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Constitutional bodies crippled in Odisha owing to govt inertia

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Odisha Sun Times Bureau
Bhubaneswar, Jun 4:

Odisha’s ruling Biju Janta Dal (BJD), which was catapulted to power for the fourth consecutive time on its claim of clean governance among other things, has paralysed the three vital Constitutional bodies referred to as anti-corruption watchdogs—Odisha Information Commission (OIC), Odisha Human Rights Commission (OHRC) and the Lokayukta— which are lying defunct in the state owing to government apathy.

odisha information commission

The pendency of cases in these institutions has put the grievance redressal mechanism in the state in a shambles.

Odisha Information Commission came into being in 2005 and former bureaucrat DN Padhi and subsequently former chief secretary Tarun Kanti Mishra were appointed as Chief Information Commissioners (CICs).

Mishra resigned from his post on March 4 this year citing personal reasons before completion of his tenure. Though he had tendered his resignation in January, the process to fill up the vacant posts hasn’t started yet.

Notably, as many as 10 Information Commissioners (ICs) can be appointed as per the provisions of RTI Act. Interestingly, it never had more than two ICs at a time since its establishment in the state. After the retirement of Jagadananda as Information Commissioner in August, 2013, the Chief Information Commissioner (CIC) and an Information Commissioner were managing the affairs here. However, the disposal of cases from the State Information Commission’s office has come to a standstill post the retirement of Pramod Mohanty as Information Commissioner in April.

Over 3000 RTI queries are gathering dust under the files and the officers are sitting idle due to lack of adequate staff in the Commission.

Though the government has shortlisted two candidates for the post of Commissioners, it is alleged that it has caused an undue delay in the process intentionally.

Similar is the scene at the Odisha Human Rights Commission (OHRC). The Chairperson’s post is lying vacant since 2012 after the retirement of Justice RK Patra. OHRC member RN Bohidar was given the additional responsibility of acting chairperson for a year till Justice Bira Kishore Mishra, working as another member, took over since 2013 as acting chairperson post retirement of Bohidar.

Former Odisha Chief Secretary Bijay Patnaik was appointed as member of the rights body in July last year. However, Patnaik resigned from the post in April after serving for almost nine months in this capacity.

Since then, Justice Mishra is the only member of the Commission hearing cases. Complaints of human rights violation in the state have increased manifold in recent times. With the piling up of the cases, the early disposal of cases has been affected and the government hasn’t showed any interest or urgency in appointing a full-time chairperson or increasing the number of members.

Similarly, the Odisha government is yet to fill up the post of Lokpal, an ombudsman who has jurisdiction over elected representatives and government employees in cases of corruption.

It had appointed Justice PK Patra as Lokpal. However, after the demise of Patra in 2013, the government is yet to fill up the post. As the Lokayutka Bill was yet to be introduced in the state Assembly, the government had inordinately delayed the appointment of Lokpal, though it is independent of passage of Bill. More than 2500 complaints are kept in cold store in the Lokayukta office at Toshali Plaza complex in Satya Nagar here.

Even after the passage of the Bill in the Assembly February last year and Presidential assent in December last year, the state government has shown little interest in appointment of the Lokpal.