Actions against Samaja employees are illegal in view of a verdict of Orissa High Court

Subhas Chandra Pattanayak

A verdict of the High Court of Orissa in a case involving Servants of the People Society (SoPS) makes it clear that the occupiers of the Samaja had no de jure legitimacy to put working journalists and non-journalist employees of the premier news daily to loss of job and enforced idleness.

A pack of miscreants posing as people’s servants has hijacked the SoPS of which Pt. Gopabandhu Das was the vice-president at the time of his death and has illegally occupied his newspaper, The Samaja; and are playing havoc with the leaders of the employees and looting its revenue.

As allegations against some of its life members and functionaries over the misuse and loot of the Samaja mounted beyond suppression, the SoPS was forced to appoint a high power enquiry committee on 10 March 2010 under chairmanship of its trustee Sri Arijit Pasayat, a former judge of the Supreme Court of India, to probe into the allegations received up to 05 July 2010.

Pasayat Committee found that most of the allegations were based on facts and documents. It did not forget to report that the men in charge of the Samaja at that time had tried to obstruct his investigation.

“We note with a heavy heart that right from the beginning there appeared to be an effort to create hurdles so that the Committee does not arrive at the truth”, the committee noted at the beginning of the report.

To the Committee, the allegations were not untrue; but it did not dare to name who had tried to obstruct the enquiry.

The Committee further noted,

“It was brought to our notice that one life member even went to the extent of questioning the authority of the Committee to seek certain information about some of the employees. We were shocked to learn that the said life member without any authority to do so (at a critical time i.e. when huge quantity of newsprint was to be purchased) permitted Sri Hemant Kumar Sahu, against whom allegations were there which were being enquired into by the Committee, to join. This was highly objectionable as Sri H.K.Sahu was asked by the Board of management to go on leave till completion of enquiry. It was known to the concerned Life Member that the report was to be given on 5th February 2011. Therefore, the allegation of many employees that the concerned Life Member was openly supporting and trying to protect Sri Sahu appears to be genuine”.

The Committee should have named this Life Member; but sadly it did not dare to do that, even though, as such, in view of discernible facts, the Committee was unable to reject the allegations.

Why it did not dare to name the miscreant who had tried to obstruct the inquiry? Justice Pasayat should come forward with the answer, specifically as he is one of the Trustees of SoPS.

Presently, as we see, the Samaja is being run by unauthorized persons. One of them is Niranjan Rath. He was of course enquired into by Justice Pasayat committee.

“A Life Member is mandated to maintain pure personal life, but if any member is of objectionable character and reputation, it is against the interest of the Society (Servants of the People Society) and therefore, his Life Membership has to be terminated” the committee had opined in his case.

Manubhai fled

Manubhai Patel was the president of SoPS as well as the Chairman of the Board of management of the Samaja when rampart misappropriation of the Samaja funds and corrupt practices of fellows in office of the newspaper was reported necessitating the enquiry.

Patel also figured in a writ petition WP (CRL) No.408/2011 in which the Orissa High Court issued a direction to DGP Orissa to enquire into criminal offenses alleged against him.

In General Body meeting on 25.4.2011, SoPS took strong decisions against misappropriations of Samaja funds and misconduct and tried to cleanse its leadership by removing the miscreants from office and by subjecting them to exemplary disciplinary proceedings.

The resolutions and minutes of the GB were suppressed and Manubhai fled, leaving the office of the President de facto vacant.

The extraordinary GB attended by all the members of SoPS on June 9, 2011, under Agenda item No. 5, recorded, “a vacuum and a situation of uncertainty had been created”.

New President and EC

In the circumstances, the GB elected Sri Onkar Chand as President and six other members including K. C. Tripathy and Niranjan Rath of Orissa as members of the Executive Council.

Chand appointed Tripathy as Vice-President and subsequently, for smooth management of the Society, delegated all his powers to him and Sri Tripathy was also appointed as the Member-in-charge of the Samaja and Orissa Branch.

