OKCL-BUREAUCRATS NEXUS A HUGE BURDEN ON STATE EXCHEQUER
Tuesday, 15 March 2016 | Sugyan Choudhury | in Bhubaneswar
Pradip Pradhan, an eminent RTI activist of Odisha and national working committee member of NCPRI (National Campaign for People’s Right to Information), has been nominated as a member of the Core Advisory Group of the National Human Rights Commission on Right to Food. He has taken up a lot of issues relating to hunger, and malnutrition in the KBK region. His work on monitoring of food security programme implemented by the Government has been highly hailed. He has been felicitated for his outstanding contributions as a whistleblower of the society through his RTI campaigns. This conscientious social warrior breathes all fire and brimstone along with his friends of the Odisha Soochna Adhikar Abhiyan and makes use of RTI extensively to expose corruption and black-marketing of food-grains, malfunctioning of PDS. His nomination to the NHRC advisory body will undoubtedly help the NHRC address food security issues effectively in Odisha in particular. In an interview to The Pioneer, this worrywart spoke to Sugyan Choudhury in Bhubaneswar.
What are the major breakthroughs in your campaign against corruption?
I have been working since 1995 on various issues relating to gross irregularities, discrepancies, corruption in the KBK region over PDS, malnutrition, hunger and on the right of the Adivasis over their land. But the greatest breakthrough has been on land scams. This we achieved even before the CAG found it. To begin with, we came to know that in 1991, Bijubabu had acquired hundred decimals of land which was encroached by him since 1962, now under Naveen Nivas. The applicant for the said plot of land was Mrs Gyan Patnaik. Bijubabu in his official note mentioned that she could not be entitled for the same; however the plot of land could be allotted to her by paying double the amount of premium. But it is learnt from records that she paid not the double amount of premium though the same GA plot was allotted to her by violating rules and the same is now under the possession of Naveen Nivas.
The next tell-tale evidence of corruption was exposed by us in June 2015. There are 27 companies which are using waters from the reservoirs of the Mahanadi, the Brahmani, the Baitarani, etc. These companies have not paid their water taxes for the last fourteen years. A whopping amount of Rs 6,000 crore is pending against them. But the companies have gone to the High Court, which has granted stay on the matter. Now, the State Government is sitting over the fence and not taking any move to vacate the stay order.
The next instance: Corruption took place in Balangir district for recruitment to posts of Amins and RIs. We exposed these clandestine dealings through our RTI activities, and you know now all the selections to 152 posts have been annulled. The then Collector Debaraj Mishra was arrested. The Vigilance Department has lodged an FIR.
What are the other achievements through your Odisha Soochana Adhikar Abhiyan?
One of the greatest successful missions was the unearthing of the shady deals in establishing the OKCL (Odisha Knowledge Corporation Limited) by the State Government. Previously, we had the SIET, which is a premier institute and there are six such institutes throughout the country fully funded for spread of computer education in elementary schools. But we found to our utter surprise that all the funds have been transferred to the OKCL which was formed in 2012 in collaboration with the Maharashtra Knowledge Corporation Limited. We were told mischievous lies that the Central Government had denied to fund the SIET in Odisha. Later, we were given to understand that the SIET could no longer function because of the rude behaviour of its staffs and owing to their incessant strikes. The State Government maintained that this OKCL is a public company. On further inquiry, we came to know that the State Government has only 30 per cent equity share in the company and it has no say in financial and administrative matters excepting to preside over the affairs. Thus, it was clear to us that the OKCL dances to the tune of the private player having all the power over financial and administrative matters. Interestingly enough, the Maharashtra Knowledge Corporation has been blacklisted by the Maharashtra Government and inquiry has been ordered into its affairs. We came to know at least out of Rs 780 crore sanctioned by the Union HRD Ministry, over Rs 200 crore has been given to the OKCL under ICT at schools programme. Intriguingly enough, this tainted sheep OKCL has released crores of rupees to another fraud company called IL and FS for ICT at school programme for nearly 400 schools out of a total 4,000. We have filed RTIs before office of the Chief Secretary, Higher Education Department, RAMSAY and we have made appeal to the HRD Ministry but to no avail so far. I have also filed a case in the CBI, before the State Vigilance and am going to file a case in the High Court to unearth the OKCL scam. Money is our schools, our children, and the educational system is ours. But we have no say over the company which is siphoning away crores of rupees by a combine of bureaucrats and private players. Even Ministers have little to do over the issue. There is no transparency, no accountability in the OKCL.
Do you have other charges against OKCL and Higher Education Department?
We came to know that the OKCL has been again trusted for digitalisation of three universities, Gangadhar Meher, Khallikote and Ramadevi, despite the objection of the Chairman of the Ramadevi University Admission Committee. When suspicion looms large over the OKCL, intriguingly enough a Joint Secretary, Ajay Nayak, has issued letter to the OKCL with memos to the three universities for placing orders to it for digitalisation. The style of functioning and writing of letter by Shri Nayak is also objectionable since he has written letters on his own despite mentioning “I am directed to say...” This reveals that there is a nexus existing between bureaucrats like Nayak and the OKCL.
Who do you think are responsible for establishment of the OKCL?
First of all, I would point my fingers at CM Naveen Patnaik who proved gullible to put his signature on the note-sheet for formation of the company. You know that the bureaucrats have their own designs and by the time the company got floated, Bijay Patnaik was the Chief Secretary. Long after his superannuation, it is reportedly learnt from all available sources that he reaps a rich bonanza since the OKCL is allegedly managed by him through proxy management. Bureaucrats spread such networks so that long after their retirement, they would have their dealings. In almost all departments, they are going I for outsourcing!
Why does the Government resort to outsourcing in almost all departments?
The reason is simple. If the departments go in for outsourcing and for PPP mode, they would be able to swindle the creams without coming through the AG scanner of the State and the CAG of the Centre.
Are you hopeful you can bring them to justice through the High Court?
We certainly hope so. This is a huge corruption and it should not be allowed to continue to plunder our State. That’s why we have approached all grievance redressal authorities. Still, we have not got any response. That’s why we want to move the High Court.
Are roles of RTI activists indispensable?
I would reply in an emphatic affirmative. In the village level, they are asking you for Rs 1,000 for an old age pension. They are asking you for Rs 20,000 for Biju Pucca Ghar Yojana and the like. When you cannot enhance the Bardhakya Bhatta and cannot provide ration cards to all the needy, what is the use of providing rice and dalma at Rs 5? They want to keep people hungry so that people will run after them. What’s the need of solving their real issues under food security programme! Thus, you can well imagine the role of RTI activists.
Do you apprehend any threat to your life?
I know no fear since I nourish no prejudice against anybody. We work for a cause. To save the society, the State and the nation is the collective responsibility of the civil society. The RTI catalytic instrument wages another civil war of independence to translate Gandhiji’s Ramrajya into the sunshine of reality.