costly, the State would start with four major blood banks: one each attached to the three Government Medical Colleges and the Capital Hospital Blood Bank. The facility would be extended to all the Blood Banks of Orissa in course of time, he had assured the Assembly.

The Budget of Health department placed in and awaiting approval of the Assembly has made a token provision for replacement of ELISA with NAT PCR in the aforesaid four Blood Banks.

But, the Finance department has planted a rider that the cost of NAT PCR screening should be collected from the patients. If the rider is not dropped, only the rich will benefit; because the poor patients cannot afford the screening cost.

The present Finance Minister was the Minister of Health when deficient screening through old method of ELISA had infested the seventeen months old child with AIDS and the Orissa High Court had punished the state Government with cash penalty of Rs.3 lakhs for supply of HIV infested blood to the boy without perfect screening. When he is the Finance minister, his department is asking the Health department to impose such a heavy cost on poor patients on accounts of NAT PCR that it will never be possible for them to get pure blood through perfect screening!

Should the poor people have no right to safe blood? Should the latest and the safest NAT PCR screening for which the government in the Health department has put budgetary provisions on the anvil of the Assembly be available only to the rich?

Should the Finance department be allowed to foil the most welcome welfare proposal of the Health department?

Should the Assembly allow its own anxiety for safe blood to patients be steered into benefit of the moneyed men alone?

ORISSA MATTERS Exposed a Malady that reached a Remedy, thanks to Prasad Harichandan and the new Health Minister

Subhas Chandra Pattanayak

ORISSA MATTERS had exposed a malady in Orissa’s health care sector, which, thanks to Opposition Chief Whip Prasad Harichandan and a number of alert MLAs and a considerate minister-in-charge has reached a remedy on September 1.

While investigating into how far welfare verdicts are being honored by the Government, ORISSA MATTERS had stumbled upon a milestone judgment delivered by the Orissa High Court a year ago on 28 July 2011 in the matter of compensation claimed by the father of a small kid of 17 months, infected with AIDS because of transfusion of unsafe blood supplied to him by a government blood bank in course of his operation.

In response to the case, the blood bank as well as the State Government had claimed that “safe blood”, determined to be so by screening in ELISA method, was supplied to the kid.

But the kid’s advocate Mrs. Sujata Jena had put up a tremendous argument. She had established that ELISA method was not efficient beyond doubt to detect HIV in its “window period” which comprise about three months from the day of infection.

If blood is drawn from a HIV infected person within the first three months of infection, the virus may escape detection through ELISA screening and may appear to be “safe” even though HIV positive. This had happened to the kid, Jena had argued.

Accepting her well researched argument, the High Court had come to the conclusion that the disaster could not have befallen the kid had the blood given to him on an operation table could have been screened through the “latest technology” called Nucleic Acid Testing (NAT) in Polymer Chain Reaction (PCR) method.

And, thus determining, the High Court had awarded a compensation of Rs. 3,00,000/- to the child including cost of his further treatment to be borne by the State, and had issued a mandamus that “the Government must ensure that in all Blood Banks, the PCR method is available to identify the virus of HIV during window period”.

But as is its wont, the government run by Naveen Patnaik did not welcome the mandamus.

Therefore, despite a bureaucratically constituted committee comprising eminent serologists and Professors of microbiology in all the Government Medical Colleges of Orissa having “unanimously” resolved on 25 Feb.2012 that the NAT PCR technology, being “the latest and foremost technology available in India”, “need to be introduced for screening of the blood units to reduce the gray zone period of Transfusion Transmissible Infections like HIV-I, HIV-II, Hepatitis-B and HCV”, the political Government ignored the same.

We exposed this malady in these pages on 8 July 2012 as it came to our attention while investigating into non-implementation of welfare verdicts.

It was a cue for other newspapers in Orissa to stress on the necessity of blood screening in NAT PCR method.

But to our shock, the Government wanted another committee to undo the 25th February “unanimous” recommendation of the committee aforesaid.

The new committee, wherefrom the experts of the previous committee were kept out, rejected the recommendation for NAT PCR method and resolved on 24 July 2012 to challenge the High Court order dated 28 July 2011 through a review petition.

Harichandan turned it turtle

As we again exposed this mischief, it attracted the attention of Sri Harichandan, the well erudite Opposition stalwart. With the Assembly in session, he headed an adjournment notice that came up for discussion on September 1. Government got the jolt.

In initiating the debate, Sri Harichandan completely razed down the 24 July decision of the Government in Health department that had tried to justify non-implementation of the High Court order for adoption of NAT PCR method for blood screening.

He cited National Blood Policy and many other referral documents including the 1996 Supreme Court verdict in Common Cause case to demolish the government stance reflected in July 24 resolution and castigated the government for the contempt shown to the High Court order and for discernible lack of concern for human life as is seen in its reluctance to equip blood banks with the latest technology to ensure that the bloods collected and supplied by them do not carry latent viruses of HIV-I, HIV-II, or other Transfusion Transmissible Infections like Hepatitis-B and HCV as happens in the “window period”.

If HIV and other killer viruses continue to spread from the blood supplied by blood banks, patients would fear to take blood transfusion and all the blood banks will collapse, causing thereby serious dislocation in health care in the State, he warned. Though the Red Cross is tagged to Blood Banks, it cannot bear the cost of NAT and hence the State must provide necessary fund for adoption of the method, he said.

Besides the fire his speech usually emits, he was so much his persuasive best in this matter of immense public importance, that, despite the 24 July resolution to challenge the High Court verdict, the Minister of Health announced that the Government will adopt the NAT technology to obtain safe blood for transfusion.

Stop all avoidable luxurious spending by ministers and bureaucrats and give primacy to blood screening by NAT PCR method instead of avoiding it under the plea of financial constraints, said Pratap Sarangi. Dr. Prafulla Majhi supported the demand for adoption of NAT technology in place of ELISA even as Dr. Nrusingh Sahu cited the cost factor in support of continuance of ELISA method. Dr. Ramesh Chandra Chyau Pattanayak and Alekh Jena contributed their input to the debate.

In reply to the debate, Minister of Health Dr. Damodar Raut pointed out that the departmental reluctance to adopt NAT PCR method was driven by, cost factor besides, lack of direction in NACO and NBTC guidelines.

But, he confessed, howsoever marginal be the failure in detection of HIV through ELISA, it is most unfortunate that a kid of only 17 months was infected by AIDS, which is being attributed to unsafe blood transfusion.

He announced to introduce blood screening through NAT method in the four most busy blood banks in the State, to begin with.

So bureaucratic bungling may no more stymie the latest technology and NAT should soon be in use in the blood banks operating in each of the three Medical Colleges and the Capital Hospital, Bhubaneswar.

For us in ORISSA MATTERS, it was a day of victory, as the malady we had exposed got remedied.