06:43 PM, Friday,17 November 2023
In a shocking turn of events at Nirman Soudh, the nerve centre of Odisha’s Works Department, government officials were unceremoniously ousted from their seats on November 17. Court representatives swooped in, making off with office belongings and leaving the officials high and dry.
This unexpected chaos sent shockwaves through official corridors, leaving government employees perplexed about the cause behind the abrupt move by court officials. It was finally revealed that Friday’s drama was the culmination of a 40-year-old case, and the State government’s disregard of a court order. Despite numerous court communications, the government had failed to disburse ₹18 lakh owed to a contractor, resulting in the seizure of office assets.
The story goes back more than four decades, according to Dinesh Pathak, the other party in the dispute. His father, the late Birendra Kumar Pathak, was a partner in Construction India, a company contracted to build the Odisha government’s Heads of Department building. The government had raised objections post-construction and withheld a payment of ₹6 lakh.
“An arbitrator appointed to resolve the dispute directed the government to pay the due amount in 1982. However, the government, showing a blatant disregard for the order, contested it in the High Court. After a protracted 25-year legal battle, the High Court finally ruled in our favour,” Mr. Pathak explained.
Subsequently, the State government unsuccessfully contested the Orissa High Court order in the Supreme Court, only to face another setback as the top court mandated the payment of ₹18 lakh, which included the original ₹6 lakh and accumulated interest. However, the Supreme Court’s directive was also met with non-compliance.
Undeterred, Mr. Pathak took matters into his own hands and sought recovery through the Civil Judge (senior division) in Bhubaneswar. Despite multiple recovery notices issued by Bhubaneswar court, they were callously ignored by the government, forcing court officials to make an unannounced appearance at Nirman Soudh.
As court officials disconnected computers, printers, air conditioning units, ceiling fans, and chairs, government employees were left standing by, witnessing the spectacle. Although the seized assets may fall short of covering the entire ₹18 lakh owed, the incident put the administration in an embarrassing position.
"The officials responsible for the cases might have faltered in presenting the matter effectively to their superiors,” Mr. Pathak said. “The sum of ₹18 lakh is inconsequential for a government engaged in executing projects worth thousands of crores,” he pointed out.