Column: We, The People, Are Barking Up The Wrong Tree
By Sandeep Sahu
It’s far from over. Three staff of the Esplanade mall in Bhubaneswar, including the lady sales manager who allegedly led the attack on Argus TV journalists Swati Jena and Pramod Mohapatra on Saturday, may have been arrested in view of the rare show of strength and solidarity by the media fraternity. But make no mistake. The battle is far from over. The forces they have taken on wield so much clout with those who control our destiny that they are unlikely to throw in the towel so easily. They will come back hard for sure.
These ‘forces’ include not just mall owners, but also owners of industries, mining companies, hotels, private educational institutions, apartments and ‘corporate’ hospitals, besides ruling party leaders and blue-eyed officers of the government. Together, they constitute such a powerful entity that the entire law enforcement machinery, the administration, the judiciary and the media become utterly helpless before them. Secure in the knowledge that the government will not act tough against them, they brook no opposition or dissent in carrying out their nefarious designs.
A few days ago, the DGP of the state, no less, was served marching orders for his ‘audacity’ in ordering the sealing of another mall in Bhubaneswar for encroaching into public space and ‘sitting over’ its application for a fire safety license for what the government believed was an inordinately long time. The government was so pissed off with the DGP that it did not want to wait till the next morning and asked him to hand over charge to the interim officer named close to midnight! A few years ago, another DGP not only lost his job, but had a false vigilance case instituted against him for his temerity in ordering the seizure of vehicles carrying cash meant for distribution during the elections!
This being the fate of DGPs, what chance does a mere reporter have? After every such attack on the public or the media, the tendency is to blame the police for inaction. But we don’t realize that they are as helpless as the rest of us are. Last Thursday, hundreds of ruling party members, not one of them wearing a helmet, held a bike rally in the heart of the capital city to celebrate the party’s foundation day. But three days after the incident, the commissionerate police are still ‘looking at’ CCTV footage to identify the traffic rule violators. Meanwhile, the average commuter has no choice but to quietly pay the hefty fine if he happens to drive helmetless. In view of what has happened in the past to the numero unos in the force who dared to act, which police officer would risk incurring the wrath of the powers that be and being shunted out in the process?
Our anger, therefore, should be directed not against the police, who are mere pawns, but against those who prevent them from taking action as per law. Where do you think owners of private hospitals get the confidence to fleece patients and harass them with impunity? The NHRC orders the Odisha government to seal Apollo Hospitals, Bhubaneswar after finding it guilty of an illegal kidney transplant. But the government chooses not to act on it. The NGT asks the government to take possession of forest land that a leading educational institution has encroached on. But the government refuses to comply. Why should those who own these establishments bother about the public when they know they have the government on their side? We are actually barking up the wrong tree!
To return to the present case, the police have, obviously under instructions from the powers that be, booked the three staff of the Esplanade mall under easily bailable sections. Thus, they can be expected to be out on bail in the next 48 hours, if not earlier. And it will be back to business as usual. They will continue to collect parking fees, cocking a snook at the BDA notification terming such collection illegal. The journalists too will go back to work. Till the next time someone in the fraternity is attacked, that is!
A few weeks ago, Kendrapara MP Anubhav Mohanty misbehaved with and publicly humiliated the reporter of a leading TV channel without any provocation whatsoever. “Just desserts,” exulted BJD apologists in unison because the channel was allegedly carrying out a ‘tirade’ against the MP. What excuse do they have to defend the attack on Swati Jena, the braveheart? She was not carrying out a politically motivated tirade but was reporting an issue that affected the public: the illegal collection of parking fees by the mall.
After the furore since Saturday evening, the BDA vice-chairman has now come out saying he would ‘study’ the High Court order the mall has cited to justify carrying on collecting parking fee. One wonders what the BDA was doing all this while. Why did it take a collective protest by journalists to feel the need to look at what the order actually says? The interim High Court order only restrains the BDA from taking any ‘coercive action’ against the mall but does not uphold the collection of parking fees. It is obvious the BDA knew this all along but chose to look the other way.
At its 23rd Foundation Day, BJD supremo and Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik said the 4.5 crore people of Odisha is the ‘family’ for the party. But the ‘family’ members, who have kept voting for the BJD in election after election, should realize who its real family members are: unscrupulous businessmen, thugs, goons and charlatans. They control all levers of power, not the people.
(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)