Orissa Assembly: Maneuvered Answer makes one wonder, was the Question motivated?

Subhas Chandra Pattanayak

The State Assembly is the last hope for a democratic people, because ministers that rule are to answer the questions from their representatives, so that they can understand and evaluate the administration that runs in their name. If questions are cultivated and answers are maneuvered the purpose of question-answer gets lost in a labyrinth that democracy would never cherish.

Therefore, question No. UD 154 by Sri Chandra Sekhar Majhi, MLA and the Chief Minister’s answer thereto on 9 February 2015 deserve attention.

Sri Majhi had put four questions that day, In *59, he had wanted to know from the Works Minister which of the roads and bridge and building of which department the works department is executing in Kotpad Constituency and how many projects have been completed in 2012-13 and 2013-14 and which projects are to be executed this year in Kotpad, with list thereof. In UD 233, Sri Majhi wanted to know from the same Minister what steps have been taken on development, repair and maintenance of how many kilometers of works department roads in Kotpad during the last two years along with the amounts sanctioned therefor. In UD 234 Sri Majhi asked the Water Resources Minister if survey is conducted to provide irrigation in Kotpad constituency from the major irrigation projects on rivers Indravati, Kolab and Ja’nra and if not, when steps in that regard are to be taken. But in UD 154, the pattern of his question was different from what normally was seen in the aforesaid questions. He has a set pattern. we may see the same in earlier questions of the session, that began on February 7. On that day, he had two questions. UD 104 was his question to Sports and Youth Welfare Minister on whether he would provide funds for a stadium under Kotpad N.A.C. and in UD 105, he had asked the Minister of Food Supplies and Consumer Welfare about what remedial steps the Government has taken to stop distress-sale of paddy in Kotpad constituency. The same pattern is also seen in his post February 9 questioning, as evidenced in his questions of February 10. He had two questions that day. in *72, he had asked the Rural Development Minister about how much money was sanctioned for development of the road from Kotpad to Au’li under Kotpad constituency and what was the position of execution of the work order and by what time it would be completed. In UD 285, he had asked the same minister if he knows the sudden stoppage of bridge work on river Indravati and, if yes, what alternative has been provided for and if the government would continue with the work by re-tendering. Thus, all these questions preceding and following UD 154 speak of a set pattern that Sri Majhi is marked for.

The only deviation is UD 154 of February 9.

Here he directly uses specific files of vigilance cell to ask the Chief Minister what action has been taken against whom so far on basis of vigilance cell File No,2/25.03.2007, File No.41 dated 10.12.2008 and File No. 28 dated 04.09.2010.

questions of Chandra Sekhar Majhi on 9.2.15For better appreciation, the photocopy of the concerned set of questions he had asked on February 9 is inserted here.

How he used the Files of Vigilance which are supposed to be kept secret till final disposal? If he is that investigative, good. To establish that he is such investigative that he has kept his eyes upon all the limping vigilance cases, let him immediately reveal the whole gamut of files of all the cases the Vigilance wing is now investigating into and let the vigilance say, if it is its habit to keep the MLAs apprised of the cases it is handling with the file numbers.

Otherwise, it would look like a cultivated question put by a shadow/ghost operator in the mouth of Majhi.

Cultivated questions not new

Putting questions for money or for any vested interest is not new in our Parliamentary system. History has witnessed how Congress members were caught along with BJP and other non-left members in instances of putting questions on behalf of shadow operators in Indian Parliament. “Cash for question” is a sad experience of India.

Actions, of course, were taken in the exposed cases; but it is difficult to say that the syndrome is no more alive.As we see, even instances of capital punishment against crime of murder has not stopped the crime. So the question under question craves for clarification on what changed the pattern of questioning by Sri Majhi, particularly in the context of specific vigilance files having given him the pivot.

Answer not aboveboard

The answer of the Chief Minister is also very intriguing. There is a difference of date in matter of File No.2 in the CM’s answer, when under column head – Name of the suspect officers – he says, “Issue based open enquiry against officials of I & PR department”, which suggest that more than one officer was/is involved in malpractice that the vigilance is enquiring into. Under the head ‘Allegation’, noted are the words, “In the matter of false daily circulation figures of Odia daily “The Sashan Khabar” “The Pratidin” and “Paryabekshak” and misappropriation of Govt. fund from advertisement”. But despite this being a case of 2007 and circulation of these papers known to government on the basis of which it is seen that misappropriation of Govt. fund from advertisement is committed through inflated figures of circulation of these papers, the chief minister has said, “Enquiry is in progress”; so efficient is our vigilance police. He has neither elaborated why the enquiry is limping for long eight years, nor the department that helped him giving this answer has the correct and complete scenario.

When File No. 28 is said to have been closed, the CM’s answer in the matter of File No. 41 has named only one officer, who is a Deputy Director of the relevant time.

It is informed that the enquiry is completed and departmental action against the said officer is recommended to G.A.Department vide letter No.9504 of Vigilance Cell dated 30.12.2014. The allegation stands on “payment of remuneration to the Director (of a film the department is producing) on higher side”.

