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Mainstream, VOL LVIII No 51, New Delhi, December 5, 2020

Standing up for integrity in public life - Naveen Patnaik Expels Party MLA for ’anti People’ Activity | S N Sahu

Saturday 5 December 2020

by S N Sahu *

The momentous decision taken by the President of Biju Janata Dal (BJD) and Chief Minister of Odisha on 29th November 2020 in removing a sitting BJD MLA Shri Pradeep Panigrahi from the primary membership of the party on account of his anti-people activities constitutes a rare and exceptional event in the politics and public life not just of  Odisha but of the whole of India. It stands in sharp contrast to the numerous examples of leaders and members of political parties getting expelled from political formations for indulging in anti-party activities. That decision of Shri Patnaik to throw a serving BJD MLA from his party by stating that his conduct amounted to anti people activities offers his novel and trend setting step for giving primacy to people and not his party in dealing with an errant MLA whose actions went against the people who are the real masters constituting the source of all power and sovereignty. It is noteworthy that Shri Patnaik while implementing the idea of 5Ts (Technology, Transparency, Timely completion, Team Spirit and Transformation) in 2019 after he won the Assembly elections for the record fifth time, for effective and citizen-centric governance had underlined the point that people are the real masters and Government officials and MLAs and MPs are their servants. His decision, therefore, to expel a sitting MLA of his party from its primary membership on the basic premise that he was indulging in anti people activities is of profound significance privileging people over everything else.

Such an unprecedented decision taken by him has hardly received deeper analysis at the political, academic and even national level except the routine reportage of it with bare news value. After getting thrown out of BJD as its primary member Shri Panigrahi has been arrested by the CID and Crime Branch of Odisha police in Bhubaneswar on 3rd December 2020. The grounds of his arrest are that he deceived young men and women of his constituency by promising them jobs in Tata company in lieu of money collected from them in a deceitful manner on behalf of one Akash Pathak who falsely posed himself as Managing Director of Tata motors. Shri Panigrahi is, thus, slapped with charges relating to impersonation, cheating, forgery, criminal conspiracy and other cyber offences which are alleged to have been committed by Shri Pathak as well.

 Shri Panigrahi has the distinction of serving as a BJD MLA for three terms representing Gopalpur Assembly constituency of Ganjam district where the Hinjili constituency of the Chief Minister is located. Shri Panigrahi was elected as an MLA on a BJD ticket in 2009, 2014 and 2019 and has a record of functioning as a Minister in the cabinet of Shri Patnaik during 2014 and 2017. He was also who someone who had the singular honour of being the representative of Chief Minister in his MLA constituency of Hinjili in 2004.

Anti People activities During Pandemic

But what triggered Shri Patnaik to take a decision to expel Shri Panigrahi for his anti people activities? The immediate cause can be traced to the shocking revelation made by the State Government’s Vigilance wing that Shri Panigrahi along with one senior State Government official of Indian Forest Service, Abhaya Kant Pathak had used a chartered flight on six occasions on different dates during March to August to travel from Bhubaneswar to Pune, Patna, Mumbai and Delhi. It was all the more appalling that the concerned Forest official Shri Pathak was found possessing millions of rupees disproportionate to his known sources of income. For the chartered flight used by MLA Shri Panigrahi , Shri Pathak and several members of their families and others a huge sum amounting to millions rupees were paid. They also stayed in expensive five star hotels such as Taj Mahal, Mumbai and Taj Palace, New Delhi and more than a crore of rupees were spent for that purpose. Such profligate ways of living by Shri Panigrahi and his companions squandering millions of rupees was in callous disregard of the loss of life and livelihood of people on account of the severity of the COVID pandemic in Ganjam district where MLA Shri Panigrahi’s Gopalpur constituency is located. His extravagant life style involving reckless expenditure was mocking at people when migrants were walking hundreds of kilometers without food, money and transport and Ganjam district had emerged as a hot spot and maximum positive COVID cases and casualties were being registered on a day to day basis. The alarming and desperate situation in the district was evidenced by round the clock fighting of COVID warriors including Sarpanches, Anganwadi workers and women of self help groups to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus and save life. The unfortunate passing away of some of the warriors and rising COVID deaths had compounded the problem. The steps taken on a priority and war footing basis by the Government to set up COVID hospitals, provide hospital beds and ICU ventilators to patients, treat infected people and save lives commanded attention and service of all concerned, more so of the people’s representatives to deal with the grave pandemic putting at stake health, human and economic security. Shri Pradeep Panigrahi who preferred to fly in a chartered plane and stay in luxurious hotels was not found among the people in their times of trials and tribulations attributed to COVID pandemic which flattened normal human life and caused immense misery to people.

