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Condolence Controversy in Orissa Assembly

Should a non-political authority be placed as Speaker of the Assembly?

"As per many of the intellectuals of the state, the affairs in the Orissa assembly during last 2-3 sessions have hampered the dignity of a constitutional authority like Speaker of the house as there have been allegations that the chair behaved with a political bias. So, now many people including intellectuals and social activists of Orissa seek a revision of the constitution and advocate for placing a non-political authority as the speaker. In order to set principles of discipline on the floor and make the house behave lawfully and responsibly to the people of the country, senior judges from High Court and Supreme Court should be placed as speakers in the houses as the job requires adequate knowledge on the law of the land and constitutional provisions regarding the rights and liberty of people."

Basudev Mahapatra : November 20, 2009

The definition of democracy seems to have changed for the ruling party members in the house of Orissa Assembly as the speaker of the house is in clean denial mood to express a condolence for the farmers of the state who have committed suicide for the crop loss due to low rain, lack of irrigation facilities and attack by crop eating caterpillar that have invaded over thousands of hectares of paddy field. However, honourable speaker is more inclined to the precedent of the house than the unprecedented occurrence of a series of suicide by the farmers who would have voted for the ruling party members and placed them in power.

It seems that the common man has lost its importance in India, even though the constitution of India declares the common people as most powerful in the system and has declared the elected members in power and opposition as well, the constitutional authorities, the bureaucracy and the whole system of governance at provincial and national level as instruments to protect and uphold the rights and interests of the common man.

The house expressed its condolence for the leaders who passed away between the terms and for the Jawans who were allegedly killed by Maoists. The common man always appreciated the house for such condolence because the leaders served the state and people during their political career and the Jawans were guarding the nation, the state and the communities from Maoist aggression. Not only these two categories of people in public service, but all others who give their life while serving the nation and public must be condoled.

But, are people in public services only the responsibility of the houses that are declared the pillars of democracy? Are people who died in Maoist attack like the tribal youth killed for their alleged link with State Police, the common people who died along with police and Jawans in Maoist strikes not the ones who should also be included in the list of obituary references? In the past, the house has not included the victims of disasters like the super cyclone and other calamities like sun stroke, flood and drought, even though the state utterly failed to protect them from the disasters.

However, the victims of 1999 super cyclone in Orissa got an obituary reference in Madhya Pradesh Assembly (http://parliamentofindia.nic.in/jpi/MARCH2000/CHAP-13(SL).htm) but not in Orissa assembly where the members elected by the victims sat.

Members of the house citing at precedents to justify their argument of why the house shouldn’t express its condolence for the farmers who have committed suicide must understand that the series of suicide happened because of the government’s failure in extending irrigation facilities to most of the farmers and because of continuous negligence to the farmers and agriculture. And, this year the unwanted enemy of the farmers are the crop eating caterpillars.

Naveen Patnaik – a Chief Minister who has been adjudged the best of India for more than once by country’s influential media outlets – seems to have a deaf year and a blind eye to the plight of the farmers. May be, the government reports have been engineered to give the CM a different impression. Or, even though his rupees two per kilo rice couldn’t serve eliminating hunger in the state, Orissa CM Naveen Patnaik has perhaps taken it for granted that life of the people of Orissa is limited within 25 Kilo rice at 2 rupees per Kilo.

>>> Scroll down to read rest of the Story

 

So far, at least 25 farmers committed suicide to escape the loan burden as most parts of the state experienced an almost drought like situation and attack by a huge force of crop eating caterpillars that caused damage scaling over 30% of the crop this year, as the government admitted keeping silence on the scale of damage due to low rain or drought.

There have been movements across the state in reaction to the plight of the farmers that has forced over 25 peasants of the state to commit suicide. The toll would be more than the number traced by media only.

But, ironically, neither the CM Naveen Patnaik nor the Agriculture Minister nor the Revenue Minister has yet visited the places affected by drought and invaded by caterpillars. Even though crop loss has been admitted by the government, the state, particularly the western part where about a dozen farmers have already committed suicide, is yet to be declared drought affected.
The agriculture minister still believes that ‘there has been no cases of farmers’ suicide but, unfortunately, people who have committed suicide happen to be farmers’. However, Agriculture Minister’s riddle doesn’t help resolving the issues of farmers and the trend of suicide seems to be spreading into more parts.

In an open forum discussion organised by a local newspaper ‘Aromv’, Dharanidhara Patra of Sagarpali, father of the farmer Gaurahari Patra who committed suicide on October 4, 2009, said that his son was worried because of complete crop loss due to crop-eating caterpillar attack over his Six acres of land and, thus, committed suicide to get rid of the farm loan burdens.

Gaurahari took a loan of 11,000 Rupees from a sanctioned amount of 26,250 from the Co-operative bank. Even though his fields are just beside the largest reservoir of the state ‘Hirakud Dam Project’, a drop of water for irrigation is still a dream for the farmers of Sagarpali. So, like any other farmer of Sagarpali, Gaurahari expected a good harvest from the usual rain fed Karif cultivation. But his hopes shattered due to low rain fall followed by caterpillar attack for which he committed suicide apprehending troubles in feeding his family and, also, pressure from the bank for recovery of loan.

While the government in the State led by Naveen Pattnaik is high-sounding on its measures to support the farmers of the state, the story narrated by a Co-operative Society president of Lakhanpur is completely different from the government claims. ‘The amount sanctioned to the farmers as loans is just a figure for the government to quote but a dream for the farmers as the banks never release the amount. The banks only release the subsidy amount declared by the government and never release the rest even in case of distress due to crop loss. These became the reason of death of the farmer Angad Barik by committing suicide’, said Panda.

Angad wouldn’t commit suicide had there been a glimpse of hope for the summer cultivation using irrigation facility. Even though over 25000 people of Lakhanpur Block live on agriculture, government has taken no serious step to ensure irrigation to the fields adjacent to the Hirakud Dam. The irony is that, almost all the villages of Lakhanpur are habited by families who had lost their land for the largest Dam.

Some Lift Irrigation (LI) points would solve the problems of the farmers. But the project proposal is rotting under bureaucratic red tape. The plea behind non-execution of the proposal for LI points has been absence of electricity. It is worth mentioning here that Hirakud Dam, built over the land of these farmers, produces the major share of hydro electricity in the state.

‘As per the promises made by Naveen Pattnaik in 2000, the government chalked out a plan in 2003 to start a project of water reservoirs and renovation of canal irrigation system. But all plans ended abruptly in 2004’, said Panchanan Kanungo - the former Finance Minister, and a close aid of CM Naveen Patnaik at one point.

>>> Scroll down to read rest of the Story

 

The simmering discontent among the farmers, and common people as well, has been doubled with the house of representatives denied to express condolence for the farmers. There has been severe reaction in the civil society over the attitude of the government and the house as well for their colonial attitude towards the farmers in specific and the common man in general.

As per many of the intellectuals of the state, the affairs in the Orissa assembly during last 2-3 sessions have hampered the dignity of a constitutional authority like Speaker of the house as there have been allegations that the chair behaved with a political bias. So, now many people including intellectuals and social activists of Orissa seek a revision of the constitution and advocate for placing a non-political authority as the speaker. In order to set principles of discipline on the floor and make the house behave lawfully and responsibly to the people of the country, senior judges from High Court and Supreme Court should be placed as speakers in the houses as the job requires adequate knowledge on the law of the land and constitutional provisions regarding the rights and liberty of people.

Such a revision would not only uphold the dignity of houses that make different pillars of country’s democracy, but would also help protecting the rights and liberty of people and to work for the interest of common man and the nation.

 

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