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Speaker revives his pet peeve

Ranchi, Feb. 13: Assembly Speaker Shashank Shekhar Bhokta has got into a battle of one-upmanship with the state administration over his security protocol once again.

Upset over “lack of security” and “protocol breach” he experienced in Ranchi on February 8, an angry Bhokta has threatened to use his “privilege” as head of the House to teach state police and home department officials “a lesson” if his concerns were not addressed immediately.

His concerns? He would not say, but it is now well known that the Speaker’s wish is that he be given security on par with the chief minister. As for the rule book, the Speaker gets Y-category security cover like ministers, while the governor, chief minister and Chief Justice are given Z+ protection.

In a letter to Jharkhand police days after the Ranchi incident, the Speaker asked the department to recall house guards posted at his official residence close to the chief minister’s secretariat, along with three bodyguards provided to him by special branch and 20 jawans of Jharkhand Armed Police.

Though the forces are still posted at his outhouse, Bhokta is now moving around with only two bodyguards, which he gets as an MLA.

“The Speaker is a constitutional post and enjoys certain privileges. The administration has made a mockery of the post. I have raised the matter before the chief secretary, home secretary and cabinet secretary,” Bhokta, who is the JMM MLA from Sarath constituency, said after a meeting with senior administrative officials at the Assembly today in connection with the forthcoming budget session.

Bhokta said he had asked officials to clarify within a day the privileges that a Speaker was entitled to. “Till then, I won’t use any security cover.”

The Speaker’s latest gripe is centred around his experience on Harmu Road in Ranchi on February 8. His convoy was caught in a traffic jam for around 15 minutes near Shani Temple owing to a religious procession. Chief minister Hemant Soren’s cavalcade was also supposed to pass through the same stretch.

However, traffic police diverted Hemant’s convoy, but did not alert Bhokta’s security in-charge about the congestion. And angry Speaker confronted Ranchi SSP Bhimsen Tuti immediately to express his displeasure.

As per the security drill, during movement of VVIPs like, say, the chief minister and the governor, roads are cleared and if required traffic is diverted in advance. Also, police track their movements round the clock. During visits to districts, VVIPs are duly received by officials there.

“We are not supposed to clear roads for him and inform him in advance in case of a jam,” a police official, who did not want to be named, said.

“Recently, special branch reviewed threat perception on 137 dignitaries. I am not sure if there is any threat to the honourable Speaker. But the protocol issue is not within our jurisdiction,” N.N. Pandey, principal secretary (home), said.

This is not the first time Bhokta has expressed his displeasure over protocol. In early January, he sent back securitymen assigned to him after Giridih administration failed to provide him an escort party during a visit to the district.

Former Assembly Speaker C.P. Singh did not want to be drawn into the controversy, but said he didn’t care too much about security. “I was caught in jams many a time but I never bothered about it. I had even instructed my security not to use a siren or beacon.”