Ramakanta Biswas

With the second case of espionage at the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO)’s Integrated Test Range (ITR) in Chandipur within a span of 6 years taking all by shock, the National Investigation Agency (NIA) has pitched in to unravel the truth behind the mystery.

A two-member NIA team reached ground zero in Balasore today to find out if any mastermind is involved behind the spy ring of which five contractual as well as permanent employees of the missile testing station have been arrested so far. The NIA’s visit came a day after the Odisha Crime Branch took over the investigation from the local police. 

The agency will elicit information from the five arrested persons who reportedly leaked sensitive defence secrets to foreign agents, appearing to be Pakistani agents, after being honey-trapped.

The four accused- Basanta Behera (52), Hemanta Kumar Mistri (52), Tapas Ranjan Nayak (41) and Sk Musafir (32)- earlier arrested in connection with the case are natives of Chandipur. While two of them worked as contractual AC operators at ITR Chandipur, one was a contractual DG operator and another was employed at the ITR main gate.

However, the fifth accused arrested today is a permanent staffer who worked as the driver of a top official of the ITR. The accused, Sachin Kumar Chatta, who hails from Uttar Pradesh, is a driver to the ITR director. He was living in the ITR Colony.

It is suspected that Sachin passed secret information to the four other accused who shared the data with Pakistani agents in lieu of money. 

Gayatri Das, Public Prosecutor (Cadre) said, “One person has been arrested and forwarded to court today in similar sections under which four others were arrested earlier. During the hearing, I prayed to the court to reject the bail application of the accused.”

Satyendra Umashankar Rout, counsel for the accused said, “As their bail has been rejected, they have been sent to 14 days judicial custody. The investigating officer of Chandipur police station did not seek remand of the accused today.”

According to sources, Sachin had been working as a driver for the past seven years and was staying on the ITR campus. While it is still unclear about the source from where Sachin got the secret information, involvement of any higher official at the testing range cannot be ruled out at this stage. 

Earlier, Iswar Behera, a contractual photographer of ITR was arrested on espionage charges in 2015 and currently serving life imprisonment following his conviction in February this year. 

Meanwhile, questions are being raised as to why the employees of such a sensitive place are not kept under surveillance to avoid the occurrence of such anti-national activities.

Colonel Sabuj Panda, a former security officer at DRDO, said, “In order to enter ITR Chandipur complex, you need to pass through the main gate. The intention of those arrested is very clear. They were doing the activities for money. The employees should be self-disciplined and security conscious.”

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