Subhas Chandra Pattanayak
Excise Minister Kalandi Behera is responsible for the latest hooch tragedy that has extinguished at least 31 human lives in Ganjam, feels the Opposition. It is adamant on his removal. The House toiled hard but failed on March 24 to proceed as the Opposition refused to soften its stance.
As I had exposed in these pages
that Behera was determined to open liquor counters in every nook and corner of Orissa.
Ever since the present Chief Minister has come to power, the State has seen continuous rise in number of wine shops. It had waxed to 2209 in 2004 when Behera wanted the figure to exceed 4000 in 2005. He had decided to issue license for further 1853 shops, including 1000 IMFL ‘ON’ shops, 503 ‘OFF’ shops, 188 Beer parlors and 162 Country Liquor shops over and above liquor-vending rights granted to every ‘Motel’ and ‘Dhaba’ on the roadside through out the State.
It was alarming.
Sans any Excise Policy of regular nature, the department was being driven by Behera under a temporary Notification bearing No. I Ex-520/2004/ 1410 /Ex., dated 28.02.05.
It was nothing but an executive order amenable to change any time at any stage by the apex manipulators having control over the department. There was no provision for accountability even under this so-called ‘Policy’, which was only yearly in import. It was formulated, framed and enforced behind back of Legislature.
A cursory look at it revealed that the Government had no regards even for this Policy of their own. I quoted in the linked write-up only three of its provisions:
“New IMFL ‘ON’ shops/ Beer parlor (ON) may be opened according to the need”. (Clause VIII-b);
“New IMFL ‘Off’ shops may be opened wherever conditions so demand”. (Clause XVI);
“New Beer Parlors may be opened wherever the condition so demands” (Clause VIII-h).
It was clear from the fore going three quoted provisions that opening of ON shops of IMFL or Beer would depend upon the “need” or “demand” of the people of the concerned locality.
I had insisted that Naveen Patnaik and his Excise Minister should place before the public the details of the “need” and/or “demand” they had had to satisfy in issuing further 1853 licenses.
I was sure; there was no demand from the people for such shops. Neither their “need” was assessed. On the other hand, issuance of license was dependant on recommendation based on socio-legal and behavioral mind-set of the people in whose area the ON shops were to open. The so-called Policy under Clause XVI had stipulated, “While recommending the proposals for grant of license for ON shops, the locality, the habit of the people living, sensitivity to law and order situation etc. should be taken care of”. There was no such recommendation from any authority anywhere.
Had the Government taken into consideration these aspects before deciding the number of licenses to open around 2000 more ON shops and to grant right to every roadside Motel and Dhaba to vend liquor? No, never.
Neither in the media nor in politics had any body raised these issues.
But confronted with these issues, the Government had to relent. In November 2005, the Chief Minister had to use his prerogatives to stop distribution of licenses his minister had so eagerly finalized. We had no reluctance in praising Naveen Patnaik as he rectified the wrong his colleague was going to perform. And, we alone had done that.
Now the Opposition has caught Kalindi Behera for what he has done thereafter.
What has happened in all the districts has not yet caught attention. But death of 31 persons after consuming illicit liquor in Ganjam district has raised the curtain, though partially, exposing how Behera has been protecting the departmental stooges of the liquor mafia.
After the Chief Minister used his prerogative to withhold licenses, Excise officers close to the Minister heightened their help to the liquor underworld. Perhaps the Collector of Ganjam was more vigilant. He apprised the Excise Commissioner of how certain members of Excise staff were helping hooch operators and wanted their transfer from the district so that a hooch tragedy could be avoided. The Commissioner could not act as the Minister came to the rescue of the miscreants. The Opposition does not say this much only. According to its information, having failed to get the erring officers transferred through the Commissioner, the Collector placed his observations before the Chief Minister. The later Okayed the suggestions of the Collector and instructed Behera to do the needful. But Behera sloughed that over.
Hence, in the eyes of the Opposition, Behera is culprit number one. How can the House tolerate his incumbency without running away from its responsibility? How else to make the Government accountable?