Subhas Chandra Pattanayak
It cannot be expected of any Government to steer the State into a firmament where there can never be any error in administration. Whereas dictatorship or autocracy never admits errors, because Satan never errs, in a democracy error is noted, confessed and rectified.
So it is bad for democracy when an elected government tries to hush up its errors.
This hushing up exercise is going on in Sinapalli of Nuapada district where under stark starvation peoples have been reportedly eating stones for survival.
I have earlier shown how the State Government through its Revenue Minister has tried to hoodwink the Legislative Assembly in this matter.
Now as I go through the records, a picture emerges that depicts how the State Government has tried to hush it up.
Let me share it with you.
The Revenue Minister has told the House that on 25.5.2007, the District Welfare Officer (DWO) heading a team/committee had enquired into the veracity of the stone-eating report telecasted by OTV and found it baseless. The Minister’s statement is basically wrong because the OTV had telecasted the report never before 25.5.2007, but only on 31.5.2007 at 7 PM in the evening. When the news was telecasted in the evening of 31.5.2007, how could the enquiry be conducted on its veracity on 25.5.2007, I had wondered.
I personally contacted the two journalists against whom penal prosecution has started under charges of sedition for having recorded the appalling picture and for facilitating it’s telecasting.
They told me that a report of the house-to-house survey conducted by two NGOs – Sajag and Sahabhagi Vikash Abhiyan – had shown, “unemployment problem along with the condition of starvation and semi-starvation among the Kamar families is growing day by day”.
This had led them to keep a watch on Nangalghat in Sinapalli Block, as it is a hamlet of Kamar caste people, who are devoid of basic amenities.
And in course of time, information reached them that under stark starvation the helpless ones in that hamlet are eating limestone locally known as jhikiri.
Initially unable to believe, they reached Nangalghat on 25.5.2007 and found that the starved people were really eating the stones. They took video recording of one Baru Singh Pahadia while eating stone and sent the same to their respective medias including OTV for further action.
The editorial desk of OTV set the transcription to grid for 31.5.2007 under its Pratidin tab; but as usually happen amongst rural enthusiasts who work in mass media sans experience to keep their desptaches under corks till publication, the news of the video recording jumped the walls of the journalists’ room in Nuapada and reached the District Collector who, alarmed by the possible embarrassment it may cause to the Government, specifically when the State Assembly was scheduled to start on 1.6.2007, notified the Revenue Minister in a hope that OTV being a media outfit of ruling coalition MP Baijayant Panda, the telecasting could be stopped.
The Minister belongs as he to BJP –a party in alliance with BJD for power but its adversary in reality- was reluctant to approach Panda.
He asked the Collector to manage the scenario so that, if confronted, the government can reject the news. This made the Collector ask the DWO to rush to the spot and build up such evidences that if the video is telecasted, that can be refuted.
DWO’s nasty tricks
The DWO. reached Nangalghat in the night with the BDO and the CDPO of Sinapalli Block as well as local Sarpanch. By that time, as usual in rural villages sans electricity and surrounded by jungle, the inhabitants of the hamlet were deeply asleep. Some of them were force-awaken. And their thumb impressions were collected on a sheet of paper titled as “Swikrutinama” meaning Confession-sheet. I am going to quote it by translating from Oriya.
It is noted in this sheet that the DWO, on arrival at 9 PM in the night of 25.5.2007 asked if people were eating stones. In response to this query, Dasamati Paharia said, “Khuturam Sunani of Nizgaon and Meghanad Kharsel of Badibahal, coming to our village, had declared that if Khalimati / Rengatapathar (known also as Jhikiri, a sort of limestone) is eaten, backache would disappear. As, believing them, people started eating the stones, they took photos thereof and said that they should show the stones to government officers if they come and relay to them what they have said too”. To this Radhika Paharia agreed. If the question was, “Are the people eating stones?” why, instead of the people saying ‘yes’ or ‘no’, this Dasamati Paharia advances the so-called confession in the quoted form? It is because Dasamati was formerly the President of a water-shade project suspected to have committed some irregularities during his tenure and therefore was vulnerable to official pressure. So Dasamati’s so-called confession was uncalled for if it was really voluntarily advanced by himself or it was manufactured as the DWO desired.
Study the photocopy of the sheet. You will see, the last sentence, which says, “all the people gathered at Chandili agreed and signed”, was inserted after the words “villagers of Nangalghat” were written at the end of the so-called statement of confession.
