THE ISSUE IS AIDS: LET THE VERDICTS BE NOT MERE WORDY ACROBATICS

Subhas Chandra Pattanayak

When a welfare verdict by higher judiciary goes barren, and the fellows responsible for rendering it barren go unpunished, the verdict looks like mere wordy acrobatics.

Sadly, welfare verdicts of Orissa High Court are going barren and the Court has no monitoring mechanism to stop it.

This serious syndrome needs cogitation; because, increase in number of barren verdicts may diminish the revered authority of judiciary in eyes of the public.

Instantly, cognizance on a case of HIV infection through transfusion of infected blood, despite the Court’s order in a similar case lying barren, attracts our attention.

In these pages, on 8 July 2012, we have discussed the earlier case and showed how the High Court’s direction issued on 28 July 2011 in W.P.(C) No.13441 of 2009 to ensure supply of safe blood to patients under treatment has not been implemented despite lapse of a year.

Now a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) has been filed by Advocate Prabir Das in the Orissa High Court seeking compensation for a woman allegedly infected with AIDS after receiving HIV positive blood obtained from an official blood bank.

Blood Banks: the breeding centers of AIDS

There are presently 57 official Blood Banks in Orissa, manned and managed by the State Government under the banner of the Red Cross.

The transaction of blood through these blood banks comes around 2.8 lakh units per annum.

Screening of blood to determine if the donor is AIDS affected is being conducted in the old method of Rapid and ELISA. When no lab records are auto-generated for verification and reference in the Rapid method, ELISA testing generates the records which at least can be verified. But, in as many as 20 of the 57 government blood banks, there is no ELISA machine and Rapid is the only method in practice there, leaving the screening to assumption only.

But the ELISA test is also not competent to detect dreaded viruses of HIV, as discussed in the earlier article, during the window period.

Not only HIV, but also other dreaded viruses like Hepatitis B and C are also transmitted through blood.

These three most dreaded viruses escape detection in ELISA and Rapid tests during window period. The latest method therefore is PCR/NAT. Orissa has not woken up to this. Hence, blood banks have become breeding centers of AIDS and Hepatitis.

Concern of the Court

Expressing serious concern over a 17 month boy getting infected with AIDS by receiving HIV positive blood, the High Court of Orissa, in its order referred to above, had issued clear orders for immediate adoption of PCR/NAT method for blood screening exactly one year ago.

But the State Government is a habitual offender of Court orders, if, specifically, they are welfare orders, meant to give benefits to all and everybody including and beyond the partyline of the case. It rendered the order barren.

Yet, the same barren order and discussion thereon in these pages has inspired the present PIL.

Taking cognizance of the PIL, the Court has issued notice on Thursday to the State Government through authorities named in the petition asking them to respond within two weeks.

And, if the case is true that the infection has come to the woman through transfusion of infected blood, the order is expected to the same as the earlier order that has remained a barren order till date.

At this stage, we deem it proper to insist that the Court should not issue any more barren orders.

The order in W.P.(C) No.13441 of 2009 is one year old. Had it been implemented, we are sure, spread of AIDS through HIV infected blood, transfused as safe blood within the window period, could have stopped and most probably, the present case would not have arisen.

Let verdicts be not wordy acrobatics

So, we insist that the High Court, while delivering the judgment in the instant PIL, should take steps to eliminate every possibility of its oder being rendered barren.

It should fortify its order with specific punishment against the Minister concerned – because under Rules of Business a Minister is the chief executive of the department under his control – for non-implementation of the order while having stipulated specific time for its implementation in contravention of which the punishment should automatically be enforced.

And, simultaneously, as the present PIL is bound to rely upon the earlier order in W.P.(C) No.13441 of 2009, we insist that the court should restore the same case to file to pronounce appropriate punishment against rendering of the order therein barren and pending decision in the present PIL, issue a mandamus for instant adoption of PCR/NAT technology in all the blood banks – public and private – for screening of blood to save human lives.

Our suggestion

The High Court may please constitute a permanent body of its own, comprising one of its own Registrars, or, if paucity of hands becomes the barrier, a small combine of lawyers and accredited scribes, with powers to monitor the implementation of its welfare orders or mandamuses like the one in the Writ case referred to above and to keep the Court apprised of every stage of implementation thereof for its further action.

Otherwise, welfare verdicts may look like wordy acrobatics and nothing else.