SoPS decided to implement the Pasayat Committee report. As a preliminary action taken on this report, Niranjan Rath, who was tactfully shunted out of the Samaja headquarters by Manubhai Patel by his order dated 4.3.2011, was asked to hand over charges of GIMSAR, a health point run with the Samaja funds in the name of Gopabandhu Das, with immediate effect, as under him, that institute had become a hub of criminal activities.

He was removed from membership of the society with immediate effect on 27.6.2012 because of “forgery, misappropriation, acquisition of portfolio by fraudulent manner”.

Lady used as sexual arsenal

Earlier, while functioning as the media manager, he had vitiated the moral environment of the Samaja with shameless sexual involvement with a lady junior assistant in the media management section. The PBAX of the Samaja was often getting jammed because of bawdry between the two. On being informed of this, Braja Bhai, then the General Manager, had wanted their bawdry recorded and that was done. The original tape of their obscene talks was given to Justice Arijit Pasayat Committee. The Committee, in its report said, “The original tape is sent along with our report. Since it involves personal reputation and character of a person, we thought it proper to request the Board to hear the tape itself, consider the explanation furnished by Sri Niranjan Rath and take appropriate action”. When action on the tape recorded bawdry was about to be taken, Rath and his gang seized the SoPS office by way of a coup executed through an illegal election and he became an executive member of the organization. The lady got an unprecedented lift to the post of a sub-editor.

A senior employee of the Samaja has told on camera that Niranjan intimidates anybody who goes against him with threats to use this lady as an arsenal of sex allegation.

Illegal election challenged

However, the illegal election was challenged by Sri K.C.Tripathy in the appropriate civil court at Cuttack. When the case was considered a fit case for adjudication, the court declined to grant the interim relief as both the misc case and the main suit were seeking the same relief and therefore grant of the interim relief sought for could have given the relief sought for in the main suit. So, instead of granting the relief in the misc case, the suit was set for expeditious disposal, without restraining the illegal occupiers from handling the Samaja. Tripathy preferred an appeal before the District Judge, Cuttack, as unless put under leash, the illegal occupiers of the Samaja were suspected to further damage the institute.

“Tripathy has a full proof case”

The District Judge observed that Tripathy had “a full proof case”. In the opinion of the District Judge, the newly elected Executive Council with the President appears to have prima facie no authority to continue as the executive council of the SoPS. He therefore ordered,

“during pendency of the suit the Executive Council, which is functioning now, shall not take any policy decision and also any decision having financial implications except meeting day to day expenditure of the SoPS and its organizations without the leave of the Court and also the prior approval of the General Body of the SoPS, and the petitioner-appellant (K.C.Tripathy) shall be allowed to function as a member of the General Body of the SoPS and the suit shall be disposed of within two months hence”.

The correctness of this judgment of the District Judge has been confirmed in a subsequent case before the Orissa High Court.

Confirmation of the correctness of the District Judge order in the High Court, as far as the election claimed by Patel is concerned, has made one thing very unambiguously clear. And, that is, the newly elected Executive Council with Patel as the President appears to have prima facie no authority to continue as the executive council of the SoPS.

But the illegal occupiers of the Samaja blatantly violated the orders of the District Judge and enhanced their activities having financial implications.

They have illegally thwarted eminent employees into enforced idleness, stoppage of their entries to workplaces, stage-managed disciplinary proceedings, dismissals and atrophy of their provident fund accounts.

But as the District Judge has observed and the High Court has agreed, the Patel fraction has no sanction of the constitution of the SoPS to occupy its offices in the relevant time and hence, their actions against the employees have de jure no legitimacy.

On this premises, the labour law machinery should wake up to protect the workers from victimization. But it does not dare to wake up as the illegal occupiers of the Samaja have tamed the chief minister through dubious means.

It is worth waiting to watch how the law acts vis-a-vis blackmailing power of the of the illegal occupiers of the Samaja.

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