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Monday, June 09, 2014  
Challenges multiplied after release of the Collector
"The issues raised by the Maoists in form of demands against release of the Collector are truly some issues that should have been addressed by the government much before. In fact, they are the duties of the government. The acceptance of the demands by the government suggest that the State grossly failed in protecting the genuine rights of the tribal and downtrodden communities. Is this what ultimately necessitated abduction of a high rank officer like the District Collector?"
Basudev Mahapatra
   

With the abduction episode closed after the Collector made a safe return to his residence, many controversies are coming in to trouble the Naveen Patnaik government in Orissa. When union Home Minister P Chidambaram reportedly expressed his dissatisfaction over what the government did to release its IAS officer, leaders of opposition parties in the State condemned Orissa government’s actions terming it a bad precedent that may have far reaching consequences not only in Orissa but also in the neighbouring states already troubled by the Maoist movement.

Getting the IAS Officer – one of India’s powered civil servants – back from the Maoist camp might have been seen as a victory by the government, mediators and, more particularly, the most powerful bureaucracy in the state, but the series of events since the abduction till the final release left in their trail many questions to be answered.

The first and foremost among all is why the government maintained to be at the receiving end throughout the talk process between the mediators and the government? Earlier, there have been a few such cases like abduction of a Police ASI in Keonjhar, many grass root level political leaders and villagers in Sundergarh, Koraput and Malkangiri districts. But in no earlier case government was so submissive, so surrendering as in the case of R Vineel Krishna and the Junior Engineer Pabitra Mohan Majhi. However, in the cases of Police Officer Umesh Marandi and, also, in the recent case of Pabitra Mohan Majhi, the state government played with the tribal card against the Maoists. But the abduction of the collector became a thorn in the throat for the government and it had to accept almost all the terms dictated by the Maoists for the safe release of the IAS officer. What pressurised the government for this? Was it the growing strength of Maoists displayed through abduction of the head of district administration or the strong lobby of Bureaucrats who virtually enjoys the status of medieval nobility in India?

The later seems to be more logical for the Naveen Patnaik government because it is run by the bureaucrats than the elected representatives and the council of Ministers. Here again, People’s representatives and political leadership – two essential components of a democracy – were not taken into confidence. For a negotiation between the government and the Maoists who should represent the democratically elected government? Should it be the elected representatives and leaders from the public or the bureaucrats? Why representatives or leaders who have a better knowledge of people’s issues and the realities of the place in discussions were not included? It reminds of the statement made by veteran CPI leader Prof. Abani Baral who once said, ‘Bureaucracy has overpowered people and their representatives in Orissa during the rule of Naveen Patnaik’ which is completely against the spirit and the basic objectives of democracy.

The other important thing about the negotiation is that it went completely one sided with the Maoists dictating terms through the mediators and the Government of Orissa just accepting the most. While the Maoists demanded release of five persons put in different jails on charges of being involved in Maoist activities and also demanded to stop anti-Maoist operations, the government from its side didn’t pursue the demand of ‘No Violence’ by the Maoists. All fourteen demands were accepted by the Officers representing the government just to get their fraternity colleague freed by the abductors. During the process of mediation the government was exposed to be too weak against the bureaucratic lobby. In the end, the mediation set such a precedent that it would encourage the rebels to resort to the formula to get their demands fulfilled. Even the possibility of such abduction in future not only by the Maoists but even by mafias and hardcore criminals can’t be ruled out.

On the other hand, the demands made by the abductor Maoist rebels proved themselves to be the real welfare thinkers for the tribal and downtrodden communities and exposed the state and its elected government to be a no welfare body. Out of the fourteen demands almost all the demands, except a few like releasing cadres and sympathisers confined in different jails and to stop anti-Maoist operations, were for the welfare of the tribal communities and the other downtrodden communities living in remote forest villages and in the places of heavy mining and industrial activities. For example, the Maoists demanded extension of irrigation facilities to remote villages of Koraput and Rayagada districts. Paying compensation to the farmers living in areas cut-off by Balimela Reservoir and providing justice to the tribal people displaced by NALCO Project in Damanjodi are in the list of the demands made by the Maoists. All these demands placed by the Maoists are in fact the duties of the government that never desired to accomplish before they are dictated as terms against release of the abducted IAS officer.

In order to uphold the rights of tribal communities over the forest and forest land in the mineral rich zones, the Maoists demanded cancellation of mining lease and MoU with multinationals to which the state showed its inability without consent of the union government. But the government now promised to implement PESA, Forest Rights Act, Forest Conservation Act and Environment Protection Act in their true terms and spirit. Does this mean that the government has not yet implemented these acts even though these laws are there since long to protect the rights of tribal communities and other forest dwellers?

The issues raised by the Maoists in form of demands against release of the Collector and raised by the mediators during their discussion with the Orissa’s Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik are truly some issues that should have been addressed by the government much before. In fact, they are the duties of the government. The acceptance of the demands, sympathetically or under compulsion, by the Officers involved in the mediation and the Chief Minister’s positive response to the issues raised by the mediators suggest that the government grossly failed in protecting the genuine rights of the tribal and downtrodden communities. Is this what ultimately necessitated abduction of a high rank officer like the District Collector?

Now that the abduction episode is over, the impacts of the mediation and Orissa government’s stand throughout the process would become more a worry in future than the relief at the moment. The mediation that went completely one sided would now become an obvious reason for people to doubt, or underestimate, the power and potential of the State in maintaining law and order situation and ensuring safety to the ordinary man in the places of hostility. So the primary challenge before the State now is to win the confidence of people in the elected government and the administration. For this, the failures of the State in resolving the issues of common people must be looked at seriously and issue of people living at the grass root level be addressed sympathetically. Even though the challenge is enormous before the government at this time, there is hardly any other way to keep people away from looking at alternate options or join revolutionaries to protect their rights. The challenge is that the State must prove itself to be a welfare State than just a governing body.

 

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