covid impact: To do or not to do, dilemma for BJD politicians: Public service in the time of pandemic

BHUBANESWAR: Naveen Patnaik’s minister for labour, Susanta Singh courted controversy distributing money to construction workers during the lockdown. The influential Bhatli legislator from Bargarh district in western Odisha shared on Facebook pictures of himself distributing Rs 1500 to construction workers – a Covid19 subsistence announced by Patnaik.

Singh reminded ET, that he was the minister after all. “I have 316 villages under my constituency, should I not supervise how work is being carried out. I have personally visited 20 villages, and one of the ward members there insisted I distribute money to those that had gathered,” Singh told ET.

In the minister’s defence, pictures show villagers sitting at arm’s length from each other. Others also show them with their faces uncovered, collecting their Rs1500 from the minister’s hand. Singh himself is dangling a mask in some and visible without a mask altogether in others.

“’I suffer from severe asthma and have to use an inhaler and nebuliser myself. I visit my doctor at AIIMS in Delhi every second month. It can be suffocating for an asthma patient to be wearing a mask all the time,” Singh told ET.

In large parts of the state, Patnaik’s administration has been delivering the announced interventions – advanced ration under PDS, pensions and an additional Rs 1000 – directly to the doorstep of beneficiaries. Under the circumstances, the minister’s presence at these public events, has raised eyebrows.

A senior Biju Janat Dal politician, speaking to ET on condition of anonymity, complained that “social media had democratised the public who were remarking on Facebook that netas have vanished.” Another acknowledged that similar comments had prompted him to finally hold a press conference.

Odisha’s anti-Covid19 campaign has been led by the bureaucracy which is in keeping with Patnaik’s style of governance. Its political class is not just having to take a backseat and come to terms with its long absence from public view in a time of crisis. Stepping out to be seen as relevant and useful can be just as awkward on the other hand.

In Ganjam, Sorada MLA Purna Chandra Swain allegedly decided to travel to Parlakhemundi in neighbouring district of Gajapati to distribute mask. Sharing a video of the gentleman distributing masks in a marketplace, BJP leader Bhrugu baxipatra called him out for violating lockdown rules. “The rules of the Centre and the state during the lockdown apply to everyone. How is it that the Sorada MLA was allowed by both the Ganjam and Gajapati district administrations to travel the distance and carry out this public distribution, why was the district administration accompanying him in this exercise,” said Baxipatra.

Source Article

Lois C. Ferrara

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