Besides, as mentioned earlier, Shri Panigrahi, , in partnership with Shri Akash Pathak, son of Abhaya Pathak, resorted to objectionable cheating activities making him culpable for serious criminal charges. He took large sums of money from young men and women of Ganjam district by falsely promising that Akash as Managing Director of Tata Motors would give them jobs in Tata company. A clarification issued by Tata motors made it clear that Akash was never the MD of their company and they registered a police complaint in Odisha in September 2020 that Tata company was being used to cheat people.

Shri Pradeep Panigrahi and his family questioned the charge of anti people activity and challenged it by saying that he never engaged himself in any activity causing harm to people and openly asserted that if proven he would quit politics.

The Biju Janata Dal stated that in the grim and grave situation caused by COVID pandemic it was expected of peoples representatives to be with people, stand by them and show his commitment and compassion with the suffering constituents. The party maintained with anguish that Pradeep Panigrahy instead of remaining with people during those hard and troubled times was flying in chartered plane , staying in the best of expensive five star hotels, cheating people and taking bribe from them by falsely  assuring that they would get jobs. The BJD dubbed such activities as serious breach of trust of people on whose mandate he was elected as their MLA to represent them in the Assembly and serve them. Therefore, the party held that he indulged in anti-people activities and no MLA earlier has been accused of such charges in Odisha.

Deposits of huge amount in Bank from dubious people 

On 3rd December 2020, the day Shri Panigrahi was arrested, the BJD pointed out that Shri Pradeep Panigrahi showed Rs 10 lakh as his income in his Income Tax return in 2019. At the same time it brought to public knowledge that during the short span of last four months  Rs 2,48,00,000 ( Rs 2.48 Crore) have been deposited, by private people connected with various activities including liquor trade and illegal sand business in Shri Panigrahi’s ICICI Bank Account (having ID - 203601501948) in Courtpeta of Berhampur city of Ganjam district, Odisha.

The BJD recalled Shri Panigahi’s assertion that he had not done any anti-people activity and if proven he would quit politics. The BJD, therefore, sharply asked "If such money laundering criminality by Panigrahi is not anti-people, what else is.?" Stating that these financial transactions are proof of Shri Panigrahi’s criminality and how he deceived people of Ganjam and gained crores of illegal money," it asked him to "walk the talk and resign" as MLA.

Violation of MLA Oath 

The expulsion of Shri Panigrahi from the BJD on grounds of anti party activity is compatible with the judicial pronouncements on breach of oath taken by an MLA and the observations of the Second Report of the Committee to Inquire Into Misconduct of Members of Lok Sabha and submitted to the Speaker of the Lok Sabha on 31st March 2008.

The judicial pronouncement on breach of oath taken by an MLA constitutes an important guide to determine the actions of Shri Pradeep Panigrahi whose extravagant life and alleged criminal activities which include cheating and violation of financial integrity are  in conflict with people and public interest. The honourable High Court of Rajasthan in Kashi Purohit vs The State Of Rajasthan adjudicated on an issue involving the violation of oath taken by an MLA and the prayer of the petitioner to the effect that the concerned he should be disqualified as an MLA. While rejecting the prayer for disqualification the High Court observed that an MLA should act as per oath taken by him and its breach is a political issue and should be dealt with at a political level. To further elaborate the matter it is important to know the text of oath taken by an MLA as per the third schedule of the Constitution. It is as follows:

“I, A.B., having been elected (or nominated) a member of the Legislative Assembly (or Legislative Council), do swear in the name of God that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the Constitution of India as by law established, that I will uphold the sovereignty and integrity of India and that I will faithfully discharge the duty upon which I am about to enter. "

The bare text of it shows that an MLA takes oath owing allegiance to the Constitution and to faithfully discharge the duty as an elected representative. Obviously the duty of the legislator is serve people and represent them and their grievances, aspirations and anxieties in the concerned Assembly. Shri Panigrahi as an MLA and representative of people did not stand by them during COVID pandemic and was leading an extravagant life by recklessly spending huge amount of money for his stay in pricey five star hotels. He was defrauding people by taking away their money and falsely promising jobs in Tata Company. All these are incompatible with the oath he took to owe allegiance to the Constitution and faithfully discharge duty towards people.

