Cabinet Reshuffle In Odisha Who Is At The Helm Of Affairs: Naveen Or Pyari?
In a bid to resurrect his falling image in the wake of a slew of scams tarnishing the image of his Biju Janata Dal government, Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, on May 10, reshuffled his Cabinet by inducting five legislators as new ministers and dropped three senior ministers. From the beginning of his third stint as CM in May 2009, Naveen preferred not to go for the statutory maximum ministry strength of 22, limiting it to 21. In fact, it was for the first time that the Chief Minister effected a reshuffle in his council of ministers after completion of two years of his office in his third term. By successfully convincing Naveen to sack senior minister Damodar Rout from the Cabinet, BJD MP Pyarimohan Mohapatra once again has proved that he is only next to party boss and Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik. Pyarimohan undoubtedly sent a strong message to rank and file in BJD that others would face the same fate, if they follow Rout who never tolerated Pyarimohan.
The five new ministers, all Cabinet rank, are former speaker Maheswar Mohanty, former deputy speaker Lalbihari Himirika, Pradip Maharathi, Usha Devi and Niranjan Pujari. Anjali Behera, Minister of State for Textiles and Handlooms (independent charge), was promoted to Cabinet rank. They all owe allegiance to Pyarimohan Mohapatra. Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik reshuffled the portfolios after the oath-taking ceremony at the Raj Bhavan. Naveen has kept Home, General Administration, Works and Water Resources with him while Prafulla Chandra Ghadei continues with Finance. Ghadei, who loses the Excise portfolio, has been given Public Enterprises. Portfolios of three senior ministers Raghunath Mohanty, Prasanna Acharya and Bikram Keshari Arukh remains unchanged. Some senior ministers, including AU Singhdeo and Surya Narayan Patro, have been rewarded. While Singhdeo has been allotted Excise in addition to Planning and Coordination, Patro gets Information and Public Relations in addition to Revenue and Disaster Management. The portfolios of Debi Mishra have been changed. He has been divested of Higher Education, Tourism and Culture and given Forest and Environment. Another senior minister, Prafulla Samal, has been stripped of his portfolios Panchayatiraj, Women and Child Development. He has been given Tourism and Culture and Cooperation.
“Minus Biju Patnaik, Naveen is nowhere in the picture” –Dr Damodar Rout,
Former Cabinet Minister & Senior BJD leader
Who told you to resign?
The day before the swearing-in ceremony of the new ministers I had not been to my office, Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik asked me over the phone to step down. While complying with the instruction of the CM, I immediately put forward the resignation letter to the CM through my private secretary.
On what grounds were you asked to step down?
It is better known to the Chief Minister.
Going by discussion in political circles, it is said that the second in command in the party, Pyarimohan Mohapatra is responsible for your ouster from the cabinet. How would you comment?
The man whom you say the chief of that power centre, is not a party MLA. I never accept any one other than Naveen Patnaik as the party leader.
How would you react to the recent Cabinet reshuffle by the Chief Minister?
Rearrangement of the team is the prerogative of the Chief Minister and that is what he did. I too, wholeheartedly, accepted his decision. He enjoys the support of the people of the state as the son of great statesman and leader Biju Patnaik. Minus Biju Patnaik, Naveen is nowhere in the picture. In fact, it is the Biju legacy which has worked in favour of BJD.
Do you agree that Naveen succumbed to the pressure from Pyarimohan Mohapatra during the Cabinet rearrangement?
It is unfortunate if the Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik is acting at the interest of him. Further, if the fact is established, people of the state would throw him out of power. Pyarimohan Mohapatra was secretary to Biju Patnaik when I was a minister. I am loyal to my leader Naveen Patnaik. I have been in politics for over four decades. I cannot compromise with my self-respect and engage in sycophancy. I would continue to work for the party and my constituency.
CORRUPTION IN MID-DAY MEAL IS RISING IN WEST BENGAL
Confrontations and blood-sheds in the college elections among the two major parties—SFI (Students Federation of India), the youth wing of Left Front and Trinamool Congress led Chatra Parishad in different parts of the states including some of the reputed colleges in Kolkata do not carry good message for the health of higher education in West Bengal.
It is now more than a decade since the former chief minister Jyoti Basu had vanished the compulsory English learning from primary-level education of the state. But the wound of the “historical mistake” is still radiating poison to the education sector in the state, despite a massive private investment in the last few years. A recent study by the Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Calcutta, (CSSSC) reveals that only half of the students enrolled in the state primary schools attend classes on any given day in spite of the lure of mid-day meals (MDM). Though the attendance does not vary much on weekdays and on Saturday in the better income-equipped area, but reverse is the case for poverty-prone panchayat areas.
