Navnirman Krushak Sangathan activists block Naveen’s convoy near the secretariat on Tuesday. Picture by Sanjib Mukherjee
Bhubaneswar, Dec. 24: Taking police by surprise, Navnirman Krushak Sangathan activists today blocked chief minister Naveen Patnaik’s motorcade in front of the heavily fortified secretariat forcing him to enter through the rear gate.
Following the incident, the state government shifted the director, intelligence, Abhaya and replaced him with Sunil Ray, who was in charge of the Human Rights Protection Cell, this evening.
Abhaya was posted as the director of government press.
Security arrangements for the chief minister were beefed up following the incident and the police was forced to undertake a review.
Admitting that today’s incident was “unprecedented”, Cuttack-Bhubaneswar police commissioner R.P. Sharma said: “We are checking out whether there was an intelligence failure.”
Stating that the police had preliminary information that some rowdy elements would create disturbance near the chief minister’s official residence today, Sharma said adequate cops had been deployed there. “However, they created a problem near the secretariat,” he said.
Around 11.10am, the chief minister, as usual, was on his way to the state secretariat from his official residence. His convoy had passed AG Square, around 500 yards from the secretariat, when around 50 or 60 activists with national flags in their hands were seen blocking the path by lying down on the road. Some of them tried to approach the chief minister’s vehicle.
Naveen’s car waited there for a while for the road to clear. But after a couple of minutes, the car took a U-turn and drove towards the rear gate of the secretariat. The chief minister, who was scheduled to attend a review meeting, drove in through the rear gate.
Soon after, the police swung into action and took the activists into custody.
Police commissioner Sharma said: “This is a criminal offence and we have arrested 26 of them.”
Akshay Kumar, who led the protest, said: “We were forced to do this to get the government to act on our demands. We have been on hunger strike for the past 16 days, but no one took any notice.”
Navnirman Krushak Sangathan has been demanding a bonus of Rs 500 per quintal of paddy over and above the minimum support price and an allowance of Rs 2,000 a month to the farmers affected by Phailin and subsequent floods till the next harvest.
On December 16, four activists of the outfit were detained by the security personnel for shouting slogans and trying to jump off the visitors’ gallery of the Assembly.
Last year, the same organisation had hogged limelight when some of the activists tried to scale the boundary wall of chief minister’s official residence.
Naveen’s security has been beefed up after today’s incident. When he returned home for lunch at 1.05pm, a traffic van first cleared his path. Two police control room (PCR) vans and two pilot vehicles preceded the chief minister’s car and it was followed by two vans with plain clothes policemen and one with uniformed personnel and another PCR van.
Later in the day, Sharma reviewed the overall security arrangements for the chief minister and asked the deputy commissioner of police to probe into today’s incident. “Action would be initiated against police officials if found guilty of negligence,” he said.
It was also decided to augment security at various sensitive locations on the way of chief minister’s motorcade in the city.
“An officer in the rank of assistant commissioner of police will command the convoy of the chief minister. The police station concerned would also look after the security of chief minister in their respective jurisdictions,” said the police commissioner.
However, Naveen and his ministerial colleagues chose to keep mum on the incident since it concerned a sensitive issue involving farmers. A few BJD MLAs from the western districts had reportedly met the chief minister yesterday and urged him to announce a bonus on paddy procurement ahead of the elections. Sources said the legislators had warned Naveen of poll reverses if the farmers’ issues were not addressed.
A BJD leader, who did not want to be named, said the government was not in a position to announce the bonus at the moment since the model code of conduct for Bhubaneswar Municipal Corporation polls was in force.
At an official meeting, Naveen today directed officials concerned to take measures for helping the farmers cultivating the rabi crop so that they could make up for the loss caused by Phailin and the subsequent floods.