In a swift crackdown against dissenting voices, the Naveen Patnaik government in Odisha showed unusual alacrity in arresting two persons for bringing up the coronavirus crisis mismanagement in an audio conversation that has now gone viral on the Internet.
While one of the arrested persons is identified as Biswajit Mohanty (47), a businessman of Palasuni area in Bhubaneswar, the other one is Laxmikanta Behera (46) is stated to be a resident of Rasulgarh area and an employee of ORTEL Communications, a sister organisation of Odisha TV. The two persons were arrested on Monday by the Commissionerate Police for allegedly highlighting the state’s mismanagement of the coronavirus crisis. The audio clip was aired on Odisha TV, following which the state govt took action against the TV channel too.
Though SC has quashed Sec 66A pronouncing that police & govt officials can’t restrict anyone from social media postings, CP y’day arrested 2 persons citing that their telephonic conversation was shared with malafide intention.— OTV (@otvnews) August 11, 2020
A report on growing threat to Freedom of Expression: pic.twitter.com/HwbHFjxsPh
A case is registered against the duo under Section 269, 270, 505 (B), 120 B of IPC, along with Section 3 of the Epidemic Diseases Act and Sec 452 of the Disaster Management Act. They have taken on a three-day remand after producing them in court on Monday.
In the 9.36 minutes long audiotape that has gone viral, two friends can be heard conversing about the mismanagement of the Naveen Patnaik’s government in handling the coronavirus outbreak in the state. One of the two friends, who had recently returned home after being treated for coronavirus, is heard narrating his experience during the stay at the hospital. What follows is a brutal takedown of the government’s lofty claims of acing the COVID-19 response. The seemingly innocuous conversation between two friends corroborates the numerous ground reports about the bungling up of the coronavirus crisis by the state government.
FIR filed against OTV for spreading ‘false and misleading’ information
Even before the police established the authenticity of the audiotape, the Bhubaneswar-Cuttack twin City police commissioner rushed to file an FIR against the Odisha TV channel for what it called spreading ‘false and misleading’ information about the Covid pandemic with ‘mala fide and mischievous’ intention.
In response to the action initiated against OTV, the authorities of the Odia news channel had a meeting with Bhubaneswar DCP and asked him to file a complaint against Capital PS IIC, Girija Chakrabarty, under Sections 166, 167, 193, 218 of the IPC. The news channel informed the DCP that the IIC of Capital Police station served a notice to the channel late at night without providing sufficient time to respond, citing the violations of the directions issued by the Punjab and Haryana High Courts.
Netizens speculate political rivalry between Naveen Patnaik and Baijayant Panda as a reason for action against OTV
The unhealthy zeal shown by the Naveen Patnaik’s government to initiate action against OTV has the social media users speculate the real motive behind the action. Social Media websites are awash with speculations that the action against OTV may be rooted in the old political rivalry between Naveen Patnaik and Baijayant Panda, given that Panda’s family owns the OTV network. Besides, before joining the BJP, Panda was a member of Naveen Patnaik’s BJD but was unceremoniously suspended from the party for ‘anti-party’ activities.