NEXUS BETWEEN THE VULTURES STIRS THE HOUSE

Subhas Chandra Pattanayak

Nexus between unscrupulous traders and government officials was the crux of a noisy scene in the Assembly that heard on December 16, 2002 from members, cutting across party lines, that, rice worth around Rs.500 crores, earmarked for supply only to the people below poverty line, has been recycled into the godowns of mill owners and agents in the State. Food Supply and Consumer Welfare Minister Bed Prakash Agrawal admitted that the government was aware of such a nexus. On prima facie proof, a particular instance has been forwarded to Central Bureau of Investigations for a detail probe and the Central Government has been moved to authorize the CBI in this regard. But, despite reminders, the last being the November 14 letter of the Chief Secretary to Union Ministry of Personnel, the CBI is yet to receive orders to start investigations, he stated. The members, however, remained apprehensive of a cover up and demanded for production of the letters the Minister was relying upon which was done under directions from the chair.

These letters gave a stick to former Works Minister Mr. Nalinikanta Mohanty to beat the government with on December 17. The case has not been forwarded, as claimed by the Food Minister, to the CBI; no issue has been drawn up; scope of investigation not settled; terms of reference not decided. No notification making a formal requisition of the services of CBI as stipulated under Section 6 of Delhi Special Police Establishment Act, 1946, has been issued, and, therefore, the government has resorted to dilatory tactics in order only to provide a protective umbrella to the offenders, he said. Former Finance Minister Mr. Ramkrushna Patnaik was of the same view. The negligence was deliberate, alleged opposition heavyweight Mr. Ashok Das. Pointing out that the government had dawdled over the investigations against MESCO for two years by not notifying the requisition of CBI as required under the relevant law, Mr. Das alleged that the same ploy has been resorted to in the instant case, in total disregard to the observation of the Supreme Court in the former matter.

The issue having generated tons of doubts in public mind, demands were made for clarification from the Chief Minister. The Speaker issued a ruling in favour of the demand and asked the Chief Minster to come up with a statement before discussion on the Appropriation Bill.

Postscript:
CM HINTS AT PRIMA FACIE PROOF

Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik revealed while replying to the debate that the government was prima facie convinced that the subsidized rice supplied by the Union government for food-for-work programmes were being recycled into the godowns of millers. Officers of the State government as well as of the Food Corporation of India were suspected to be hand-in-glove with the mill owners and agents in such dubious deals. The State government, however, thought it prudent to move the Union government to authorize the Central Bureau of Investigations to conduct an in-depth probe. Necessary notification should be issued immediately after receipt of the central consent, he said.

His statement was in deference to a direction from the Speaker issued during debates over an adjournment notice in the matter on December 17.

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