Throwback 2017: Controversies that kept hounding Odisha
By Devbrat Patnaik
The year 2017, undoubtedly, was mired in controversies from the beginning of the year. Every sunrise brought with it a new issue that snowballed and made people create a lot of hullabaloo. Surprising, each of it is gaining more steam to make the year ahead more murkier. With the sun setting into the sea of times for one last time this year, let’s peek into some of these controversies which created flutter and hold the potential to continue the ripples for long.
CONTROVERSY KING DAMA
￼Drought, Brown Plant Hopper attack, unseasonal rain and debt burden blew problems of farmers out of proportion. So much so that Western Odisha soon turned into an epicentre of farmers’ suicides, though the government preferred to remain in denial mode.
Many distressed farmers consumed poison, some hanged themselves and a few burnt their cultivated crops after failing to avail compensation from the government. The then Agriculture Minister Damodar Rout said that only 14 farmers committed suicide due to loan burden as per reports but stopped short of admitting that the suicides were caused by crop loss. Dama further rubbed salt to injuries when he said that the farmers who have burnt their crops will not get compensation.
“Farmers of Odisha never commit suicide as they are well aware that their family will suffer after their death. No farmer faces financial issues. They may be in distress but that doesn’t mean they have nothing to eat. An investigation is needed to know the truth behind the burning of crops and suicides,” stated the BJD veteran.
Last week, Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik dismissed Rout for his “derogatory remarks” against Brahmins. Rout had allegedly remarked in an address to tribals that they never begged or committed suicide when facing a natural calamity, like a drought or flood, and contrasted this fortitude with Brahmins, who, he said, beg for alms.
KUNDULI GANG RAPE OR NON-RAPE
Given the tag of a red flag case, a Class IX girl allegedly gang raped by a group of four armed, uniformed men in Kunduli sent shock waves through the state and led to a massive public outrage. The matter further took a spin with the police claiming that the girl was not raped at all. The investigation process, approach of the police and administration, the medical report being submitted almost after a month lacking any proof of gang rape, each raised suspicion on the hidden truth.
Her family last month lodged a complaint at Manglabag police station citing life threat to her and demanded immediate discharge from SCB medical, where she was undergoing treatment.
Another startling allegation came from the survivor, two days ago, when she accused the Odisha DGP of offering her money while she was in the hospital. She alleged of being offered Rs 90,000 in a packet along with a blank sheet of paper wherein she was asked to put down her signature to resolve the issue. However, police headquarters completely denied and clarified that at no occasion the DGP, Odisha has ever met or interacted in manner whatsoever with the complainant of the case. The case continues to be an enigma though speculations continue.
BJD’s PERCENTAGE COMMISSION
The state government was strongly criticised over the collection of “PC” (percentage commission) at various levels in the State. Union Minister Prakash Javadekar dubbed the BJD government in Odisha as a PC government and claimed it has lost credibility due to rampant corruption at all levels from top to bottom.
The Congress also grilled the government over growing collection of ‘PC’ as Opposition chief whip Tara Prasad Bahinipati threatened to follow ‘assault formula’ to stop the practice. Following such allegations, Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik later asked the district collectors to stop collecting PC from contractors for undertaking government work orders at block level in the State.
CM POLL EXPENSE ROW
A delegation of BJP moved the Election Commission of India (ECI) seeking disqualification of Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik as MLA for allegedly filing a false affidavit on poll expenses during the 2014 polls in Odisha. A petition filed by RTI campaigner Subash Mohapatra in Orissa High Court alleging discrepancies in poll expenses by Patnaik helped the BJP train guns on the ruling BJD party. Later, another petition was filed in the Supreme Court in October this year seeking transfer of the case. However, the SC rejected the petition stating that the final call on whether the case should be transferred to Delhi High Court or not will be taken by the Election Commission of India (ECI). Even though the BJD termed the allegations of discrepancies in poll funds as malicious and fabricated, the party’s spokesperson Pinaki Mishra had admitted of certain irregularities such as typing error and confusion in the affidavit submit to the ECI. The EC then sought clarification from Patnaik as to why poll expenditure amount mentioned in his affidavit does not match with the one submitted to EC by the party.