Shocking Reality: AIDS Being Aided By Government of Orissa

Subhas Chandra Pattanayak

It is shocking. But it is the reality. The Government of Orissa is contributing to spread of AIDS by sleeping over evidences of transfusions of HIV positive blood in hospitals in the State, in absence of facilities for proper screening.

The reality has come to light through a very poor person of Baramba Tahsil, Pratap Kumar Nayak, whose son of only 17 months of age is infected with the dreaded disease due to presence of the virus in the blood he was transfused with during an operation.

In a chilling case before the Orissa High Court (W.P.(C) No.13441 of 2009) Nayak narrated that his son Adarsh was born on 21 Oct.2007 in a Public Health Center (PHC) in Nayagarh district by way of normal delivery. But a day thereafter it was found that the baby had no anal canal. On contact, the PHC, not equipped with a pediatric specialist as it is, advised Nayak to consult Khurda hospital, where, a Dr. Jayaram Patra diverted him to a Dr. Subrat Mohanty, pediatrician, who again diverted Nayak to a private hospital of Bhubaneswar, The Neelachal Hospital. Nayak admitted his 3 days old son in this hospital on 24 Oct. 2007. The next day, Dr. Mohanty conducted the operation and claimed that it was successful. The baby was given transfusion of a bottle of blood, obtained from Red-Cross Blood Bank, Municipal Hospital, Bhubaneswar on requisition by the surgeon and against payment of its cost, in course of the operation. At the time of discharge, he was advised for a second operation after 10 moths for which Nayak admitted his son to the same Neelachal Hospital on 18 August 2008. As transfusion of blood was made a prerequisite to operation, on requisition of the hospital, a bottle of blood was also procured from the said Red Cross Blood Bank, Municipal Hospital, Bhubaneswar on 19.8.2008 against payment of its cost and the baby was operated on that day. The second operation was also claimed to have been successful like the earlier one and the baby was discharged after ten days of the operation. As advised by the Doctor, the baby was again admitted in Neelachal Hospital on 25.2.2009 for final surgery.

As usual, before operation, the blood of the baby was tested. Shockingly, the report indicated HIV positive. Dr. Mohanty withheld operation and advised Nayak and his wife to go to ICTC Centre for testing of their blood on 2.3.2009. On testing their blood it was found to be negative and the blood of the child was found to be HIV positive. Thereafter the baby was taken to S.C.B. Medical College & Hospital, Cuttack for collection of blood sample and the same was sent to M.K.C.G. Medical College, Berhampur for testing and also for CD 4 counting and the count was 1139 cells per M.M. on 17.3.2009. On 26.8.2009 Dr. Mohanty refused to operate the baby on the ground that there is no facility in Neelachal Hospital for operation of HIV positive patient.

As the parents’ blood test proved that they had no HIV infection, it was proved that the baby was infected with AIDS because of the blood transfused to him on being procured from the blood bank.

But, before the High Court, the State Government asserted that the blood supplied by the Blood Bank was screened for infectious diseases, specifically AIDS and was found negative. Where from the infection then came to the baby born to parents not at all infected with HIV positive?

The infection comes through (i) Unsafe sex, (ii) child born through HIV affected persons, (iii) through needles, and (iv) through blood transfusion.

The High Court determined that the baby being hardly 17 months old, he had no scope of infection from unsafe sex. His parents were not infected; hence infection through parents was ruled out. There was no possibility of infection through needles, as the hospital used only disposable needles to which the parents of the baby were witnesses. Thus the only cause of infection was the transfusion of infected blood.

How could then the HIV virus was not detected during screening of the blood? It was found that, blood screening in Orissa is not being done in Nuclear Antizen Test (NAT) or Polymer Chain Reaction (PCR) method, as a result of which, HIV virus is escaping detection.

As per medical science, the length of time following the infection of an individual to develop detectable antibodies is about three months after the infection. This is called the “Window Period”. The blood that Nayak received was certainly collected in this “Wndow Period”. NAT/PCR method could have detected the infection during the “Window Period”, but, as these methods are not in use in Orissa, the poor baby, for no fault of his own or of his parents, developed HIV positive.

“There is no provision in the State to identify virus during the Window Period. Unless special test known as Antizen Test is conducted through Polymer Chain Reaction (PCR) method, the virus cannot be identified during the Window Period i.e. during three months of infection. Therefore, the receipt given by the blood bank stating therein that the blood units are tested against HIV seems to be a myth” claimed Ms. Sujata Jena, Nayak’s lawyer in the High Court.

