Sandeep Sahu

The security threat to Mr. VK Pandian, Chairman of 5T and Nabeen Odisha, is bigger than that of Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik!!

Hard to believe it certainly is. But that is precisely what the Twin City Commissionerate of Police would like you to believe. Three days after RTI activists Pradip Pradhan, Srikant Pakal and Prakash Das produced a document purported to be a reply to an RTI query filed by Das seeking information on the number of police personnel deployed for the security of Mr. Pandian at a press conference, the Commissionerate Police suddenly woke up to the fact that the threat perception of Mr. Pandian is serious enough to seek exemption under Sec 8 (1) (g) of the RTI Act, 2005. In a letter addressed to Das on April 1, the commissionerate police informed him as much. And two days later, it registered a case against Messrs. Pradhan, Pakal and Das for presenting a ‘forged and fabricated’ document to mislead the public and flatly denied the issue of any such letter by the police. In response, the RTI activists have dared the police to conduct a forensic test of the letter they produced at the press conference and share the CCTV footage of the relevant time to ascertain whether the allegedly ‘forged and fabricated’ document was hand-delivered by Reserve Inspector Bhagaban Panigrahi or not.

Let us not get into the merits of the claim and counterclaim by the police and the RTI brigade. If the document cited by the latter is indeed ‘forged and fabricated’, then the ‘law must take its own course’ (as the Chief Minister keeps saying ad nauseam). The point to note here is this: on April 15, 2023, the same commissionerate police had provided information on the security deployment in and around Naveen Nivas, the Chief Minister’s residence, in response to another RTI query. So, does it not imply that the security threat to Mr. Pandian is greater than that of the Chief Minister when it seeks refuge under Sec 8 (1) (g) of the RTI Act to refuse to part with the information sought? For the uninitiated, the said clause provides exemption of information “the disclosure of which would endanger the life or physical safety of any person or identify the source of information or assistance given in confidence for law enforcement or security purposes”.

This begs the question; why did it take 42 days for the commissionerate police to realise that the threat to the ‘life and security’ of Mr. Pandian is serious enough to be exempted under the clause (the RTI query was file on January 19, 2024)? After all, it is duty-bound under the Act to supply the information within 30 days of the RTI query being filed. Why did it not cite Sec 8 (1) (g) to deny the information right away? Is it the commsionerate police’s case that the threat perception on Mr. Pandian has grown exponentially since the RTI query was filed? Even if that is the case, it is hard to understand why it could not issue the letter to Das it issued on April 1 (which, by the way, was All Fools Day!) within the stipulated period? The truth of the matter is the decision to hide under the said clause was an afterthought necessitated by the bad press the government was getting following the revelation, which was used by the BJP to lodge a complaint before the Chief Electoral Officer (CEO).

A related query is: why did Commissioner of Police (CP) Sanjib Panda and Deputy Commissioner of Police (DCP) Prateek Singh not say anything about it when they announced the case registered against the RTI trio on Wednesday? After all, they had already dispatched the letter to Das two days before explaining why the information he had sought cannot be furnished? Significantly, while branding the letter shown at the press conference by the RTI activists as fake, the two top cops did not claim the information contained in it was also ‘fake’ or claim that the figure of 74 police personnel cited in the ‘forged’ letter was wrong.

It is clear to anyone who follows political developments in the state that Mr. Pandian is fast turning out to be a huge embarrassment for the ruling dispensation. The first sign of the realization on the powers that be came when the picture of the bureaucrat-turned-politician, after enjoying pride of place in every single poster and banner displayed by the party and its leaders over the last several months, suddenly went missing from all publicity material issued in the public by the party? Coming as it did close on the heels of this important political sign, the RTI saga further embarrassed the party and the government in which he holds complete sway. That explains the elaborate charade by the police to shield him from public scrutiny by a belated recourse to a hitherto forgotten clause. After all, it is not often that the CP and the DCP hold a press conference together – not even when the crime graph goes through the roof in the Twin City!

It is pertinent to mention here that the RTI reply on the Chief Minister’s security came after a three-year long battle at the State Information Commission at the end of which the Commission ruled in favour of the petitioner. Thus, the commissionerate police certainly cannot be accused of not trying hard enough to prevent the information – that a total of 268 police personnel are engaged in providing round-the-clock security to the CM in three shifts – from being made public? Why would the police – and the Home department headed by the Chief Minister – go to such great lengths to hide this information is anybody’s guess. As far as the zealousness with which the police have tried to guard information regarding the security detail of Mr. Pandian, your guess is as good as mine!

(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are the author’s own and have nothing to do with OTV’s charter or views. OTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.)