“Of the total 112 (BJD) MLAs, only 16 MLAs and four ministers are present. This shows their seriousness about the issue,” observed Congress legislature party leader Narasingha Mishra. “Let them listen to the discussion from their homes,” he ridiculed.
The absence of BJD legislators from the assembly seemed to be in violation of a recent advisory by chief minister and party president Naveen Patnaik asking his MLAs not to go missing from the house when it is in session.
But government chief whip Pramila Mallik defended her party colleagues. “Most of the treasury bench MLAs were in the lobby of the assembly. Most of our MLAs are attending assembly sessions. As asked by the chief minister, we are submitting daily report on BJD members’ attendance,” Mallik said.
Asked why they were not inside the assembly during the debate, Mallik said the members were following it from the lobby itself. “So, they can’t be called absent,” she said.
Mallik’s statement was echoed by Rairakhol BJD MLA and deputy chief whip Rohit Pujari, who himself was not present during the discussion. And what was more ironic was that his was one of the houses targeted by farmers. They left behind a vehicle with sacks full of paddy outside his house in Sakhipara, Sambalpur district, in protest against the government move to introduce centralised token system for selling of paddy in the market.
Asked about his absence, Pujari said the debate happened between 1 pm and 3.30 pm, which is peak lunch time. “During this time it is not unnatural for some members to move to the lobby for lunch or refreshments. Some members are diabetic and can’t skip lunch. Besides, all of us were following the debate from the lobby itself,” Pujari said.
On his absence and thin attendance, senior BJD legislator Amar Prasad Satpathy said non-participation in the adjournment debate does not mean someone is not serious about a particular issue. “I had other issues to raise in the post-lunch session, so I had to skip discussion on the farmers’ issue. As far as my case is concerned, I have spoken on the farmers’ issue in other assembly forums,” Satpathy said.
While most of the BJD legislators gave the discussion on farmers’ welfare a miss, it was left to food supplies and consumer welfare minister Ranendra Pratap Swain to defend the centralized token system, stating that is it aimed to benefit small and marginal farmers.
Earlier, initiating the discussion, senior BJP leader Jayanarayan Mishra said, “If the government claims the procurement system is fine, then why are farmers out on the streets.”
Criticizing the centralized token system, Mishra asked how can people in Bhubaneswar determine the amount of paddy to be procured from farmers. “The mandis are controlled by the millers. The mandi system has failed in the state. The government must withdraw the centralized token system and empower the district procurement committees to decide on the amount of paddy to be bought from farmers,” said the Sambalpur MLA.
The Congress legislature party leader alleged that farmers are being forced by the state government to sell their paddy at a lower rate. “The state government has learnt nothing from the past. The farmers continue to be exploited,” he added.
Responding to the opposition charges, Swain said, “For the first time we have made the token system free of human intervention. It has been done electronically to ensure transparency. The farmers are getting tokens on their registered mobile numbers while the list has also been displayed in primary agriculture cooperative societies.” The minister assured that all the farmers would get adequate chance to sell their paddy.