Subhas Chandra Pattanayak
Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik has declared this afternoon that every Sarpanch shall be vested with the powers of the District Collector in the context of COVID-19, for which necessary law would be framed by tomorrow.
If the Law is yet to have a shape, what was the necessity of this announcement today?
In fact, after the migrant workers from Orissa, UP and Bihar repeatedly revolted in the Prime Minister’s home-State Gujarat against lockdown, the central government that had ignored our advice, took a decision to allow them passage to their respective home-States and the Cabinet Secretary wrote an urgent letter to Chief Secretary of Orissa to ensure “safety, shelter and food security” to all the migrant workers that reach the relief camps in their respective home areas, besides the stranded ones.
Issued on 15th April, the Central Government directive clearly states, “Each relief camp should be under the charge of a senior officer.”
Senior Officers in Orissa are so powerful in this regime that, they could not have been compelled to stay in a Panchayat to manage the relief camp there, where possible victims of the COVID-19 virus are to rest for 14 days or more.
Therefore, the fertile idea came to the mind of the CM or whosoever guides him, that if the local Sarpanch is made equal with the District Collector, he/she can be put in charge of the Camp. And thus has come the CM’s announcement.
The emphasis of the central government is on the word “senior officer” is significant.
There are many important legal instruments which would be required to be administered for proper management the camp, including care of the women and girls quarantined there. Instant interpretation of official guidelines including COVID-19 Regulations 2020, Master Circular on Social Distancing, Master Circular on Management of Health Care Facilities and Quarantine, Isolation and Treatment; Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897 and its Odisha amendment, 2020 etc would be necessary in course of management of the Camp.
As the Chief Minister himself is controlled by bureaucracy, putting senior bureaucrats in control of rural camps is not easy on his part. Therefore, only available option for him is to put the Sarpanches in charge of the camp with powers of the District Collector.
The Silent Black Flag Campaign (Bhasha Andolan, Orissa) that reached the 1464th day today demanding inviolable use of Oriya as the official language, has been insisting upon availability of all Corona related guidelines / regulations etc in Oriya instead of English. The Chief Minister has paid no heed. People, including the massive majority of the Sarpanches do not know English in which language all these Corona circulars and regulations are made and promulgated.
Under such circumstances, declaring the Sarpanches as District Collectors in context of Corona could be nothing but wordy acrobatics to help bureaucrats stay in their comfort zones even when the people need them in the rural areas to be guided by them.