Subhas Chandra Pattanayak
Excise Minister A.U. Singhdeo hailing from Bolangir district has resigned. His district was earlier known for Kantabanji culture that stood for manufacturing and marketing of spurious medicines. Now as the Cuttack hooch killings are being shrewdly attributed to spurious liquor sold in medicine bottles, reflecting Kantabanji culture of his district, he has resigned. We will stick to the news that the deaths in Cuttack are caused by spurious liquor, as the victims had not taken any medicine under prescription; but had taken liquor that was made available in plenty in the environment of panchayat elections. It is more alarming that the air is thick with allegations that spurious liquor was being distributed in destinations in medicine bottles so that specific groups should take the supply to their possession ahead of the panchayat elections scheduled to commence on February 11.
The spurious liquor, be it or not in medicine bottles, has taken the toll of 33 persons with 67 critically affected fellows languishing in hospitals including the S.C.B. medical College Hospital, Cuttack, after consuming the same, when the ruling BJD is in mad anxiety to win the Panchayat polls at any cost.
The thirst for power has so much maddened the ruling party that its supremo Sri Naveen Patnaik has no qualms in degrading the dignity of chief-ministership in campaigning for panchayat seats, when his predecessors in the august office were not even campaigning in Assembly bi-elections.
And, who does not know that liquor is a massive medium for vote fetching in rural belt?
The BJD government is known for prosecuting innocent people to help private industries take over their lands and even for prosecuting media persons under sedition charges as and when its corrupt practices are exposed or feared to be exposed. But, makers and marketeers of spurious liquor are seldom prosecuted against and punished in Naveen’s regime even as opposers to liquor selling are prosecuted against by his government.
In different parts of Orissa, the rural women folk, victims of economic ruins as they are because of liquor addiction of their family males, have often demonstrated their protests against opening of liquor outlets in their respective localities. But instead of appreciating that, the government run by Naveen Patnaik has stood with the liquor traders and harassed the women on every occasion.
Whenever hooch has taken the toll of noticeable numbers of human life, Naveen has tried to escape by appointing a judicial commission of inquiry. The modus operandi is the same in appointment of every commission of inquiry into every hooch tragedy in the state during his regime as no action is seen to have been taken on the finding, if any, of any of these commissions.
Ever since Naveen has taken over the reign, it seems like hooch havoc has taken over Orissa.
When dozens of people succumbed to spurious liquor in the districts of Puri and Khurda in 2001, Naveen tried to protect his supporters by dragging the matter into a judicial probe, eventually to burry the probe report under the carpet of government privilege.
The hooch traders were so encouraged by the Puri episode that the CM’s home district Ganjam was seen more alluring to them. And, the State saw massive number of deaths of Ganjam dwellers due to hooch drinking repeatedly in 2006.
Manufacturers and marketeers of spurious liquor were not punished, but the government very strongly advocated in the Assembly for spread of liquor trade outlets to stop such deaths!
The official stand in favor of liquor trade was so very menacing and resolute that the ruling party members were encouraged to browbeat the Opposition in this matter. Many observers of the Assembly must be remembering that on 15 March 2006, Pratap Jena, the man under whose grip the area of current hooch havoc lies, had rained blows on Congress MLA Anup Sai as he was harping on Opposition demand for resignation of excise minister Kalandi Behera over the loss of human lives in Ganjam.
When the Opposition started exposing the Chief Minister, Behera had to resign on 25 April 2006 to save the skin of the CM.”I have resigned on moral ground” he had then said.
Now when people have died in Cuttack district, and the tragedy has exposed how the State is perishing under misrule, excise minister A.U.Singhdeo has resigned “on moral ground”.
Naveen is continuing to rule by using the resignations as masks of good administration.
As in 2006, a judicial inquiry commission was appointed by the chief minister, so also now a judicial commission is announced to probe into the hooch havoc.
It is sad that the farce that Naveen is making of judicial commissions of inquiry is not being interfered with by Judiciary.
There is no dearth of fellows with judicial experience to accept his offer to man the commissions, even though they also know that their exercises would remain barren excepting making contributions to instant skin saving of the chief minister. For an extra income, they come forward to act as de facto shock absorbers to help Naveen’s political car run smoothly on the roads of power. Otherwise, Justice P.K.Patra should not have accepted the appointment to probe into the Ganjam district hooch tragedy in 2006 when the same chief minister was deliberately sleeping over the report of the Mahendra Patnaik commission since 2005 that had investigated into the hooch tragedy in Puri and Khurda districts in 2001.
What was the outcome of Patra commission? Nil, one may say. No hooch killer has been punished on the basis of investigation by Patra and none of his recommendations – if there were any – has been officially honored by the government.
So, if again a judicial officer or a former judicial functionary agrees to act as commissioner of inquiry as has been announced by the CM, it cannot be said for certain that such a commission will not be another item of farce in the corridor of crime that hooch operators rule over.
if dignity of judicial inquiries into such felonies is to be preserved, our earnest view is that, the proposed judicial commission should make publication and implementation of the two preceding inquiry commissions’ reports a prerequisite to his/her acceptance of the government request.
Coming back to the issue, we want the proposed Commission to know that, with Naveen in power, the hooch operators, notwithstanding the judicial inquiry conducted by Justice Patra, had known that the climate was completely congenial to them.
So, their trade continued unrestraint despite the Patra Commission.
And, as was seen, the home district of A.U.Singdeo had emerged as a paradise to hooch operators.
In 2009, Bolangir became a graveyard of hooch victims, which in its entire pre and post independence history it never was.
The spurious liquor trade did not get stopped despite the deaths. It penetrated into different parts of western Orissa. The deaths due to spurious liquor in Rayagada in 2011 may be cited as just an instance.
So, the massive loss of life in Cuttack Sadar and Olatpur Police Station areas caused by hooch on and since 6th February 2012 is not a surprising or solitary mishap. It is a part of the continuous crime that the state has been reeling under in Naveen’s regime.
It would be proper for the proposed Judicial Commission of Inquiry to take a preview of the above mentioned phenomenon that make it clear that hooch operators have not stopped their illicit trade in Orissa despite judicial inquiries and the Naveen Patnaik government that has appointed the inquiry commissions as noted supra has not honored their reports. If these phenomenon are studied and the proposed commission is sure on the basis of such study that he/she can force the government to implement the recommendations of the Commission, then only such a judicial officer or personality should accept the responsibility. Otherwise it would remain barren as the two previous commission are.
During the regime of no other Chief Minister except Naveen Patnaik, Orissa has suffered so much so repeatedly under the hands of hooch operators.
The only other hooch tragedy that had shocked the State was the Cuttack tragedy perpetrated during the regime of Biju Patnaik, father of the present CM, that had killed more than 240 persons in 1992 at the summit of Biju’s continuous manner of ignoring the crimes.
No wonder, in ready reaction to so massive number of deaths, he had not seen the guilt with the hooch operator – who was known as a donor to his party – but had seen fault with the victims. “They are drunkards. They drink and die, who cares?” was what he had said.
It is interesting to note that, Belu, the prime accused in the Cuttack case of mass killing, is not punished for the killer hooch trade so far, although two decades have elapsed, such was the foundation of prosecution laid down against him in Biju’s regime!
He has been sentenced to life imprisonment for murder of a police informer and the sentence has been confirmed by Orissa High Court only in October 2011. But no punishment for the killer hooch trade is awarded to him so far.
Biju’s way of ignoring crime seems to be in vogue in his son’s regime.