It is worth noting that the writer of the statement of confession has not signed the document. No body knows who wrote it. But from the words used and the mistakes occurred in writing the words clearly indicate that some body has written the statement as per dictation of somebody else. As for example, see the first word of the second paragraph. It should have been “Tara pratyuttarare” meaning ‘in response to that’. But it is written as “Tara pratyadattare”! There is no such word like pratyadattare in Oriya.
One can safely infer that the DWO had dictated the statement and some of his staff had taken down the dictation. Both Dasamati and Radhika being absolute illiterates, their finger prints were taken thereon along with the finger prints of others, without them understanding what had been written on the paper.
So, the so-called statement of confession is a manufactured document.
S.P. was used
Enclosing this manufactured document, the DWO wrote a letter to the Superintendent of Police of Nuapada District clearly at the behest of the Collector on 28.5.2007 wherein events not mentioned in the so-called statement of confession were deliberately depicted to raise charges of sedition against the two journalists.
At Para 3 the Journalists are shown as having visited Nangalghat on 23.5.2007 where as there is no mention of this date in the statement of confession.
It is noted that the two journalists “persuaded some people to eat a certain type of stone saying that the stone has medicinal value, can cure diseases like backaches, stomach pain etc. and supplied them the stone to eat. They also demonstrated how to eat the same stone. x x x x x They also told them that if any government officer such as B.D.O. comes and asks on this matter they should show them the basket full stones as evidence of eating. They also promised them that they would get government benefit out of it”. Now compare it with the statement of confession. If at all that statement carry any credibility, nowhere therein is any mention of “stomach pain”, any mention of “supply of the stone to the people by the journalists”, any mention of “basket full of stones”, any mention of the journalists promising that the people “would get government benefit out of it”.
The letter says that the people “confessed in writing that they staged this drama by the instruction, persuasion and direction of the said reporters”. In the so-called statement of confession that the DWO has enclosed in support of his allegation, there is no mention of the people having said this. Neither is there the word “drama” nor the Oriya of the words “instruction, persuasion and direction”.
So, these expressions are concocted by the DWO, who has tried to develop charges of sedition against the journalists by saying the S.P. that the acts of the two journalists were meant for “misguiding the innocent and illiterate people of the locality to defame the government machinery”. It is surprising that the S.P. allowed himself to be used to order the field station to register cases against the journalists under charges of sedition mindlessly falling in the DWO’s trap and equating sedition with finding fault with the administration.
Why the D.W.O. played the nasty trick?
Sri Rasmi Ranjan Putel, a senior student of Bolangir belonging to village Bangomunda, provides us with he answer.
Embarrassed severely by the negative publicity Orissa fetched by spread of the news of stone eating by a section of the citizenry, he wanted to know the truth through a person-to-person survey in the hamlet of Nangalghat.
After the survey, he has reported, “ There are 20 families of Paharia/Kamar caste in the hamlet of Nangalghat. Even though 60 years have elapsed since independence, there is no provision of drinking water as a result of which the people of this hamlet depend on the stream nearby to sustain their lives. There is no school, not even an Anganwadi center. Till date, none of this hamlet has entered into a school, even though, at the moment, there are 28 children of school going age. Not a single person of Nangalghat has been given old-age pension. There are widows in the hamlet but none of them has been favored with widow-pension. All of the inhabitants reside in inhabitable cottages; but none of them has been provided with any house under Indira Awas Yojana, provided by the Union Government for the homeless poor the allotment of which rests with the Provincial administration. None of them has ever been given a government loan to help himself out of poverty. None of them has any agricultural or homestead land in his/her name. They are so poor that none of them has been able to dig out a well or a tank. There is no well or tank in the hamlet from government side. People depend on the nearby stream called Udanti and when flood comes in this stream, they get cut off from out side, even from surrounding jungles, completely for about four months and bereft totally of the sources of livelihood, they thrive on plant roots and a specific type of stone that they make soft by putting in water overnight. Resigned to fate, they have adopted stone eating since long, Putel has reported, while noting that till the two journalists took note of the pathetic condition of the people, no official functionary from V.L.W to B.D.O. to D.W.O. to Collector to Minister had ever visited the hamlet.
The DWO being the officer in charge of welfare, this severe situation warrants that he be held responsible for the helplessness the inhabitants have been subjected to. It is clear that to avoid fixation of responsibility, he has played this nasty trick, of course, under guidance of the Collector.
Foul role of the Collector
As the controlling officer of the district, the Collector has possibly played the foul role. Otherwise the shenanigans marked in this hamlet could not have been possible.