The Court has agreed with her and awarded cash compensation to the infected child, by making the following direction a must for the Government:

Needless to say that blood donated by one saves life of another. Donation of blood is a noble work. In order to achieve this avowed objective all necessary safeguards must be taken while collecting, testing, storing and supplying blood. Otherwise, instead of saving the life, the contaminated blood would take the life. It is not disputed that during window period, unless the special test known as Antizen test is conducted through Polymer Chain Reaction (PCR) method, the virus cannot be identified. Therefore, the Government must ensure that in all blood Banks the Polymer Chain Reaction (PCR) method is available to identify the virus of HIV during window period. We, further direct opposite party no.1-State to provide free medical treatment to the baby of the petitioner who is a HIV patient.

The judgment was delivered on 28 July 2011.

A year has elapsed. The State Government has not honored the judgment.

Infected blood is going on being transfused sans any check.

AIDS is admittedly menacingly spreading in the State.

Innumerable Nayaks are perishing.

The Government of Naveen Patnaik is so very busy in serving POSCO and the likes, that there is perhaps no time for it to read the High Court verdict even.

Any blood collected in camps and through campaigns such as of Ama Odisha may be HIV infected blood in “window Period”.

Everyone getting a transfusion is vulnerable to AIDS as recalcitrance of the government as discussed above is aiding to its spreading.

Will the High Court please take a note of it?

THE AUGEAN STABLE OF INDIAN LETTERS

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 orissamatters.com 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.

Strange! The Head of Press Council of India Wants Curb on Freedom of Media!

Subhas Chandra Pattanayak

Chairman of the Press Council of India, Justice Markandey Katju seems to be in confusion over the role given by law to him.

He has written to Union Minister for Information and Broadcasting to take steps for initiating suitable legislation to curb the social media.

What is Social Media?

Social media is opposite to monopoly media and has emerged as the latest scientific tool for peoples’ empowerment. It is platform of participatory journalism that is changing people from audience to participants in matters of their affairs. World wide in Internet, it has emerged as the unfailing weapon in the hands of the common man to challenge and change politico-economic powers to advantages of people in the grassroots.

A compilation of highly researched studies on emergence and impact of Internet media is published by the London and New York based ‘Taylor and Francis Group’ under the caption ‘Routledge Handbook of Internet Politics’. While observing that, “the Internet is now a mainstay of contemporary political life”, it attracts us to a conclusion that says, “In little more than a decade, the Internet has evolved from a collaborative tool for scientists to become a fundamental part of our system of political communication”. In other words, social media has become “a fundamental part” of political communications.

Author of ‘We the Media”, Dan Gillmor describes social media as medium of “grassroots journalism” which to him, is “by the people, for the people”.

“In the past 150 years, we’ve essentially had two distinct means of communication: one-to-many (books, newspapers, radio, and TV) and one-to-one (letters, telegraph, and telephone). The Internet, for the first time, gives us many-to-many and few-to-few communications. This has vast implications for the former audience and for the producers of news; because, the differences between the two are becoming harder to distinguish.”

Such is the social media, in words of Gillmor, media of “grasroots journalism”.

“The tools of grassroots journalism”, he says, “run the gamut from the simplest email list, in which everyone on the list receives copies of all messages; to weblogs, journals written in reverse chronological order; to sophisticated content-management systems used for publishing content to the Web; and to syndication tools that allow anyone to subscribe to anyone else’s content. The tools also include handheld devices such as camera-equipped mobile phones and personal digital assistants. What they have in common is a reliance on the contributions of individuals to a larger whole, rising from the bottom up”.

In Cluetrain Manifesto, Authors Christopher Locke, Rick Levine, Doc Searls, and David Weinberger have shown how information through Internet has given birth to “ a powerful global conversation” through which “people are discovering and inventing new ways to share relevant knowledge with blinding speed. As a direct result, markets are getting smarter and getting smarter than most companies.”

In perhaps the most precise presentation of how social media is emancipatory, Gillmor utters the concluding words in ‘We the Media’ in a way that makes the common man free of fear in expressing himself. He says, “Your voice matters. Now, if you have something worth saying, you can be heard. You can make your own news. We all can.”

This is alarming the anti-people elements. But why it is alarming the Press Council of India head?

It is paining to see that, to the Chairman of the Press Council of India this emancipatory media looks like a “menace” and he wants the union government “to set up a team of legal and technical experts to find out ways and means of checking this menace”!

Resembling “His Master’s Voice”

“Unless some curbs are placed on the social media, nobody’s reputation will be safe in India”, Katju has said in the letter to the Minister.