The honourable High Court of Rajasthan in the aforementioned case referred to the text of oath and made observations which assume relevance in understanding the anti-party activities of Shri Pangrahi. The Court said "He(MLA) by his conduct must inspire equal confidence and faith in the mind of the people cutting across caste and religion since he represents everyone in his constituency. This is the underlying philosophy and sanctity of the oath". By applying this yardstick one can ask if Pradeep Panigrahi’s conduct inspired confidence and faith in the mind of the people he represented as an MLA? The answer would be certainly negative. Therefore, it would be reasonably said at the cost of repetition that he violated the oath he took as an MLA because he by his conduct could not inspire equal confidence and faith in the mind of the people cutting across caste and religion. The High Court further observed that "Breach of oath may thus be a betrayal of faith" and "This is essentially a political question, which needs to be answered in the political arena". The breach of oath committed by Shri Panigrahi has been dealt with at a political level by Shri Naveen Patnaik as the President of BJD and because Shri Panigrahi by his conduct could not inspire equal confidence and faith in the mind of the people he was expelled from the party on the ground of committing anti people activities.

Conduct of Legislators and People 

The Presiding Officers’ Conference held in New Delhi in October, 1996 deliberated upon the matter of conduct of members and adopted the following Resolution:— “Conduct of the legislators inside and outside the House has come to be considered as a matter of very serious concern by the people in general. This has very grave implications for the dignity of the Legislatures and the future of the democracy..."

Lok Sabha Committee Report -Misconduct by Legislators and Anti People Activity 

Apart from contextualising and appreciating the expulsion of Shri Panigrahi for his anti-people activity by invoking the insights from judicial pronouncements and resolution of Presiding Officer’s Conference it is important to refer to the observations of the "Second Report of the Committee to Inquire Into Misconduct of Members of Lok Sabha" and submitted to the Speaker of the Lok Sabha on 31st March 2008. In that report the Committee, chaired by V. Kishore Chandra S. Deo, observed, " ...the elected representatives of the people should echo vox populi...Needless to say that legislators have, therefore, the onerous responsibility of measuring up to the peoples’ expectations". It also noted that legislators should abide by the general ethical principles, which are not based on any provisions in Rules/Directions/Conventions and utilise their position to advance the general well-being of the people. It also added that "While a member indulging in misconduct tarnishes his image as well as his colleagues, the biggest hit is taken by the institution of Parliament(legislature) and the political party of the member concerned".

The Transparency International has observed that citizens expect legislators and parliamentarians to serve out of conviction and a commitment to the public good, rather than for aspirations of personal power and the pursuit of private profit.

Biju Patnaik’s Legacy 

Shri Panigrahi being a BJD MLA should have been mindful of the life and legacy of Biju Patnaik whose vision endures and is the sheet anchor of BJD. Shri Pradeep Panigrahi who took the name of Biju Patnaik while defending himself should have been mindful of the fact that Shri Patnaik as Chief Minister of Odisha and even otherwise while visiting Delhi used to stay either in Odisha Bhavan or in his own house and not in any five-star hotel. Bijubabu politely declined to accept Rs. 500 crores from the Indonesian Government for the services rendered to that country and set an example of keeping himself above monetary motives . Even his own critics have acknowledged that he lost monetarily and materially while keeping himself engaged in politics, public life and larger cause of service and nation-building. Shri Panigrahi was proving himself unworthy of that vision of Biju Patnaik.

Taking into account the aforementioned insights and judicial pronouncements, bipartisan parliamentary reports, resolution of Presiding Officers conference and observation of Transparency International, one finds ethics, law and reasonableness and the larger legislative propriety in the decision to expel Shri Panigrahi for anti-people activities.

(Author: S N Sahu served as Officer on Special Duty and Press Secretary to President of India late Shri K R Narayanan)

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