Despite this answer, the issue seems not correctly dealt with, because production of film is a collective work and can never be accepted to have been vested in any single individual.

Moreover, departmental production of a film is not possible in absence of budget allocation, which cannot materialize unless item-wise expenditure including remuneration of Director of the film is meticulously estimated, enumerated, vetted and approved.

The Production officer of the film and the Director as well as the Secretary of I&PR department are to execute the production.

How could a particular Deputy Director is named by the Chief Minister in his answer without evaluating the vigilance report when no material officer has been held responsible? Was the said Deputy Director bestowed upon with paramount power in the department in bypassing the departmental Director and Secretary, so that the vigilance could held only him responsible for higher remuneration to the film Director? Has the Chief Minister examined this, before reflecting the vigilance report in his answer?

Misuse of Assembly facility

Questions and answers in the Assembly are not meant to stay secret in the records only. They are, in fact, meant for the general public in a Republic. They affect the public if any shadow operator uses the facility to harass any individual citizen or any particular officer, with any hidden agenda.

Nobody but the general public should be the end-beneficiary of any question-answer in the Assembly or Parliament. It is, therefore, necessary for the Government to revisit the said question and the CM’s corresponding answer to see if some vested interest has/have tried to harass the named officer by misusing the question-answer facility of the House.

Vigilance needed against vigilance

It is often seen that various administrative offices, particularly the vigilance wing, is used by vested interest fellows to harass and debar suitable officials from their legitimate promotions.

Many such instances are discussed earlier in these pages. Even the former Director General of Orissa Police (presently the DG of CRPF) had to openly say, the State Vigilance has instituted a “case of vendetta” against him to debar him from promotion. “It’s an attempt to scuttle my chances for Director CBI vacancy coming in December 2014” he had told the media when the case was instituted against him.

Unless such a motive to scuttle the named officer’s chances for promotion has not generated the question, MLA Sri Majhi should disclose as to how the specific files of the vigilance cell came to his knowledge and why he used only those files to form his question and the Chief Minister should also reveal as to why in the legitimate environment of involvement of many officers beginning from the dealing assistant to the departmental secretary in film production, only a single person with no direct link with the subject has been named by him.

Is his answer maneuvered by somebody who wants to scuttle the promotional prospects of a particular officer for which he has been named?

This episode, read with allegations of the former DGP Sri Prakash Mishra, makes out a case for investigation into activities of the vigilance police. Vigilance against vigilance is necessary.

Unless the points raised here are explained, it would look as if the answer is maneuvered as the question is motivated.

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Distress sale of Paddy: Cries of ruling party MLAs also fail to reach the ears of the Minister

Subhas Chandra Pattanayak

Official machinery does not act. Cultivators are not able to sell their paddy to the State. This leads to distress sale of paddy, much below the fixed support price, to profiteers / millers’ agents.

This reality was spelt out in Orissa Assembly by the ruling party heavyweight and former Revenue Minister Surya Narayan Patra on Saturday in expressing dismay over lackluster assurances of the departmental minister in reply to his question over Food Security as well as in participating in the matter raised by Opposition Chief Whip Tara Prasad Bahinipati during the zero hour.

Patra is not only a former Revenue Minister, but also a legislator from the district that has sent Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik to the Assembly despite all his failings and dubious deals. In that district – Ganjam – from Patra’s speech it is clear, that cultivators are perishing due to official apathy when Naveen Patnaik and his government never miss a moment to serve the interests of mega industries.

Patra said, in the district of Ganjam farmers have come to a stage, where for them, suicide seems the only way to escape the debt-trap and ignominy of abject poverty and helplessness. God knows what the government’s order is in matter of paddy procurement, but thousands of quintals of paddy piled by farmers awaiting purchase thereof by the officials is the discernible reality in every procurement point in every block in the districts, he rued, while exposing that the predicament is forcing the farmers to distress-sale their paddy at unremunerative price to mill-agents from Andhra Pradesh.

Patra was not the only member of the treasury bench to have castigated the government over official failure to procure paddy from the cultivators. Purna Chandra Sethy, member from Khalikote of the same district also showed how the farmers are perishing as the State has pushed them into mercy of private profiteers.

Food and Civil Supplies Minister Sanjay Kumar Das Burma watched the debates without any reaction or reply. What irrelevance the government has reduced the Assembly to.

No ruling from the Speaker on the issue, though allowed to be discussed in the zero hour, makes the matter murkier.

assembly in session // Collectors Loot the Fund when Chief Minister Heads the Mission

Subhas Chandra Pattanayak

Howsoever smart be a lier, truth occasionally comes out through unattended crevices in the iron wall of secrecy.

Such a truth has come out in Orissa Assembly on February 23 that exposes how ugly is Orissa administration despite claim of honesty.