Strangely, he has sent this latter to the Minister after the social media rendered inconsequential the Congress leader Abhishek Manu Sighvi’s armor of judicial injunction on circulation of a sex video that has put India into a tumult.

And, surprisingly, he has just echoed what Singhvi has said.

Alleging that social media is “concertedly” used by “motivated interests” through “an organized gang” to defame him, Singhvi has warned that unless action is taken against the social media, “this can happen to anyone and if this lawlessness is allowed to continue as it is, we will all be consumed shortly.”

Katju has not only copied Singhvi in lashing out at social media, but also has made it clear that his letter to the minister is inspired by Singhvi.

“Not only is there a court injunction, not only has the author of the alleged CD sworn in an affidavit in court and accepted that the contents were fabricated and morphed, but even as respectable a media group as India Today has accepted the position of the court” . Yet, the social media circulated the CD to damage his reputation, Singhvi has stated.

Katju has copied Singhvi’s this version to the minister.

In justifying his suggestion for action against social media, he has said, “The recent example (of social media’s mischief) is of dissemination of a CD which even the author admitted had been distorted for defaming a reputed senior lawyer of the Supreme Court and Member of Parliament”.

Is the Chairman of the Press Council of India expected to echo a political person of the ruling party in his letter while instigating the information minister against social sites?

Katju has no carte blanche

The law, Press Council of India Act,1978 that has created him, has not given the PCI Chairman a carte blanche to ask for such a law or to give such advice to the Union Minister against social media.

Section 13 (1) of PCI Act wants the Council to “maintain and improve the standards of newspapers and news agencies in India”; but not to instigate the information minister to curb social media.

In the letter to Union Minister for Information and Broadcasting, he has sought to set up an expert team to keep under control the social media, when social media never comes within his purview.

“The reputation of a person”, he has said, “cannot be permitted to be trampled upon by mischievous people,” This he has said to justify his request “to set up a team of legal and technical experts to find out ways and means of checking this menace, including, if the government thinks fit, initiating suitable legislation for this purpose, for filtering out such offensive material”.

To him, the satyriasis in action captured in the video is not offensive, but its exposure by social media is offensive!

“I have repeatedly said that while there is freedom of the media in our country, no freedom can be absolute, and has to be coupled with responsibilities,” Katju has said in the letter, uncalled for.

First, the responsibility component

The man in the CD looks like Singhvi.

That, he is morphed into the video by his driver is what he says.

The lawyer further says that he has arrived at a settlement with the driver out of court and the driver has informed the court that he had morphed Singhvi in the video.

Is the driver’s admission of morphing not linked with the out-of-court settlement that a very powerful person like Singhvi has arrived at with him?

Is the driver’s version believable under the circumstances?

Thousands of people including presumably everybody in Singhvi’s acquaintance have seen the video. Have they declared that the male in the video is not Singhvi?

What about the female in the video?

When a section of Delhi lawyers has identified her to be a lady lawyer it knows, had the driver also morphed her into the video?

Is that lady lawyer a nymphomaniac, indulging in such acts with anybody at anytime so that Singhvi’s driver could catch her in action on a different occasion and morphed her into the video with Singhvi?

Has any authentic and authorized lab established that the video is morphed?

Has any medico-legal investigation established that what the driver has said after out-of-court settlement with Singhvi is not untrue but true?

Is Singhvi’s driver a trained expert in videography for which he could so perfectly morphed Singhvi into the video?

If he is not an expert in videography and not done it personally, where did he got it done? Has it been investigated into and found out?

Has Katju the answer to these questions that are so essential to determine whether or not Singhvi is the male in the video?

What the video shows?

It shows a man, looking like the Congress leader having vital parliamentary role in matter of justice and law, indulged in sex with a lady, allegedly a lawyer, who is suspected to have bartered her libidinal liberty against a possibility of elevation from bar to bench under his influence.

The suspicion may be baseless and the projection of the persons may be an act of morphing.

But who can come to a conclusion without actual investigation?

Onus lies on whom to prove that the video is fake, when possibility of the post-out-of-court-settlement-statement of Singhvi’s driver cannot for certain be said as a statement not coined under any duress?

Is it responsible to keep the people in dark about it sine die?

Now to freedom of media

Katju has said, “while there is freedom of the media in our country, no freedom can be absolute”.

Let me make it absolutely clear that India is a democracy and democracy lives only on absolute freedom of media.