CORRUPTION IN MDM SYSTEM
“Mid-day meal acts as a vital supplement but students do not come to schools for meals only. What is more important is the monitoring by community committees and school sub-inspectors. There are not enough spot visits by school sub-inspectors,” Mala Mohinta, the headmistress of a primary school in North-24 Pargana district admitted. According to her, MDM system is one of the major areas of corruption in the primary education system of the state.
“Corruption takes part in every step of MDM including the buying of raw materials, distribution, quantity and quality of the meal, etc. The involvement of local party cadres—whether from the ruling party or the opposition, in every decision-making procedure such as building of infrastructure, recruitment process or usage of government funds for the school is intolerable,” said another teacher.
There are different self-help groups, organised by local women who cook and distribute the mid-day meal. According to Mala Mohinta, they rapidly steal the raw materials—be it rice, oil, sugar or salt. “It is a common practice that they will take the excess food after distribution, but before cooking, how can they keep aside raw materials such as rice, dal or sugar and put them inside their bags?” she said. Women who cook and distribute the food earn a daily-wage. “It is not possible for me to go to the kitchen every time for investigation, as I have to take classes. Being a headmistress, I am assigned to do some administrative jobs also,” she stated. The party cadres insist or influence the teachers or the governing body of the school to give the contract of mid-day meal to their preferred candidates. Sometimes they even decide the grocery shop to purchase the raw materials.
Against all-India average of 97 per cent, in West Bengal only 90 per cent of all primary schools are covered under the MDM scheme and the coverage of the programme is lowest in Kolkata at 31 per cent.
Though the 2011 Census reported that the literacy rate in Bengal has grown to 77.08 per cent in 2011 from 68.64 per cent in 2001, West Bengal tops the list of students taking private tuitions, says the National Sample Survey Organisation’s (NSSO) 2007-08 report.
This indicates the students’ lack of confidence in the state’s education system, due to poor institutional framework in the schools. Private coaching constitutes a large portion of the expenses students incur on education, sometimes even more than they spend on school fees. Among the larger states, West Bengal records the highest proportion of education expenditure on private coaching, about 40 per cent. In urban areas, the spending is as high as 48 per cent of the total education expenses in school fees, transport fees, uniforms, books, copies, etc.
“Though in 2002, private tuitions had been banned for any school teacher in West Bengal, we still have to depend on it for our children’s better career, because the teachers give better marks to those students who attend the teacher’s coaching classes. Even for admission in the school, we have to depend on them,” said Moumita Biswas, a parent whose son studies in a well-reputed school in Kolkata.
During the implementation of the Right to Education Act (RTE), the Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh said, “I want every Indian child, girl and boy, to be touched by the light of education. I want every Indian to dream of a better future and live that dream.” The Act focuses on the quality of teaching and learning, which requires accelerated efforts and substantial reforms. But it seems a comprehensive policy that engages all stakeholders in primary school education needs to develop primary education in West Bengal. A huge reform is necessary for primary education through detailed interaction with parents, school teachers, administrators and village committee members. Policies should provide incentives to parents to be enthusiastic about sending their children to school on a regular basis, to teachers to make them more conscientious towards students, to students to make learning more accessible and enjoyable and to administration for providing better monitoring and logistic support.
By S Roy from Kolkata
In the run-up to the reshuffle, Agriculture Minister Damodar Rout, Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe Development Minister Bijay Ranjan Singh Bariha and Minister of State for Sports and Youth Affairs Praveen Bhanjadeo resigned on the instructions of the Chief Minister. The exercise also put an end to the speculation about a rift between Pyarimohan Mohapatra and Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik. In fact, this became clear following the resignation of Rout whose relations with Mohapatra had soured sometime ago. Over the past few months, political circles were abuzz with rumours of Mohapatra’s waning influence over Naveen, but the septuagenarian MP showed his authority by forcing his bete noire, Agriculture Minister Damodar Rout, to resign. Rout apparently had earned the wrath of Rajya Sabha MP, Pyarimohan Mohapatra, who is virtually second in command in the party and has been calling the shots for sometime. Rout also had been facing criticism for the past several months for his allegedly objectionable remarks against some public representatives and officials at a public meeting last year in his home district of Jagatsinghpur.