And, it has come out in the answer of mass education Minister Pratap Jena to a question on the ‘Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan’ (SSA), that the Central Government principally funds to achieve the goal of Universalization of Elementary Education of Satisfactory quality within a stipulated time.

The lackluster approach to SSA coupled with corruption by Orissa officials has earlier been discussed in these pages.

But what the minister has told the House exposes to what suicidal extent the officials have corrupted it.

He has told the House that majority of District Collectors have drawn several lakhs of Rupees each towards expenses on their tour vehicles without even paying a single visit to any SSA center. They are all pampered officers of the government.

Since commencement of the scheme, Collectors have been assigned with powers to supervise, superintend, coordinate and control implementation of SSA programs in their respective districts. Taking advantage of this, Collectors have menacingly misused its fund,

The Minister’s reply reveals that out of 30 districts of the State, except only one district, i.e. Debgarh, all the other 29 Collectors have drawn massive amount of funds for their luxurious tour to SSA sites whereas 20 of them have drawn huge money on account of vehicles for their inspection of SSA units without any visit to any of them.

According to the Minister, a total of Rs.22.64 lakhs has been drawn towards rent and fuel of tour vehicle of the Collector of Koraput district, whereas the money drawn on this head by the Collector of Nayagarh is Rs.15.30 lakhs, by the Collector of Bargarh is Rs. 15.24 lakhs, by the Collector of Angul is Rs. 8.94 lakhs, by the Collector of Cuttack is Rs.12.72 lakhs, by the Collector of Dhenkanal is Rs. 11.83 lakhs, by the Collector of Ganjam is Rs. 8.17 lakhs, by the Collector of Jagatsinghpur is Rs. 11.75 lakhs, by the Collector of Jajpur is Rs.2.19 lakhs, by the Collector of Kalahandi is Rs.1.95 lakhs, by the Collector of Keonjhar is Rs.3.30 lakhs, by the Collector of Khurda is Rs. 10.28 lakhs, by the Collector of Malkangiri is Rs.13.89 lakhs, by the Collector of Mayurbhanj is Rs. 11.70 lakhs, by the Collector of Puri is Rs.9.92 lakhs, by the Collector of Rayagaga is Rs.11.04 lakhs, by the Collector of Sonepur is Rs. 7.23 lakhs and by the Collector of Sundergarh is Rs.5.94 lakhs, even though none of these Collectors have ever visited any SSA unit in their respective districts.

It is shocking that in districts like Koraput, Kalahandi, Malkangiri, Sundergarh, Keonjhar, Mayurbhanj, Nayagarh and the Chief Minister’s home district Ganjam, where education is so marginal and poverty, linked to lack of education, is so very rampant that SSA could have emerged as a boon, the Collectors have looted the scheme by false bills on luxurious cars claimed to have been used by them for inspection of implementation of the scheme even though they have never gone to a single spot.

The other 9 district Collectors, except perhaps Bhadrak, are not also above board. The SSA projects they have visited do not justify the fabulous amount of money they have drawn on vehicle heads.

When Bhadrak Collector has inspected 1330 projects against expenditure of Rs.5.59 lakhs on vehicles, the Nawarangpur Collector has drawn Rs. 11.13 lakhs towards vehicle for visiting mere 158 projects. The scenario in other very backward districts is not different. As for instance, the Collector of Kandhamal has inspected only 125 SSA centers, but drawn Rs. 8.82 lakhs for vehicles. Collector of Nuapada has visited only 75 centers as against spending of Rs.5.90 lakhs on vehicle, whereas Kendrapada Collector has spent Rs.13.95 lakhs for tour to 108 centers and the Sambalpur Collector has drawn Rs.14.57 lakhs against visit to only 59 projects under the scheme. When Balasore Collector has visited 912 projects and drawn Rs.11.52 lakhs towards rent and fuel of his tour vehicle, Collector of Balangir has drawn 6.51 lakhs on vehicle head to tour 458 centers, but the Collector of Jharsuguda has visited only 27 centers spending 2.41 lakhs from the funds of the scheme on rented vehicles.

Sad, the Assembly has not paid due attention to this serious assault on the centrally funded scheme by the very officers under whose care and control the projects are left.

As we gather from sources under pledge of secrecy, Collectors have misappropriated this fund in nexus with leaders of the ruling party and personnels in charge of accounts in their respective offices. In some cases, Collectors have purchased sophisticated AC cars in names of relations and taken the same on higher rent for the purpose of their tours under the scheme, but have drawn the money against false bills without subjecting the vehicles to rigors of the roads.

This is a fit case for separate specific discussion in the Assembly. But with majority of members in the Chief Minister’s pocket, this may not be possible; because, if a specific debate is allowed, it is the Chief Minister, who would be most embarrassed.

Under the scheme, when the Prime Minister heads the SSA Mission in Central level, the CM heads it in the State level. It is clear, therefore, that the Orissa CM has not done his duty to the mission or has deliberately kept his eyes closed to what his blue-eyed boys in the districts have been doing, as nobody who is not in his good book is placed in charge of a district as Collector.