Subhas Chandra Pattanayak
Two days in the life of Orissa Legislative Assembly: 27 and 28 February, 2012. They are lost for ever without transacting the scheduled businesses.
They could have been saved had the Speaker saved the right of the House to hear the Government on hooch horror that has, in the first and second week of the month, extinguished at least forty lives, which, Opposition suspect, was to happen, as the ruling party, eager to bag Panchayat berths at any cost, in elections scheduled to begin with February 11, had tried to flood rural Orissa in vote catching liquor.
As the Speaker did not agree to adjourn the scheduled business on 27th on Opposition demand to hear the Government, with observation that the nomenclature of the adjournment notice was pregnant with mischief to affect the environment that the ongoing judicial commission of inquiry should be ensured with to proceed freely, the House had to face such protests that no normal transaction of business was possible. The day had to die.
The similar scenario also bung up the day on February 28, even though the Opposition equipped its notice with a changed nomenclature. Precipitation was so sharp that independent member Pratap Sadangi jumped over to Reporters’ table to say what he wanted to say and he said, the Speaker was acting as per instructions of the Government in disallowing the adjournment notice to discuss the colossal loss of life caused by spurious liquor. The day was lost.
In the life of Orissa Assembly such loss is not any new phenomenon, at least since Opposition got glimpses of how the hooch traders enjoy their nexus with power in the government of Naveen Patnaik.
The nexus exposed by fact finding commissions on 2001 tragedies notwithstanding, people died in 2005 as hooch mafia continued having their honeymoon with ministers. Opposition had to stonewall the Assembly proceedings completely for days together to press for removal of the protectors of the hooch operators from the cabinet.
And, because of Opposition activism, Rabi Narayan Nanda, closest associate of Naveen in the department of Water Resources and Kalandi Behera, then the Excise Minister, had to resign in March and April, 2006 respectively.
Yet the Government has not been able to convince the public that it does not protect the liquor mafia.
Hooch has hit the State in 2012 as it had in 2009.
Rural women, knowing how the male members of their families get ruined by hooch operators, have, in different parts of the State, raised agitations against opening of liquor shops in their respective localities at different times; but, instead of hearing them, the government has suppressed them through the police.
Loss of legislative days due to insistence of Opposition on hearing the government on repeated loss of human lives to spurious liquor, as such, is not new in Naveen Patnaik’s regime.
So, loss of the two days was just a repetition. In this phase, the excise minister in chair at the time when hooch hit its recent blow, has resigned.
Opposition eyes are now on the health minister as the administration has tried to link the deaths to spurious medicine.
In such change of circumstance, the Opposition was eager to hear the government, which the Speaker stymied.
However, on February 29 the Speaker allowed a discussion on excise policy, which the Opposition has exploited to demand resignation of the Chief Minister holding him responsible for all the hundred deaths caused by spurious liquor during his regime.
The government, of course, tried to shift the responsibility to the central government by saying that the tragedy could have been avoided had the central government cleared the State’s excise policy lying before it since 2009.
But how could that have kept the people away from death when ministers of the state are hand-in-glove with hooch operators is a matter that calls for answer the government has not been able to give.
And, as is noted, neither the Government nor the Opposition discussed the excise policy per se. So, in this respect the day is also lost.