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Meant for ‘distressed’, Orissa plot quota goes to babus, judges, journalists

Debabrata Mohanty
Bhubaneswar: Finally it was two houses allotted under the discretionary quota of one minister to the family of another that led Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik last month to scrap the system of patronage that began in 1985. However, as Assembly records show, among those to have benefited over the past 26 years from the quota — meant to help persons “in distress” — have been senior officers, high court judges, politicians as well as more than 30 senior journalists.

Between 1985 and 2009, the Bhubaneswar Development Authority (BDA) gave away plots and core houses to 832 beneficiaries under the discretionary quota available with the urban development minister.

The government revealed this in a query over the quota in the Orissa Assembly on December 9. This followed a TV channel report about Orissa Law Minister Bikram Keshari Arukh getting a 2,400 sq ft duplex house under the discretionary quota in 2009 when Badri Narayan Patra was the urban development minister. Two years earlier, his wife Jayalaxmi Arukh had secured a similar house under a separate BDA scheme and a separate urban development minister (K V Singh Deo), but the same quota. The TV report revealed that Arukh applied for the second house claiming he did not have any land or house in Bhubaneswar through an affidavit.

While Arukh returned his second house following the controversy, a singed chief minister decided to scrap the quota altogether. Under the Orissa Development Authorities Act, 1982, the BDA and Cuttack Development Authority have no provision for discretionary allotments by the Executive. However, the discretionary quota scheme was launched in 1985, under the Congress J B Patnaik regime, despite the lack of such provisions in the Act and perpetuated by successive ministers.

It made the following categories of people eligible: “The dependant of a person who has made a supreme sacrifice for the nation, but has not been properly rehabilitated so far; member of a family which has been a victim of unforeseen circumstances (terrorist attack, earthquake, flood etc); physically handicapped person; defence/paramilitary/police personnel/ other Central/State government employees who are permanently disabled on duty; immediate next of kin, namely widow, parents, children of those who lost their lives in abnormal circumstances; eminent professionals, outstanding sportsmen, artists, literary personnel and women of high achievement in distress; and individual cases of extreme hardship, which in the opinion of the government are extremely compassionate and deserve sympathetic consideration in view of special circumstances of the cases.”

Over 26 years, the beneficiaries have included high court judges, politicians, IPS/IAS officers, district collectors, bank managers, income tax officials, peons, journalists of vernacular newspapers as well as correspondents and editors of prominent English dailies. Many others acquired plots/houses in the names of spouses or relatives.

In one year alone, between 1996 and 1997, then urban development minister Amarnath Pradhan of the Congress gave out 439 plots and houses under the quota.

Some journalists got more than one plot, though the standard procedure is that if a person has benefited through one scheme, he wouldn’t receive a plot under another. Bipin Singh of Dharitri got a plot under the discretionary quota in 1997. In 2000, wife Gayatri Singh too got one.

Journalist Prasanna Kumar Mohanty, who got land in 1997 under Amarnath Pradhan as minister, defended the allotment. “When I got the land, it was perfectly legal. It is now that the scheme has been abolished. Besides, all persons who get land under the quota have to give an affidavit that they possess no land or house. I know several journalists who have given false affidavits to corner more than one plot or house. I paid for the land as per the prevailing government price,” said Mohanty.