LOOT OF ORISSA MINES: NAVIN SHOULD SUBJECT HIMSELF TO INQUIRY OR QUIT

Subhas Chandra Pattanayak

Chief Minister Navin Patnaik should subject himself to a Judicial Commission of Inquiry or quit over the discernible loot of Orissa Mines, a sample of which, estimated to be of Rs. 4,000 Crores money value, has come to limelight in course of Assembly debates.

The House was adjourned record 9 times on July 10 as the Opposition, on unveiling of the loot by the leader of BJP Legislative wing, K.V.Singhdeo, with convincing proof, consolidated its demand for an inquiry by the Central Bureau of Investigation. One is at a loss to understand why the Government is shying at the CBI. It is intriguing that the government is not willing to inquire into the matter even by a House committee.

The loot highlighted involves only a single spot in Keonjhar spanning 9 years. In other words, the loot is going on during last 9 years under Chief Ministership of Navin Patnaik.

And, who is allegedly the looter? A non-Oriya firm by name Ram Bahadur Thakur Ltd (RBTL).

Mines Minister Raghunath Mohanty’s assertion that there is no question of loot as the lease granted to RBTL over 96.568 Hectares in Rugudi, Rutukela and Katasahi under Joda Mines Circle (JMC) is lying idle due to non-availability of forest clearance certificate as yet, is a clear lie. A team of Legislators accompanied by eminent public figures has made a spot visit and has come out with evidences that the concerned land is under active manganese mining by RBTL. When the Opposition linked the 34 truckloads of manganese being smuggled out from JMC seized at Khurda recently to this illegal mining, the Minister admitted that the seized manganese was from JMC but refused to accept the Opposition allegation under a technical plea that the matter is subjudice under the High Court.

Had the Chief Minister no role in loot of Orissa mines, he could have reviewed the scenario in the light of the Supreme Court’s May 8 ban on mining in Aravalli hill range, which has been cited in these pages on May 15. But he has not wanted to educate himself with help of the well researched verdict of the Supreme Court in the matter of mining management sans any threat to eco-system of the State. He wants us to suspect that ministers and functionaries might have made any mistake, not he.

Is it not the time for him to appreciate that if he does not take action against the minister (s), present and past, in charge of mines in his cabinet and subject the Secretary (Secretaries) and Director (s), present and past, of Mines to discernible disciplinary action readily and in retrospect, peoples will have no doubt that it is he, who is the culprit?

I do not know how can he erase the public suspicion that looters of Orissa Mines have his patronization.

He alone knows whether or not he is guilty of this treachery against the State. To erase the public suspicion, he should instantly appoint a Judicial Commission of Inquiry to investigate into all the mining by looters or leaseholders during his regime to find out if, as the Chief Minister, he has any reason to be blamed for that.

PRECEDENCE

Orissa has a brilliant and unique precedence of a Chief Minister having subjected himself to a Commission of Inquiry. Let us look at that.

When Biju Patnaik was the Chief Minister of Orissa, he had infested the administration with so much corruption that it was unbearable on part of the peoples to tolerate him.

As public agitation against his continuance in office could not be suppressed, he had to resign. But the Congress Government in the Center shielded him through a Cabinet Sub-Committee despite CBI having concluded that he was prima facie guilty of corrupt practices.

With such a finding of CBI, a Judicial Commission of Inquiry was a must under the Central Government Circular then in force.

But the Congress party being in power at the Center, had tried to protect Biju from Law by preferring a review of the CBI report through a Cabinet Sub-Committee. Biju having resigned from CM post in 1963 to escape public wrath had somewhat stayed in the power corridor by grabbing Chairmanship of the State Planning Board. He was made to resign from this position on 29 January 1965. And, the Cabinet Sub-Committee that had members gained over by Biju tried to save him by refusing to recommend for a Judicial Commission of Inquiry despite the CBI findings. Through Atulya Ghosh, he had pressurized Prime Minister Shastri so much that two days after his resignation, he had to urge upon the Loksabha to ignore the Biju scandal. “Sri Biren Mitra and Sri Patnaik have already tendered their resignations. I would appeal to you that this matter be allowed to end there”, Shastri had requested the Loksabha.

Massive majority of Congress in the Loksabha was thus used to protect Biju. But when for this very reason of protecting the corrupt Biju Patnaik, the peoples of Orissa rejected the Congress in 1967 General Elections and a non-Congress Government under R.N.Singhdeo took over, the immediate work of the new Government was to appoint a Judicial Commission of Inquiry with Justice H.R.Khanna in the chair to inquire into corruption alleged against Biju and his associates.

Justice Khanna observed that it was quite deplorable that Patnaik should have “ allowed such a sway to the pecuniary and business interest of the companies, which had been started by him and with which his family members were associated in dealing with the State Government, that within two or three years of his stewardship his public image became tarnished and the hopes which were built around him were shattered to pieces. Memorials and representations, some of them not without substance, were submitted against him. The architect of party victory in 1961 lost even his own election in 1967. The fall of Sri Patnaik was not merely a loss for himself, it was a shock and disenchantment for the people who had pinned their hopes and reposed their confidence in him and with that had linked the future of Orissa”.

However, as the Singhdeo Government was setting up the Khanna Commission against Biju and his acolytes that ruled over Orissa from 1961 to 1967, Sadasiv Tripathy by then reduced from the CM position to leader of Opposition, had demanded that there should be inquiry into conduct of Harekrishna Mahtab and R.N.Singhdeo, whose role as CM and Deputy CM respectively in an earlier coalition of Congress and Ganatantra Parisad was not above board.

Confronted with this by the then Union Home Minister Y.B.Chavan, Singhdeo replied that though he does not find any prima facie substance in any of Tripaty’s allegations, in interest of integrity in public life, the matter may be examined by a person of top judicial standing.

Chavan wrote back to Singhdeo that he should dispose off the matter as prudence entails.

Singhdeo appointed Justice J.R.Mudholkar, former Judge of the Supreme Court of India, though off the Commission of Inquiry Act, to conduct a preliminary inquiry into the allegations raised by Tripathy.

This was in fact a Commission of Inquiry to find out prima facie substance, if any, in allegations against persons holding ministerial office in Orissa during the period from 1948 to 1961 that included also R.N.Singhdeo himself, as he was Deputy CM in Congress-GP coalition ministry. In other words, Singhdeo had appointed this Commission against himself in order to ensure that in a democracy there should be no room for any doubt over the conduct of the CM or any minister.

In mining matters, Navin Patnaik Government has earned so much suspicion that it is better for him to come out from the room of doubt as expeditiously as possible. The instant event that has forced the Assembly into as many as 9 adjournments on July 10 is a fit case to remind him of the precedence created by Singhdeo.

It is proper for him to subject himself to a Judicial Commission of Inquiry or else to quit his position before preferring any agency other than judiciary to conduct any inquiry into loot of the mines so that the same could seem to be free of his direct influence.

Anything less would further harm the State.

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