Odisha's west turns Naveen Patnaik's Achilles heel

The lawyers’ agitation, demanding a permanent bench of the High Court in Western Odisha having the support of the Congress and BJP, has put Patnaik in a difficult position.

Published: 01st September 2013 11:07 AM  |   Last Updated: 01st September 2013 11:07 AM   |  A+A-

Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik is facing a tricky situation. The lawyers’ agitation, demanding a permanent bench of the High Court in Western Odisha having the support of the Congress and BJP, has forced the ruling Biju Janata Dal (BJD) in an unenviable position.

Though Patnaik was forced to support the demand and the BJD had to join the boycott of urban local body (ULB) polls in Western Odisha districts, the ruling party seems to have further lost ground in the area which had turned into a stronghold of the Congress after the 2009 elections.

The spontaneous bandh on August 26 in Western Odisha districts over the demand of a separate Koshala state seems to suggest that the tide is turning away from the BJD. Several senior leaders from the area maintained that the Koshala state demand does not have many followers in the area, but the successful bandh gave a hint on the public anger against the ruling party for ignoring the demand of the Western districts always, including a permanent bench of the High Court.

While Patnaik is facing a difficult time, Congress leaders are quoting the then law minister Veerappa Moily who had stated at Sambalpur last year that the Centre would consider the demand for setting up a permanent bench in Western Odisha, if the state government recommended. To the discomfiture of Patnaik, the state government has not recommended setting up of a HC bench in Western Odisha till now. Besides, it has also not helped Patnaik that the demand of High Court bench is coming up from South and North Odisha also. Lawyers in Berhampur and Balasore are up in arms against the state government over the issue.

The demand for High Court bench has resurrected several old issues. The High Court Bar Association struck work for a day against the demand while the members of the Bhubaneswar Bar Association stopped work demanding shifting of the High Court to the state capital, a very old demand.

The seriousness of the situation forced Patnaik to announce in the Assembly during the Monsoon Session that the state government would make the recommendation for the permanent bench of the High Court in consultation with constitutional experts. “The state government has been quite clear in its mind that we must have benches in Western and other parts of Odisha,” he said.

Referring to one of the demands of the agitating lawyers, the chief minister said that the state government would request the Pal Commission to submit report within 60 days. The state government had set up the Pal Commission to examine the issue based on Justice Jaswant Singh Commission report and make recommendations. The Pal Commission has been given extension till December 31, 2013. However, the lawyers have rejected the chief minister’s announcements and declared to intensify the agitation to the utter discomfiture of the government. “No court, no vote,” the lawyers announced after the meeting of their central action committee on Thursday giving rise to a constitutional crisis.

This is for the second time that the people of Western Odisha have united against the state government. When the state government signed an MoU for establishment of a major hydro power project at Sindol, the local people strongly opposed it and the government had to scrap the MoU.  Similar is the situation for BJD in the southern districts. The proposed bauxite mining atop Niyamgiri Hills is a major issue in Kalahandi and Rayagada districts. In all the 12 Gram Sabhas, the entire population went against the government’s decision. The unanimous verdict is a clear indication that tribals are not at all happy over the government’s decision.

With AICC vice-president Rahul Gandhi scheduled to visit Dongoria Kondh villages during his visit to the state after September 20, the Congress is trying to exploit the situation in its favour.

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