FACTS ABOUT WEST BENGAL
► The number of out-of-school children declined from 8 per cent in 2006 to 6 per cent in 2008 -2009. Significant improvements have been found in the districts of Burdwan, East Midnapore, Hooghly and Howrah.
► About 94 per cent of learners have access to primary to upper primary schools, Shishu Sikha Karmasuchi and Madhyamik Siksha Karmasuchi schools and madrasas within one kilometre.
► One teacher worked with more than 54 students in West Bengal according to DISE report in 2005-06. This has been improved to one teacher for every 47 students in 2008-09, but still exceeds the national average of 34 students.
► About 90 per cent of schools (class I- IV) have drinking water facilities. But nearly 86 per cent schools (class I-VII) have common toilets in 2009.
Going by discussions in political circles, six-time MLA Rout had to pay the price for taking on Rajya Sabha MP Pyarimohan Mohapatra, who is regarded as Naveen’s key adviser. First-time legislator from Morada Bhanjdeo and Padampur MLA Bariha are said to have been removed because of “non-performance”. Besides, Rout has been facing a criminal case pertaining to use of the word “Harijan”, while Bariha has been experiencing problems after one of his close relatives allegedly raped a tribal woman. Soon after he was asked to resign on the eve of Cabinet reshuffle, the senior leader gave enough indications of the fissures in Biju Janata Dal over the Rs 52,000-crore POSCO plant saying it is his support for the project which may have irked those who were against the project. The changes are, many within BJD feel, not going to remove the stains of scams the government is smeared with. It was a mission to clip the wings of Rout, and Naveen only got it done at a time he thought appropriate, a theory shared by many even in the ruling party. The political analysts in the state maintained that the elimination of Prabin Chandra Bhanjdeo and Bijay Ranjan Singh Bariha was purposely done with an aim to camouflage the public suspicion that the Chief Minister targeted Rout for his straight talks.
SNOWBALLING INTO A CONTROVERSY
It is time for the annual spiritual yatra to the holy shrine of Amarnath in Himalayas but the current spat over time duration of pilgrimage once again may snowball into yet another continuous year of controversy.
Several Hindu groups in defiance of the official ruling have decided to start the pilgrimage a fortnight ahead of the official date of pilgrimage. Shri Amarnath Shrine Board (SASB), the autonomous body involved with the operation of the pilgrimage while curtailing the yatra period by two weeks, has announced that the yatra would commence from June 29 and culminate at August 13 but Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Shri Baba Amarnath Yatri Nyas—an amalgam of religious, social and trade organisations—have decided to prepone it.
Jammu and Kashmir VHP head Ramakant Dubey has dared the authorities against any move to curtail the yatra period from two months and announced that the group would take first batch of pilgrims from June 15 onwards for which it has already started its own website for the registration of pilgrims.
The annual summer pilgrimage to the 13,500-ft-high Himalayan cave shrine dedicated to Lord Shiva in south Kashmir, usually faces uncertainties because of the unpredictable weather conditions and security concerns. The president of the Amarnath Yatri Nyas Surinder Mohan Aggarwal has also reiterated that all the constituents of the Nyas have unanimously passed the resolution to start this year’s Amarnath yatra from June 15.
Aggarwal said: “The Nyas had shown its concern over the decision of the Board to curtail yatra and registered the protest of public by collecting their signatures through a signature campaign. Nyas collected over 3,30,000 signatures and submitted these to the Governor NN Vohra through his Principal Secretary RK Goyal, also the CEO of SASB.”
On the other side, the SASB has defended its decision to curtail the yatra. The retired justice GD Sharma, a member of Shrine Board, stated that the step was taken to ensure safe and smooth conduct of the arduous pilgrimage, and asked the rebel Hindu groups not to defy the Board’s regulations.
Amid all this controversy, the reports from the holy cave reveal that a strong 16-foot lingum has already emerged and the route to cave is clad with heavy snow, which is expected to remain till the end of June though a police contingent has already reached the holy cave and cordoned it off. Last year, more than 450,000 pilgrims visited the Amarnath shrine to worship inside the cave, that is believed to be an embodiment of the deity.
The Shrine Board has started the online registration of the pilgrimage beginning June 29. “The registration services would also be available at 149 branches of Jammu and Kashmir bank, YES bank and some district cooperative banks across the country. The registration has started for pilgrims visiting the shrine from both Baltal and Chandanwari routes. There are two treks leading to the shrine from Srinagar—the shorter but steeper Baltal-Sangam route, 110 km north of Srinagar, and the 46-km trek from Pahalgam, 100 km to the south of Srinagar. There has been no increase in the fee of Rs 15 for registration, either through the counters or the internet.
