Situation continues to remain tense in tribal-dominated district
BHUBANESWAR: Orissa Steel and Mines Minister Padmanabha Behera, who hails from the violence-hit Kandhamal district, resigned from his post, even as the situation continued to remain tense in the tribal-dominated district for the fifth day on Friday.
Mr. Behera, a former member of the Lok Sabha and prominent Biju Janata Dal leader from the region, said he submitted his resignation to Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik owning moral responsibility for the incidents of communal violence in Kandhamal since December 24.
In a major damage control exercise, the State government has ordered a judicial inquiry into the violence in Kandhamal. Retired High Court judge Basudev Panigrahi will conduct the inquiry.
The government also appointed a new district Collector for Kandhamal with immediate effect. Manish Kumar Verma, Collector of Malkangiri, will replace Kandhamal Collector Bhabagrahi Mohapatra, who was asked to join the General Administration Department for further posting. Additional District Magistrate of Rourkela Nitin Bhanudas Jawle was appointed Malkangiri Collector.
The dropping of Mr. Behera from the Cabinet was one of the demands put forth by the agitating Kui tribals of Kandhamal, who had been opposing the alleged granting of Scheduled Caste status to Dalits in the region. Mr. Behera is a Dalit.
The Kui tribals were also demanding appointment of a direct IAS officer as Kandhamal Collector instead of an official who was promoted as IAS.
The All-India Christian Council and Church leaders in the State criticised the government decision for a judicial inquiry into the violence in Kandhamal.
At a press conference here, the Council general secretary, John Dayal, demanded that a Central Bureau of Investigation probe be ordered into the attacks on the Christians.
“The judicial inquiry will not lead to giving justice to the victims,” said Raphael Cheenath, Archbishop of Bhubaneswar-Cuttack.
As many as eight persons were killed and 55 churches attacked in Kandhamal till Friday afternoon as hundreds of members of the community were hiding in forest to save their life from the attackers, they said.
The victims included those who were killed in police firing, Mr. Dayal said.
In Kandhamal, curfew continued to remain in force in four towns as more paramilitary forces were being deployed to prevent violence from spreading to newer areas.
In Bhubaneswar, women’s organisations took out a rally appealing for restoration of peace in the strife-torn region.
They submitted a memorandum to Governor M.C. Bhandare seeking his intervention for immediate deployment of the Central forces in Kandhamal.