File picture of the law and finance ministers meeting the agitating lawyers on August 24
Bhubaneswar/Sambalpur, Aug. 29: The State Election Commission today decided to defer the urban civic elections in western Odisha in the wake of continued disturbances following an agitation for a permanent bench of Orissa High Court in the region.
The elections were originally scheduled to be held on September 19.
The Central Action Committee of All-Western Odisha Bar Association has been steering the agitation since August 20. The strike has paralysed administration in the region.
State election commissioner Ajit Tripathy said: “Based on reports by district collectors and superintendents of police, we have decided not to hold elections to the urban bodies on September 19 in western Odisha. Later, after examining the ground realities, a decision will be taken on when to hold the elections. However, elections in other areas will be held following the schedule.”
The western Odisha districts where elections will not be held on September 19 are Balangir, Bargarh, Deogarh, Jharsuguda, Kalahandi, Nuapada, Samablpur, Sonepur and Sundargarh.
Of these nine districts, in which 25 urban local bodies (ULBs) were to go to polls, not a single nomination was filed in three districts — Balangir, Sambalpur and Sonepur. While one nomination was filed in Sundargarh district, three nominations were filed in Nuapada district. “Of the 25 ULBs in nine districts, not a single nomination was filed in 20 ULBs and stray nominations were filed in five ULBs,” said an official of the state election commission.
Senior BJP leader and former minister Bijay Mohapatra said: “Western Odisha is sitting on a volcano. No one knows when it will erupt.”
Coming down heavily on the government for its failure to read the sentiments of the people of the region, Mohapatra said: “In the last 50 years of Odisha’s history, such a situation has never been witnessed when an entire region decided not to vote in an election.”
He said the people are not against the Justice C.R. Pal commission, which has been constituted to look into the various aspects of setting up a permanent bench. “The people are against the government. How is it that the chief minister was not able to asses the situation? He keeps meeting the MLAs and district collectors,” said Mohapatra.
The central action committee of the All-Western Odisha Bar Association today met at Jharsuguda and decided to continue the agitation.
“Keeping in mind the Nuakhai and Ganesh Puja festivals, the committee has decided to refrain from closing down government offices from September 1 to 15. The court will also function normally during this period,” said secretary of the committee Niranjan Tripathy. However, the relay hunger strike would continue in front of the office of the revenue divisional commissioner (north) in Sambalpur and in front of collectorates of the region.
The committee has issued a 15-day ultimatum to the government to take a decision on setting up a high court bench in western Odisha. “We will intensify our after September 15. We will also continue to boycott the urban local body polls till the government takes a decision on the issue,” he said.
The chief minister had invited the central action committee for a discussion August 24 but the talks failed. The continuing agitation has placed BJD leaders from western Odisha in a catch-22 situation. While they find it hard to oppose their own government openly, they cannot but go along with the sentiments prevailing in the region and boycott the polls in their own interest.