Fee for dharna triggers controversy

Should a fee be collected from those who sit on a dharana and Satyagraha in a democratic set up?

This question is now being widely debated in various circles across Odisha after the local municipal corporation in Bhubaneswar decided to impose a tax or a fee on groups and individuals who would be sitting on a dharana at Mahatma Gandhi Marg in front of the state Legislative Assembly.

During every session of the Odisha House, scores of organisations, groups and associations throng into this busy road to sit on dharanas to draw the attention of the government and MLAs about their problems and grievances.

Earlier, only the permission from police was required for organising a dharana, but now, the Bhubaneswar Municipal Corporation (BMC) has come out with a dictate that its permission is also required as the area comes under its jurisdiction; and permission will be granted only after submitting a fee of Rs 1,000.

The BMC has its own reasons to impose such a fee. According to the Corporation, the collected money will be spent to keep the place clean. “Due to the dharanas and protest meetings, the Mahatma Gandhi Marg and adjoining areas often turn filthy and dirty. We do not have enough employees to do the extra work of cleaning the area repeatedly. With the collected fee, we would like to hire private workers to do the job”, explained Bhubaneswar Mayor, Ananta Narayan Jena.

However, political parties except the ruling BJD as well as different workers and employees’ unions and other organisations have refused to buy the BMC’s explanation. They’ve alleged that the Corporation was trying to infringe upon the Fundamental Rights of the people.

“In a democracy, people have the right to voice their protest through dharanas and Satyagrahas. We are not under the British rule that we have to pay a fee to express our problems and dissatisfaction”, said CPM state general secretary Janardhan Pati.

A few organisations are now planning to gherao the BMC office and launch an indefinite agitation till the urban local body withdraws its “undemocratic and controversial” decision.

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