The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Chappal charge in House brawl

Bhubaneswar, Nov. 2: Chappals were hurled inside the Orissa Assembly today during a debate on a controversial mining contract, sparking a scramble that trapped Naveen Patnaik's foot under a desk.

The chief minister was not hurt but advised rest for three or four days, a day ahead of an Art of Living session for the MLAs on how to conduct themselves in the House.

Trouble started when the Congress accused the government of leasing a forest area in Kalahandi to Vedanta Alumina ' a subsidiary of the Sterlite Group ' for setting up a 1-million-tonne alumina refinery at Rs 4,000 crore without environmental and forest clearance, thus selling out the state's interests.

The Opposition members rushed to the well as they found steel and mines minister Padmanav Behera's reply unsatisfactory. A scuffle ensued below the podium of Speaker Maheswar Mohanty.

The Congress MLAs became further agitated when information and public relations minister Debashis Nayak signalled to the securitymen in the visitors' gallery to ask TV cameramen to switch off.

'We were asked by the security persons not to record the proceedings,' said Mukesh Kumar, the cameraman of a TV channel.

Congress legislator Anup Sai from Brajarajnagar hurled his chappals toward the securitymen in the gallery, in a throwback to the 1997 Uttar Pradesh Assembly incident when over a dozen legislators were injured in a violent exchange of microphones, slippers and nameplates.

Sai's slippers missed the target and reportedly landed on cameras that recorded the throw.

'I threw chappals as I was prevented from telling the truth on mines. Why only chappals, I can sacrifice my life for the sake of upholding the rights of people and the media,' Sai later told reporters.

According to Kumar, 'when I was heading towards the exit door, I saw Sai throwing a chappal towards the visitors' gallery. I rushed in and rolled the camera despite protests by the security persons'.

Anup Sai who hurled chapplas in the Assembly. Picture by Sanjib Mukerjee.

Members of the ruling Biju Janata Dal and the BJP and some Independents then rushed out to confront the Opposition.

In the ensuing scramble, Patnaik's left foot got trapped when the legislators stumbled over his desk. As he screamed in pain, some MLAs rushed to his aid and extricated his foot.

The chief minister was taken to hospital for an X-ray, which did not show any fracture. He was administered painkillers and advised rest.

'The violence happened during question hour. Some member of the Opposition threw a slipper and then the ruling party members lost control and the two sides came to blows,' the Speaker said.

Sai, a 43-year-old leader from Jharsuguda district known more for his walrus moustache than lung power, has been debarred from attending the Assembly for the rest of the session.

'The incident has lowered the prestige of the House,' said Manmohan Samal, senior BJP leader and revenue minister.

The Opposition walked out in protest against the suspension. 'We were forced to do this as the Speaker was taking the ruling party's side,' claimed Taraprasad Bahinipati, Koraput MLA and Congressman who had joined Sai in the well.

In 2002, the Assembly was ransacked by Sangh parivar activists in protest against unsavoury remarks made by some legislators.

The Art of Living session may now need some rethinking by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, who arrived here this afternoon.

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