Corona Quagmire// Mr. Chief Minister! Your Oppression Exceeds that of the British

Subhas Chandra Pattanayak

I have profusely praised Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik for the leadership he has given to prepare the State to ensure separate medical spaces for treatment of the Corona positive cases.

Yet, I am addressing this directly to him, as his obstinate disobedience to the Orissa Official Language Act, 1954 has pushed the people of Orissa deep into the Corona quagmire under circumstances of blatant ignorance in the matter of the deadly virus and how to deal with it. This Act mandates that Oriya shall be the language for all or any official work in Orissa. But all the guidance documents in this matter are in English, even though 93% of the population of Orissa do not read and understand this foreign language.

Keeping the people in ignorance has made the situations so serious that, yesterday the State Governor has amended the Epidemic Diseases Act,1897 by way of an Ordinance to make it severely rigorous for punishing the people of Orissa for contravention of guidelines/orders or regulations laid down to “fight” against Corona, when the largest population do not know ABC of any such codification/instructions. But there is no punishment to whosoever has kept the people in ignorance by contravening the Official Language Act. What a Law!

The Government is empowered to amend a law through Ordinance in extraordinarily urgent situation. Hence, the Ordinance is not illegal. But its purport is brutal. The extraordinarily urgent situation is created by not publishing details of the severity of the syndrome and the needed preparedness of the people to face the situation, as the people have been kept in dark about it by giving all the guidance in English, which 93% of our people do not know.

It has replaced Section 3 of the principal Act to make it oppress our people in the guise of controlling the spread of Corona. .

The replaced Section had said:

“Any person disobeying any regulation or order made under this Act shall be deemed to have committed an offence punishable under section 188 of the Indian Penal Code (45 of 1860).”

Section 188 of the Code defines the “offence” as “disobedience” to a lawfully promulgated order “if such disobedience causes or trends to cause danger to human life, health or safety.”

Under this provision, for this specific offence, the quantum of punishment is “imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to six months, or with fine which may extend to one thousand rupees, or with both.”

But the Ordinance has substituted this provision with the following:

Section 3. Whoever contravenes or disobeys any order or regulations made under this Act shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to two years or with fine which may extend up to ten thousand rupees or with both.”

Thus, when the British, in order to force people to discipline of treatment of an epidemic, had provided for imprisonment up to six months in the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897, our own government under Sri Naveen Patnaik has expanded the term of imprisonment to two years with enhancement of the quantum of fine from Rs.1000/- to Rs.10,000/- for no offence committed by innocent Oriyas in absence of any real knowledge on “orders” of the Government, the same being notified in English, a language which 93% of the people of Orissa do not know.

We have been demanding that all the aspects of Corona (COVID-19) and all the guidelines, notifications/orders of the Government, written only in English Language, be immediately translated into Oriya and published in the website ODIARE SHASANA (http://odia.odisha.gov.in/) for clear knowledge of the people of Orissa.

The purpose for which I had founded the Bhasha Andolan has succeeded to the extent of creation of a new era that has inspired every Oriya, even the semi-educated, in every corner of the State to gather and share data through his/her mobile phones.

Had the details of information/guidelines/ notifications/orders of the Government in matter of COVID-19 been posted in the website in Oriya language, through the users of mobile phone in their localities, all the people of Orissa might have educated themselves in the matter and no guidelines/notifications/orders of the Government would have been violated.

If any violation of government orders occurs, that is because of the fault with the government, not with the people.

Mr. Chief Minister! Even the Ordinance your government has promulgated, as noted above, is not placed before our people. It is in English.

The Ordinance with which you are equipped to punish our people with two years’ imprisonment and fine to the tune of Rs.10,000/- is in a language that our people do not know. It must be made available to every Oriya along with all the codifications/notification/norms and orders etc before the Ordinance is enforced.

Till then, please stop torturing our people for no fault of theirs.

Please translate through your machinery into Oriya language all the official instruments your government has codified/notified/promulgated in the matter of Corona and publish them immediately in the internet, particularly in the website I have mentioned above.

I cite your government’s latest guidance document on appropriate management of suspect/confirmed cases of COVID-19. It is dated the same day the Ordinance has been promulgated. But, even though the people have every right to monitor this guidance (as the body of the virus victim is ordered not to be delivered to the family), it is in English and they are unable to understand what this document says! The case is the same with all the other orders of your Government. Sad.

Mr. Chief Minister, without helping the people understand the virus, the management thereof by your government vis-à-vis their responsibilities and duties, the continuous police atrocities and promulgation of this Ordinance strongly suggests that yours is an oppression that exceeds that of the British.

Please keep the Ordinance in abeyance till all your orders are available in Oriya and the people get educated first on what should be their conduct to conduct the Corona catastrophe.

Return of the British Raj more severely under the cover of Corona is the last thing for us to tolerate, Mr. Chief Minister. Stay as our leader, not a tormentor.