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Odisha Minister In Troubled Water

Updated: April 23, 2011 4:26 pm

When a law fails, the general tendency is to put the blame for its failure on the laxity of the implementation machinery. Acting on the propensity several courts even the Supreme Court have shown their judicial activism with strict reminders that state should endeavour appropriate mechanisms to implement social legislations with dignity and honestly. But in flip side, allegations are levelled that law-makers and persons occupying high positions create roadblocks using their power, encroaching on law enforcers to perform their duty honestly and sincerely.

A recent incident occurred in Salepur on March 11 exposing how a political bigwig skips social legislations and abuses his powers denying police to perform his legal duty.

The incident involves the State Mass Education Minister Pratap Jena. On March 11 he was attending a marriage procession of a storage agent of Nischintakoili block believed to be a close confidant of minister but invited trouble when local police denied permission to the procession after the 10 pm deadline citing the Supreme Court guidelines that no marriage procession shall be allowed to move accompanying band party and bursting crackers after 10 pm. So the police seized and brought the music instruments of the band party to the Salepur police station.

The incident irked Minister Jena who furiously rushed into the police station and forced police officer to release the musical instruments for conducting the marriage procession. The wretched cops had no option but to follow the minister’s wish. So they released the seized musical instruments and the band party personnel. Then the procession accompanying Minister Jena, his colleague Cuttack MLA Devasis Samantray and many local BJD leaders, were allowed to move around defying the public orders enshrined under Section 4 of the Orissa Fireworks and Loudspeakers [Regulations] Act 1958 and also the Supreme Court’s guidelines to curb the nuisance and cause of obstruction to general public using public address system and bursting of crackers beyond 10 pm.


Democracy can retain its sanctity only when its “Four Pillars” namely Judiciary, Legislature, Executive and Media remain perfect. When politics gets into the hands of corrupt and criminals, democracy loses its meaning, for the corrupt and criminalised polity spreads like a cancer and spoils the other institutions. Apart from the four pillars, the credibility of independent institutions like the Central Bureau of Investigation, Election Commission, Central Vigilance Commission and the Police also matter to the sanctity and success of democracy.

                As four states and one union territory are under the grip of election fever at present, this article focuses on the role of Election Commission, particularly in Tamil Nadu, where the scam-ridden Congress-DMK combine is trying to retain power. The 2009 Parliament elections and the subsequent by-elections for the state assembly have caused slurs on the Election Commission and many allegations on the “partisan” role played by the EC have been made by the opposition parties. The tamperability of the electronic voting machines (EVMs) has been a hot topic since 2004 and heavy deliberations have been made in the recent past at various forums involving experts from within and outside the country including the Election Commission.

                The Congress Party and its allies are fighting anti-incumbency in Tamil Nadu, Pondicherry and Assam, while they have an edge over the present incumbent in West Bengal and Kerala, where the Left front is facing an inevitable defeat. The peculiarity in Tamil Nadu elections is the “Cash for Vote” formula, in which the ruling DMK has shown its expertise, ever since it won the Thirumangalam by-election in January 2009.

                The DMK had allegedly given Rs 5,000/- per vote in the said by-poll and the “Thirumangalam Formula” was supposedly followed in the subsequent by-elections and to some extent in the 2009 Parliament elections as well. The Election Commission was a mute spectator at those times despite the presence of an upright Chief Electoral Officer Naresh Gupta, who could not go beyond the dictate of Naveen Chawla.

                So, when the EC announced the poll schedule for the present assembly elections, the people immediately started talking about “Thirumangalam Formula”. The talk became louder especially in the wake of the huge spectrum loot in which both the DMK and Congress have been involved. With the partisan functioning of independent institutions under pliable leaderships at the back of mind, the people hardly think the Election Commission would effectively implement the model code of conduct. But taking the state by surprise, the Election Commission has so far functioned in an effective manner implementing the model code of conduct strictly. Poll graffiti are not allowed; campaign timing is strictly adhered to; huge convoys are not allowed for the leaders and candidates; and bribing of voters with cash and kind is strictly monitored.

                Huge quantities of saris, dhotis and dress materials have been captured apart from millions of rupees, the latest catch being Rs 5.11 crore from an Omni bus belonging to a person alleged to be a relative of Transport Minister KN Nehru. The Election Commission has so far seized Rs 42.75 crore from the poll-bound States of Assam, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal out of which Rs 35 crore are from Tamil Nadu alone. All this has convinced the opposition as well as the general public that the Election Commission is functioning efficiently and effectively.

                However, considering the track record of independent bodies like CBI and EC under Congress rule, one cannot help getting the feeling that a huge drama is being unfolded in the electoral scene. The CBI, which arrested former Telecom Minister Raja, has not made any efforts to arrest the family members of the Chief Minister, even after conducting raids in their offices and subsequently questioning them in connection with those raids.

                The AIADMK alliance may have an edge over the ruling alliance in the arithmetic of vote share. But, DMK alliance is financially very strong and it is being speculated in the media circles that the EC might slow down and turn a blind eye during the last three or four days. Last but not the least, there is a huge gap of 30 days between the poll day and the result declaration day. Will it be free and fair for all, or, free for DMK and fair for Congress?

By BR Haran from Chennai

Interestingly, the police officer Nirmal Chandra Senapati who had interferred into the marriage procession and seized the musical instruments received his transfer order the next day. This incident would never have come out if two prominent Odiya dalies had not disclosed Minister Jena’s heinous act which deterred police to perform its duties in accordance to law.

Meanwhile, one lawyer Prasanta Das has moved Odisha High Court in a contempt petition alleging the incident that occurred in Salepur on March 11 contravenes the Supreme Court’s guidelines and High Court’s earlier order prohibiting the use of loudspeakers and bursting of firecrackers after 10 pm. Acting on the petition, a division bench of the High Court comprising Justice BP Das and Justice MM Das issued notices to the Director General of Police and State Home Secretary including Superintendent of Police [Rural] Cuttack to furnish details in affidavits on the petitioner’s compliant by April 6.

According to the Supreme Court’s guidelines there is a complete ban on bursting sound-emitting firecrackers and band parties using amplifiers between 10 pm and 6 am. Any police officer on duty above rank of headconstable is permitted to take action against the errant violators, even authorised to seize the amplifier and musical instruments and is empowered to confiscate the seized items after being heard from the violators. So in the Salepur incident the police officer on duty had performed his work diligently and obviously implemented the law in letter and spirit and prohibited the marriage procession to proceed beyond 10 pm but allegedly Minister Jena using his official position dissuaded the police officer to perform his duties after stepping into the police station.

It is noteworthy that a decade ago Minister Jena, who was Kissannagar MLA, had allegedly been blamed for his act in Jagatsinghpur police station on April 19, 2001. The complainant police officer Ravi Mohapatra who lodged an FIR in police station that registered as station diary number 477 of 2001 stated that as many as 25 persons believed to be confidant of Mr Jena from Raghunathpur area were picked up by cops in a criminal case number 140 of 2001. After knowing the incident Mr Jena stepped into Jagatsinghpur police station with the then Tirtol MLA Devasis Samantray and questioned police officer for arresting his followers and insisted for their release soon. But cops pleaded inability to set free the alleged accused persons without legal compliance. The response enraged Mr Jena who abused police officers present in police station and later got released his followers from the police custody. Nothing happened against him. Again Minister Jena’s matter is pending before the High Court. It is to be seen how law would take its course for the alleged complaint against him violating social legislations.

 By Kahnu Nanda from Jagatsinghpur


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