NAMO’S POVERTY REMARKS
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s remark that Odisha is a poverty-stricken state had triggered much political outcry in Odisha in February this year. The ruling BJD and the Congress had slammed Modi for his statement stating that Modi insulted Odisha with his remark. During an election meeting in Gonda in Uttar Pradesh in February, Modi had said there is so much poverty in Odisha that if you search for the poorest districts in the country, you will find them in this state. However, senior BJP leader and Union minister Dharmendra Pradhan claimed that Modi has said nothing wrong and it is obvious that if a party ruling for more than 17 years is told about its incompetence, it will hit back.
PAIKA BIDROHA VS FIRST WAR OF INDEPENDENCE TAG
A debate on declaring Odisha’s ‘Paika Bidroha’ as the First War of Independence faced much resistance from a section of historians in Kerala following the Centre’s move to announce Odisha’s 1817 Khurda Paika rebellion as the first war of Indian Independence claiming that various uprisings against foreign powers had occurred in the southern state much before it, but never got due recognition. They said the coastal state had witnessed a number of minor and major struggles against foreign powers even before the 1857 ‘Sepoy Mutiny,’ which has so far been regarded as the first war of Indian Independence. While some historians stated that the matter should be examined thoroughly before taking a decision, some questioned the government’s right to decide the prominence and value of historical movements and struggles.
TRESPASSING INTO JUDGE’S HOUSE
On September, in relation to a CBI anti-corruption case a team of CBI sleuths entered the official residence of sitting Orissa High Court judge Justice CR Das during their visit to the houses which former chief justice IM Quddusi had left four years ago and had retired since. Demanding a judicial probe into the matter, the HC Bar Association protested the CBI landing up at the doorstep of a sitting judge without a warrant and went on cease work and described the incident as an anti-social display of hooliganism and vulgarism. The Orissa High Court later issued showcause notices to the CBI, State government and the Centre and asked all the involved parties to present the reason behind the move.
MAHANADI ROW INTENSIFIED
The row between Odisha and neighbouring Chhattisgarh continued this year over the Mahanadi river. Chhattisgarh has been constructing barrages on the upstream of the river that Odisha has been opposing. This year the BJD continued frequent protests and even the parliamentarians of the party sat on a stir in Delhi recently. The Centre has shown no interest to set up a water tribunal to resolve the issue while the BJD continues to demand the tribunal. Meanwhile, in a setback for Chhattisgarh government, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) had ordered stay and later extended the stay on construction work on the barrages on Mahanadi River directing to stop all construction work of all the projects on the river.
POLAVARAM ISSUE CONTINUED
The Andhra Pradesh government’s multipurpose Polavaram project on river Godavari has been consistently opposed by the Odisha government since 2007. This year, CM Naveen Patnaik had opposed the project at an inter-state meeting over the issue in New Delhi in November and later wrote to PM Modi citing that the controversial project would submerge 25 habitations in Motu tehsil in Malkangiri district and inundate around 7656 hectares of agriculture and forest land. Chhattisgarh is also against the project besides Odisha and Telangana. In fact, the Telengana government has supported Odisha in opposing the Polavaram project.
BITTER WAR OVER SWEET RASAGOLLA
While social media wars over the origin of popular sweet Rasagolla had forced the governments of Odisha and Bengal to jump into the battle in 2015 by setting up committees to find evidence of the dessert’s origin, Bengal CM Mamata Bannerjee’s tweet in November 2017 that her state has won the Geographical Indications (GI) tag revived the battle of words between Odias and Bengalis, specially on Twitter.
However, later it was found that the GI tag was attained for the ‘Banglar rasogolla’ variety of the sweet and so it was decided by the Odisha government to apply for GI tag for ‘Odishara Rasagolla’.