Reported by Chinmaya Dehury/Edited by Sandeep Sahu
Bhubaneswar, Aug 22:
A day after claiming that the model code of conduct currently in force for the upcoming urban local bodies (ULBs) election prevented it from initiating talks with striking lawyers demanding a permanent bench of the Odisha High Court in western Odisha, the Naveen Patnaik government today made a volte face and invited the Central Action Committee (CAC) of All Western Odisha Bar Association (AWOBA) for talks on Saturday.
“The Chief Minister has invited representatives of the CAC for across-the-table discussion on the demand for a permanent HC bench in western Odisha tomorrow,” Law Minister Maheswar Mohanty said today. He explained away the sudden change of mind by claiming that the State Election Commission (SEC) had given the green signal for discussions with the agitating lawyers. But he did not bother explaining why the government did not consult the SEC before claiming on the floor of the Assembly that the code of conduct came in the way of talks.
The meeting, to be held at 12.30 pm, would seek ways to put an end to the impasse caused due to ongoing agitation in the seven districts in the region including Sambalpur, Sundargarh, Subarnapur, Bolangir and Bargarh.
The CAC, which has observed ceasework for the last three days, has expressed its willingness for dialogue with the government. “We are ready for talks with the Chief Minister,” CAC secretary Niranjan Tripathy said. He, however, blamed Patnaik for “not showing interest earlier to resolve the issue”.
“The CAC had apprised the CM about its decision to hit the streets to press for a permanent HC bench on July 28 and the SEC notification for the municipal elections came on August 12. In the meantime, the CM did not express any interest in addressing our concerns,” Tripathy said.
What apparently led to the change of thinking was the realisation that the refusal to talk could cost the ruling Biju Janata Dal (BJD) dear in the ULB elections. Feelings in western Odisha are running high as exemplified by the unanimous decision taken by all political parties, including the local units of the BJD, to boycott the municipal elections. Not a single nomination paper has been filed in many of the seven western Odisha districts.
The ruling party, it may be noted, had done as well in western districts as it did in the coastal areas in the 2009 elections. It has belatedly realised that any stubbornness on the highly emotive and long-standing demand for a HC bench in western Odisha could spoil the chances of the party not just in the forthcoming municipal elections, but in the 2014 Assembly and Parliament elections as wel, observers say.