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Row in Orissa over IAS officer's suspension
Giridhar Gopal in Bhubaneswar | April 06, 2003 05:19 IST
A controversy has erupted in Orissa over the suspension of an Indian Administrative Service officer on a charge of misbehaving with a state minister and a legislator.
The government last week suspended Hrushikesh Panda, chairman and managing director of the Industrial Development Corporation Limited, after Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe Welfare Minister Balabhadra Majhi and legislator Saharai Oram complained that he had 'misbehaved' with them at a guesthouse of the corporation at Barbil in Keonjhar district on March 15.
The assembly held a marathon discussion on the matter, where members from all political parties demanded immediate action. Accordingly, Speaker Sarat Kumar Kar put to voice vote a motion ordering Panda's suspension, which was passed. The government then placed Panda under suspension. The assembly also constituted a five-member committee to probe the incident.
Defending his decision, Kar later said, "The House wanted his suspension, therefore the direction was given."
But some constitutional experts described the suspension order as unconstitutional. "The assembly cannot make such a direction," former Lok Sabha speaker Rabi Roy told rediff.com "This is an example of direct interference in the work of the executive."
Majhi and Oram said officials at the Barbil guesthouse allotted them a non-VIP room because Panda had already booked the VIP suite. Later, they claimed, Panda came and abused them and the guesthouse staff for parking their vehicle in the portico. According to them, he also ordered that power and water supply to the guesthouse be cut.
Panda has denied the allegation. "I have never met the minister and legislator, therefore [the question of] misbehaving with them does not arise," the officer told rediff.com
Interestingly, the managing director of IDCOL's Kalinga Iron Works, P C Mahanta, under whom the guesthouse operates, has submitted a report to the industry minister about Oram and Majhi's stay which does not mention the alleged incident with Panda.
Majhi and Oram's stay at the guesthouse was comfortable, Mahanta reported, pointing out that the minister himself had made this comment in the VIP guest register. 'Accommodation is very comfortable and services are very good. All the best wishes,' Majhi reportedly wrote.
Panda, 48, a topper of the civil services examination of 1979, is known to be a sticker for rules. He has already been transferred 25 times during 17 years of service in Orissa. He was secretary in the urban development department for eight months before being transferred to IDCOL after he took drastic measures against illegal constructions.
The legislator and minister visited the guesthouse on March 15. But they complained about the alleged misbehaviour only on March 30. "Why did they take 15 days?" Mayadhar Naik, chief of Orissa Gana Abhiyan, a non-governmental organisation, wanted to know.
Gangadhar Panigrahi, chief adviser of the state industrial workers association, pointed out that legislators had made allegations against Panda and directed his suspension. And now a team of legislators was probing the matter. "How can the probe be impartial?" he wondered.
Panigrahi also asked why the minister and legislator stayed at the Barbil guesthouse, 34km away, when government-run guesthouses were located close to the venue of the public meeting they were to attend.
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