Meanwhile, VHP has alleged that Governor NN Vohra, who also heads the Amarnath Shrine Board, has reduced the yatra period at the behest of PDP leaders Mufti Mohammad Sayeed and Mehbooba Mufti. The VHP regretted that the Governor has unilaterally taken the decision to reduce the yatra by 15 days, without consulting the Hindu organisations. The VHP plans a large rally in Jammu to support its demand, and has threatened a nationwide agitation over the issue, if the Governor does not accept their demand.
Meanwhile, the yatra would become expensive this year as Jammu and Kashmir authorities have hiked the hiring rates of ponies and labourers, whose services are availed by devotees during their journey from Panchtarni to the Amarnath cave. The rate for dandi (carriers) has been fixed at Rs 2,100 from Panchtarni to the holy cave.
Worried over the fresh wave of unrest in Jammu and Kashmir over the reducing of yatra timespan, the spiritual guru Sri Sri Ravi Shankar has appealed to the public not to be swayed by rumours about the reasons behind the curtailment of the duration of the yatra.
The Art of Living founder, who is also a Shrine Board member, stated that the Board was not under any pressure to curtail the duration of the yatra. The real reason for the yatra period to be curtailed is that the Board doesn’t want the yatris to get stranded as in the past. “Considering the weather pattern in June in the past years, the Shrine Board was not inclined to commence the yatra before July 1. However, the Board decided the pilgrimage should begin on June 29, 2011, as this day is a Wednesday, Maasa Shivratri, Rohini Nakshatra and Subha Yoga, which is good for the commencement of the yatra,” Sri Sri Ravi Shankar said.
Mahant Deepinder Giri, custodian of the holy mace of Shri Amarnathji, kept at Dashnami Akhara in Srinagar, has said that the controversy regarding the duration of the Amarnath pilgrimage is entirely unnecessary. As chief priest of the Dashnami Akhara associated with the traditional rituals of Shri Amarnathji, Mahant Deepinder Giri has been leading the prayers and others religious rituals for the last 20 years. As ordained by the scriptures, he will lead the pilgrims and other religious figures at the start of the Amarnath pilgrimage on Ashadh Purnima and again lead all devotees on Shravan Purnima, when the pilgrimage concludes.
Incidentally, Ashadh Purnima (full moon day of the month of Ashadh) will fall on July 15, while the Shravan Purnima (full moon day of the month of Shravan) will fall on August 13. The holy month of Shravan, considered to be especially auspicious for the worship of Lord Shiva, starts with Ashadha Purnima and ends on Shravan Purnima. It is during Shravan that the devotees of Lord Shiva perform special pujas all over India.
The rituals associated with the holy Amarnath cave are also, according to scriptures, most fruitful during the month of Shravan. In fact, the Amarnath pilgrimage should also be held during Shravan, between the two Purnimas (successive full moon days), according to Mahant Deepinder Giri. This means that the Amarnath pilgrimage should be conducted, as per the scriptures, between July 15 and August 13. Mahant Deepinder Giri said that since SASB is an autonomous organisation tasked with conducting the yatra, its decision should be accepted.
By Prakriiti Gupta from Jammu
More than anything else, Naveen, true to his style, has so far not said a word why he removed the three ministers. If performance was the measuring index they could not be singled out either, because there are other ministers who are perceived to be worse than them. Further, the expansion of the BJD government has drawn sharp criticism from the opposition—Congress and BJP. Both the parties have blamed Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik for trying to divert public attention from a number of scams directly involving his government. BJP leader Bijoy Mohapatra said: “The Naveen Patnaik government is no way going to get mileage out of the recent Cabinet reshuffle. The exercise that followed the resignation of three ministers at the direction of somebody, other than the Chief Minister, has definitely created a bad precedent in our state. A system where, someone takes the decision and the Chief Minister only sign the papers is not visible in any states.” The Congress leader Narasingh Mishra said: “The Cabinet rearrangement would neither induce the image of the Naveen Patnaik government, nor helpful to get back the lost confidence of the people. Moreover, the whole affair was an empty formality on the part of the Chief Minister.” At last, it remains to be seen how the regional outfit with two power centres would give a facelift to its tarnished image in the days to come.
By Kishor Dash from Bhubaneswar