On August 1, as Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik visited Utkal University here to inaugurate a sports complex and two hostels, police sealed the thoroughfare between his residence and the venue, from an hour before his visit to after he left. All the shops on either side of the 5-km stretch were closed, with 30 platoons of policemen and 60 officers deployed to ensure compliance. Some portions of the route were cordoned off with ropes. Several members of the Chhatra Congress and ABVP were detained before they could enter the campus and show black flags.
Patnaik has Z-plus security. However, Bhubaneswar Deputy Commissioner of Police Satyabrata Bhoi admitted that the measures were not part of that security detail. “We had intelligence reports that there may be disturbances like last year. So security was enhanced,” Bhoi said.
The “disturbances” the DCP was referring to related to the February 2015 incident in which students, led by NSUI state president Satyajit Patnaik, had pelted eggs at Patnaik’s vehicle while he was on his way to the same university’s annual function.
Following the incident, an additional DCP-ranked officer in charge of the state’s Special Security Battalion, supposed to supervise and suggest alternative routes for Patnaik’s travel, was suspended and had to face departmental proceedings. Besides, Satyajit Patnaik and five others were arrested and had a difficult time getting bail as police pressed attempt-to-murder charges.
Satyajit Patnaik, who had to spend five days in jail, says, “I had been married just four days before the incident happened. After the protest, I left for Dubai and was arrested two months after I came back.”
Accusing Patnaik of being “scared of the public”, state Congress chief Prasad Harichandan said, “Have you heard of people dying after being pelted with eggs?” The security put in place for Patnaik’s visit to Utkal University was “unprecedented”, Harichandan added, “especially for a politician who claims to be extremely popular”.
Other ministers of the state Cabinet have also been victims of egg and tomato attacks in recent months, including Law and Panchayati Raj Minister Arun Sahoo, Agriculture Minister Pradeep Maharathy, Food Supplies and Consumer Welfare Minister Sanjay Dasburma, Health Minister Atanu Sabyasachi Nayak and School and Mass Eduction Minister Debi Prasad Mishra.
On Saturday, Congress activists pelted eggs and rotten tomatoes at the official residence of Urban Development and Labour Minister Pushpendra Singhdeo. The minister, who was away in his native district of Kalahandi, said his family who was at the house was “very shaken”.
In December last year, girl students, mostly NSUI supporters, had been detained in a room when Patnaik visited Rama Devi Women’s University in Bhubaneswar. Trying to justify the detention, Biju Janata Dal MLA Priyadarsi Mishra had likened the girl students to “human bombs”, causing outrage.
The students had later lodged a case against university officers with police, and filed complaints in the Odisha Human Rights Commission and State Women’s Commission.
In January this year, ahead of a seminar on higher education to be attended by the CM, the audience was frisked twice. Council of Higher Secondary Education Chairman Basudev Chhaoti and Utkal University registrar S K Das along with college teachers and many others had entered the auditorium after routine frisking and passing through a metal detector, but had to vacate the auditorium and re-enter after another security check, with policemen searching for any “egg-like missiles” in their pockets.
“We did not want to take a chance after the egg-throwing incident of February. It was a closed space and the CM would have been more vulnerable,” said a police officer who was part of the security bandobast.
A senior inspector of a police station in Bhubaneswar said they ensure all local vegetable shops, eggs shops, fruit shops and shops selling water bottles are shut before the CM’s carcade passes through an area.
Official sources say a proposal is being considered now to install a baggage scanner and a mechanical gate at the CM’s residence, as well as to create a buffer zone around it. Besides, a net or a similar obstruction is being installed on the back boundary wall of Naveen Niwas so that no one can scale over it or throw something inside.
As per another proposal, officers including drivers in the CM’s staff are to be given anti-extremist training. The narrow road adjoining the Naveen Niwas already has concertina wires around it.
DCP Bhoi said that in Odisha, both the CM and Governor are entitled to Z-plus security. “But the security is more elaborate and changes as per threat perception. If tomorrow the CM goes to Malkangiri, he will get five times the security he gets in Bhubaneswar,” he said.
Assistant Commissioner of Police Aseem Kumar Panda admitted the egg attacks were indeed becoming a headache. “But we can prevent them. We are devising a plan,” he said.
While Patnaik’s Additional Chief Secretary U N Behera refused to talk about the additional security measures, BJD leaders defended that Patnaik needed to be cautious in a Maoist-affected state like Odisha.
“Police take a call on it. Why are opposition people so worried about his security?” said MLA Mishra.