I take the debt to say this from the founding Prime Minister of my country, Pandit Jawaharla Nehru, who had said, “I would rather have a completely free press with all the dangers involved in the wrong use of that freedom than a suppressed or a regulated press” (‘The Law of the Press, by Dr. (Justice) D.D.Basu, Prentice Hall of India, New Delhi, 1986, p. 49), though this declaration remained a wishful thinking as, under his mixed economy policy, seeds of plutocracy were sown in this soil.

A plutocracy that appears like democracy is disadvantaged by absolute freedom of media and for its smooth run, suppression of information is necessary.

Suppression of information is necessary when criminals, anti-people elements, vested interest gangs rule the country in the guise of democracy.

Media being the last pillar of democracy and democracy being the last obstructor of plutocracy, is Katju interested to clear whatever obstacle is there in the path of plutocracy by obstructing the evolution of a freer media like the social media?

It is shocking that the Chairman of the Press Council of India is for curb on people’s right to be informed.

The basic object of Press Council spelt out under Section 13. ( 1 ) of the Act is to preserve the freedom of the Press. But the Council chairman’s suggestion goes against this provision.

Freedom of press does not mean freedom of the protectors of freedom of press to deny people the freedom to be informed.

The Universal declaration of Human Rights under Art.19 thereof gives everybody the right to be informed unrestrained.

It stipulates, “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers”.

“Any media” “regardless of frontiers” includes social media that India’s Press Council Chairman wants to “curb”.

Katju’s suggestion sharply militates against the concept of freedom of press depicted in the pioneering judgment of Supreme Court of India reported in (1959) S.C.R. 12 wherein the highest unbiased judicial wisdom of the country, full of essence of freshly fetched freedom from foreign control, had delivered the dictum that, freedom of press is the foundation of free government of a free people and that, it rests on the assumption that the widest possible dissemination of information from diverse and antagonistic sources is essential to the welfare of the public; and the guarantee given under Art.19(1)(a) of the Constitution is to prevent public authorities from assuming the guardianship of the public mind.

Sadly, the chief of the Press Council of India, required under the Act to preserve freedom of press, wants the authorities assume guardianship of the public mind in blatant disregard to the dictum above.

People in their own wisdom

As far as restriction on news, lest that affects reputation of an individual, is concerned, people have refused to be hoodwinked in this particular case, though the corporate media has honored the court injunction, obtained by Singhvi against a section thereof.

The people have deliberately shared the video through social media to avenge the attempts to use court injunction to keep them debarred from information on the alleged misconduct of a ruling party heavyweight and to use their intelligence to accept or reject the information.

The people of India are mature enough to decide which material deserves attention and which doesn’t.

As for example, Katju had described the Indians as foolish. People have refused to pay attention to this raving. The corporate media houses have given massive publicity to Congress’ as well as CBI’s statements that Rajiv Gandhi had not taken bribe in choice of Bofors guns. The people of India have not given credence to such reports. So, it is clear that it does not make everything acceptable to Indians if published in media. If the contents of the sex video had not been blocked from being carried by the media, people might have refused to accept it as true. But, attempts to disallow people to know of it through media houses that had the video in their possession, as is seen, activated social media to step in, the people’s right to information being basic in that sector.

With evolution of social media, freedom of media cannot be curbed any more, as, no law can deny people the access to Internet and no law can debar Internet from carrying any data the users can share if they like to share.

If big media on any pretext suppresses any information, social media will provide people with collective strength to know what is what and no law can put any hindrance thereto, because the Internet is a world wide phenomenon and has made every person a part of world community.

To the people, reputation of a person suspected to have committed a heinous crime does not count. What counts is possible disrepute of their motherland over silent endurance to suppression of data of a heinous crime suspected to have been committed by a parliamentary standing committee chief.

This is why, it is better be appreciated, despite aversion to obscenity, the people have shared the video through social media. This mass action is indicative only of mass protests against use of court to curtail people’s right to be informed.

It is to be kept in mind that social media is the media of the people built up by the people to its present stature in course of their anxiety to get rid of doctored information fed to them by motivated corporate media with highly paid editors engaged to tamper with or twist information as their masters like, a phenomenon that was forcing the people to see in the eyes of the rulers and the rich and their agents and the oppressors and the shareholders / controllers of media houses.

Every attempt to curb social media will, therefore, be futile and rejected by the people.

It would be better for government of India to ignore the letter of Katju as an instance of illogical zeal and meritless fanfaronade.

(This article is dedicated to Utkal Gourav Madhusudan Das, the great patriot and votary of freedom on his birthday)