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Officer gets stick

Bhubaneswar, March 31: Buckling under pressure from legislators, the Orissa government today announced the suspension of senior IAS officer and chairman-cum-managing director of Industrial Development Corporation Limited (Idcol), Hrusikesh Panda, on charges of misbehaving with a minister and an MLA.

Chief minister Naveen Patnaik announced the suspension in the House during zero hour this morning after Congress members stormed the well of the House seeking action against Panda. Patnaik’s order came two days after Speaker Sarat Kar directed the government to suspend Panda.

Kar announced the formation of a five-member probe team of the House, headed by leader of Opposition Ramakanta Mishra, to inquire into the incident.

Panda, who has been in the centre of a storm for last few days over his alleged misbehaviour with the two politicians, has applied for leave for 15 days. The IAS officer was accused of misbehaving with minister of state for Schedule Caste and Schedule Tribe welfare Balabhadra Majhi and MLA Saharai Oram in the guesthouse of Kalinga Iron Works Limited, a subsidiary of Idcol at Barbil on March 15. Panda is alleged to have ordered the disconnection of power and water supply to the rooms occupied by them during their stay.

With Panda’s suspension, the simmering tension between the executive and the legislature has taken a new turn. Before Panda, the legislators were gunning for Prafulla Mishra, another IAS officer.

who has been charged by the state vigilance department with criminal and graft cases.

Mishra, currently the secretary in the higher education department, has been charged for his dubious role as chairman-cum-managing director of Orissa State Beverage Corporation a year ago. He is alleged to have bled the corporation to the tune of Rs 2.4 crore during his tenure by favouring chosen beverage manufacturers.

Incidentally, both IAS officers have been toppers in their respective years of appearance. Panda had topped the IAS examination in 1978 while Mishra had topped it in 1982.

Last Wednesday, members cutting across party lines demanded action against Mishra for denying grant-in-aid to teachers of several colleges covered under the Validation Act, 1988.

He has been accused of violating a Cabinet decision on this issue. While government chief whip Pradip Maharathy threatened to sit on dharna sporting a black band, Congress member Lalatendu Mohapatra demanded the immediate arrest of Mishra.

Panda’s suspension is likely to be a boost to the legislators who are feeling neglected under the new dispensation. During the last Assembly session in December, the bureaucrats had a face-off with disgruntled legislators of the ruling coalition.

The legislators, sore with the Naveen Patnaik government’s “over-dependence” on the bureaucrats came together to serve notice on two women IAS officers accusing them of breach of privilege.

They accused the IAS officers of absenting themselves during the question hour.

While the ministers complain they are being treated indifferently, at times the IAS officers have been at the wrong end of the stick. Malkangiri sub-collector T. Wapangao was allegedly verbally abused by cooperative minister Arabinda Dhali during the latter’s visit to the district a few months ago. The newly-recruited IAS officer from Nagaland is reported to have committed an unintentional gaffe while receiving the minister.

Interestingly, the parliamentary department has issued guidelines to officers on ways to treat ministers. According to the circular, every official should rise to receive them whenever they come calling. It also advises all district-level and sub-divisional level officials to set apart a fixed time everyday for the MLAs and MPs. The government servants should not preside over ceremonies where ministers and MLAs are participants, it said.

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