Days after his bail plea was rejected by the Camp Court of a Sessions Judge inside Bhubaneshwar’s Jharpada Jail, the Odisha Legislative Assembly Saturday passed a motion to forgive journalist Abhijit Mitra who had allegedly made derogatory remarks against state legislators and the Konark Sun Temple. The Assembly granted pardon to Mitra after accepting the recommendations of a House Committee that inquired into the allegations against the journalist. The committee also recommended to the House to direct the state government to provide material to Mitra to educate him about the art, culture, history and the people of Odisha.
“The Assembly accepted the recommendations made by the House Committee which was set up to inquire into the question of alleged breach of privilege relating to the statement made by Abhijit Iyer Mitra,” Speaker P K Amat said after a voice vote on the recommendations of the committee, PTI reported. Committee member and BJD MLA Debi Prasad Mishra quoting the report said: “The manner in which Mitra has begged apology speaks that..(it) is voluntary and therefore it needs consideration.”
Iyer-Mitra was arrested on October 23 after two FIRs – one each in Konark and Bhubaneshwar – were filed against him for an alleged sarcastic video and comments on the Konark Sun Temple that he posted on Twitter on September 16. The police invoked Sections 153A (promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion), 295A and 298 (criminalising acts or words uttered intended to outrage or wound the religious feelings of any individual or class), and 34 (acts done by several persons in furtherance of common intention) of the IPC against him.
The Delhi based defence analyst appeared before an all-party committee of MLAs in the Odisha Legislative Assembly in Bhubaneswar and apologized for his remarks that were seen as offensive to the House and to the state’s history and culture. “I beg apology because of my stupidity,” he said, confirmed Leader of Opposition and Chairman of the Committee, Narasingha Mishra. Last month, Odisha Assembly Speaker Pradeep Amat approved constitution of a special committee to probe if Iyer-Mitra’s alleged derogatory remarks on MLAs amount to a breach of privilege. The committee was chaired by Leader of Opposition Mishra and includes K V Singh Deo, Debi Mishra, Pramilla Mallick, Arun Sahoo and Sanjay Das Burma.
In September, Iyer-Mitra took a chopper trip across a stretch of coastal Odisha up to Konark with former BJD MP Baijayant Panda. The helicopter, flown by Panda, was seized days later over an alleged attempted landing on Chilika Lake. Police sealed the hangar where the helicopter, operated by Indian Metals and Ferro Alloys Ltd and frequently used by Panda, was kept. Later Iyer-Mitra’s Twitter account was discovered to have videos and statements on the Sun temple at Konark and on Odisha’s origins. Some of the statements were seen as deeply offensive and sparked protests among the public and political parties.
Iyer-Mitra had to clarify that his remarks on Odisha’s history and culture were “sarcasm” and not made in Panda’s presence. Panda has said he did not approve of the remarks but added that the views were “satirical”.