Subhas Chandra Pattanayak
After Ms. Pramila Mallik, Minister for Women and Child Development was dragged into debate over allegation that she had demanded and received bribe in advance for putting the employees of the office of State Women Commission (SWC) in regular scale of salary and after the Speaker directed the Minister to place her version in the House the next day and the government to find out and report if the allegation was true, the Government has all on a sudden used its advantage of majority in the House to end the session of Orissa Legislative Assembly eight days ahead of its schedule. The session was scheduled to continue till 31st December. And the House was to transact so much business that important Bills had been adopted through guillotine to avoid possible paucity of time. Hence, the government stand to abruptly terminate the session for want of business looks flimsy.
The SWC employees, comprising 36 persons in all categories, are not getting their salaries in regular rates for which they have been making their representations for years. Ms. Mallik being their Minister had allegedly demanded a bribe worth Rs.5 lakhs to allow regular pay scales to them. The poor employees were even made to cough up Rs. 50,000/- in advance. This is how a section of the media has carried the version of the concerned employees.
On 19th December, Congress member Lalatendu Bidyadhar Mohapatra had made a special mention of this exposure during the zero hour driving the House into frenzy.
As the Opposition insisted that the Chief Minister be made to make a statement, the Speaker had observed that as Rules permit the Government 48 hours to respond to the issue raised through special mentions, they should wait till then.
Dwelling on the subject through a point of order Opposition Chief Whip Satyabhusan Sahoo wanted to know from the CM as to what steps he has taken after his cabinet colleague was exposed in mainstream media over such unprecedented ugly instance of seeking and taking bribe from a segment of government employees to fit them into regular scale of pay.
As the CM did not come forward with any answer, gnawing pandemonium hurled down adjournment after adjournments till the Speaker, accepting Opposition views that the matter was too serious to be ignored, issued directions to the Government in the afternoon to enquire into the matter immediately.
Ms. Mallik in a statement told the House on 20th December that the allegation raised against her was blatantly baseless. She has neither demanded any bribe nor has ever taken a part thereof in advance to allow fitment of the SWC employees into regular scale of pay she maintained.
Before her statement was perused, the Vedanta University Bill was taken up. Deputy Leader of Opposition attacked it as a controversial Bill spangled entirely with defects deliberately sculptured on its body to defeat State interest and coined voluminously in order to dissuade proper application of probing mind on its mischiefs within a short time and demanded that consideration on the Bill be deferred to allow Lawmakers enough time to study it in-depth before proceeding with the business it warrants. Lawmakers across party lines were almost of the same opinion that remained unchanged even in respect to the other Bill coined on Sri University. Sensing the attitude of the House, both the Bills were deferred. But before the House was on its normal track, a treasury bench member Arun Sahu, known as a member of CM’s inner circle, suggested that the two Bills being deferred, the House should end the session, as there was no business left. Congress heavyweight Nalini Mohanty read in it a conspiracy to stop Opposition induced resolutions and other legitimate businesses. But a motion by the Government Chief Whip to end the session was adopted by voice vote and the Speaker went ahead to close the session.
It may be that the present Assembly will have no new session. Its normal life is at the fag ends. So the House will have no opportunity to appropriately finish the issues it had brought into Assembly records including the bribe issue and breach of privilege allegations against the CM, Navin Patnaik and Cooperation Minister Ms. Surama Padhi.
Deputy Leader of Opposition Mr. Narasingha Mishra had based his privilege notice against Mr. Patnaik on the latter’s willful sleeping over the Commission of Inquiry Report on Ganjam hooch tragedy when the privilege notice served by Shambhu Nayak and Padmalochan Panda against Ms. Padhi was based on her discernible attempt to mislead the House in the massive scam spotted in Bhubaneswar Urban House Building Cooperative Society. The Speaker had assured to do the needful after examination of the notices at his end. But now, with the abrupt termination of the session, most probably that would not happen and the Members will not be able to take stock of the breach of privilege in both these cases.
On the other hand, the ugly offence Ms. Mallik has allegedly committed could not be taken stock of as appropriately as it should have been had the House not ended its session so suddenly. She, in her statement, has given such information that gives glimpses of environment congenial to corruption that exists in the office of the Minister.
The day the matter was raised in the House, she had told the media that she has instructed the Department to find out if anybody has used her name in collection of bribe. This means, she does not entirely rule out the possibility of bribe money collection from the concerned employees.
On the other hand, member Damodar Raut of Basanti Bara fame, who is also the Secretary General of BJD, in expressing solidarity with Ms. Mallik had immediately tried to intimidate the affected employees apparently in a bid to drag them into silence over the bribe allegation. He had used the Etv channel to transmit the alarming message to them that if they confirm to have given bribe worth Rs. 50,000/- to Ms. Mallik in advance against her demand for Rs.5 lakhs, they must first be booked for giving bribe.
Modus operandi of Mr. Raut in trying to intimidate the employees into silence, if designed to protect Ms. Mallik, was perhaps present in a different form in crafting abrupt closure of the session after she presented her statement in the House.
Ms. Mallik’s statement was full of so many gaps that through them anybody can find how delay was deliberate in processing the proposal for fitment of the employees into regular scale of pay.
As for example, she has said that the proposal to put 33 employees of SWC in regular scale of pay was received from the SWC by her department on 08 November 2006. No action was taken on that. The SWC repeated the proposal after more than seven months adding three more names to the previous list of 33 employees and her office received the same on 17 May 2007. She has told that now orders are issued for their fitment in regular scales of pay. She has not told the date of the issued order.
The House in order to monitor the matter arising out of bribe charge leveled by the employees of SWC against the Minister could have tried to know the real reason of such inordinate delay in disposal of the concerned file had the Assembly session not abruptly died
How else than designed the phenomenon could be apprehended?