Putel’s first hand report from the spot says, “since 29.5.2007, there is unending rush of officials to Nangalghat. Ever since 25.5.2007, officers and their cohort politicians of local branches of ruling parties went on pressurizing people to deny stone eating, but in vain. The B.D.O. of Sinapali, the Tahsildar, the Welfare Officer etc. camped in the hamlet even in the nights and tried to brainwash. Every family was given Rs.5000/- as assistance from government, every house was supplied with rice and dal, Cards were updated, digging of a well for drinking water was started on war footing, assurance for allotment of land with land records was given to every inhabitant. Notwithstanding all these, the people were refusing to deny stone eating. Then the technique of creating fear psychosis was employed. The people were told that if they do not deny stone eating, they shall be subjected to stomach operation as that is required by law. Superstitious by nature, the illiterate and inanimate inhabitants of Nangalghat panicked. To heighten their panic, and to frighten the community of scribes, prosecution of the two concerned journalists under charges of sedition was contemplated.
The helpless people of Nangalghat finally agreed to agree with official version that they do not eat stones, reports Putel on personal observation.
It is worth noting that prosecution under Section 124(A) for sedition over and above other charges have been started in the Sinapalli Police Station against the two journalists following F.I.R. filed by the DWO But surprisingly the DWO had not filed the F.I.R. in the Sinapalli P.S. He knew that the allegations he was raising were false. He knew that the allegations were unilateral, as he had not checked up the matter with the two journalists as well as Baru Singh Paharia, the person caught in camera while consuming stones. He knew that on that ground the Police Officer at Sinapalli may not register the desired case. So, in the chamber of the Collector it was decided to address the letter to the S.P. who in turn had to issue orders to the Sinapalli Police Station to register the case(s) against the two journalists charging them for sedition etc u/s 124 (A), 417, 34 IPC.
The S.P. issued this order on 29.5.2007 and as Putel reports, from that day, bribing the inhabitants of Nangakghat commenced.
Possibility of backdated documentation
It is also possible that the documents used against the two journalists were prepared backdated. Mark the dates in the letter of the DWO that now has been used as the F.I.R. The DWO brings in the conspiracy-against-administration-angle in this letter on 28. 5. 2007 following “instructions” of the Collector. The S.P. waits for a day and then interprets this conspiracy as sedition and issues a confidential order to Sinapalli P.S. to register the letter of DWO as F.I.R. and effect a formal investigation by the Circle Inspector of Police on 29. 5 2007. Normally it is not possible on part of the S.P. to sit over the latter of the DWO for a day as the letter depicting a threat to administration was received personally from the senior officer. There cannot be any doubt over the fact that the DWO had personally handed over the letter to the S.P. as otherwise there should certainly have been a diary number of the S.P. office on the body of the letter. Absence of any such diary number establishes the fact that the DWO, under “instructions” or in presence of the District Collector, had handed over the letter to the S.P. and so, if it was handed over on 28. 5. 2007 in person, it was natural on part of the S.P.to have discussed the matter with the DWO and/or the Collector present and then and there to issue the instruction to the P.S. for registration of the letter as F.I.R., which, in stead of doing as expected in presence of the senior officer(s), he has done on 29. 5. 2007.
If the S.P.’s action is genuine, then it is clear that the DWO’s letter was backdated. But the registration of the F.I.R. indicates that the S.P.’s order was also backdated.
Mark the timing.
If the S.P.’s order was really issued vide No.166/Con. on 29. 5. 2007, a mere OIC of a P.S. like Sinapalli could never have slept over it till 7 P.M. of 31. 5 2007. No sub-inspector of Police could ever have dared to sleep over the S.P.’s confidential order in such a serious case for at least two nights and two-and-half a days like it has happened here. So, it has never happened. Had it really happened, the OIC could have been subjected to disciplinary proceedings for negligence in duty. No such proceeding against the OIC has been initiated. Hence, in the eyes of the Police authorities, the OIC has not slept over the S.P.’s order. What does it indicate? It indicates that the S.P. had not issued the order for registration of the DWO’s letter as F.I.R. on 29. 5. 2007, but on 31. 5. 2007.
So, the SP.’s order was also backdated.
Mark again the timing.
The F.I.R. has been registered at 7 P.M. of 31. 5. 2007. This is exactly the time when the program for telecasting of the stone eating scene had begun. So, it is clearly possible that the entire documentation was backdated to harass the journalists after the news was on records.
Let us wait to see if the House Committee sees through the hushing up exercise and also to see how the Human Rights Commission deals with it.
In the meantime, the question raised by this reporter as to who should be held for sedition: the journalists or the people who rule over the state, has attracted thinking minds as on the same subject a gathering of intellectuals of Bhubaneswar has deliberated upon recently. Two different trade unions of working journalist have also decided to stage a demonstration before the Assembly on 28 this month in protest against prosecution of journalists under charges of sedition.