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Mrunal Manmay Dash

With the Odisha Police struggling hard to manage the law and order situation in the State owing to manpower crunch, the year 2021 witnessed a spike in criminal activities and a state of lawlessness in many parts as evident from a series of audacious and sensational crimes that raised serious question marks on public safety.

While some of the crimes hogged limelight for their brutality, a lot others were shadowed or brushed under the carpet as they failed to make it to the headlines.

Here is a recall of some of the major crimes that jolted the political corridors and society at large in the State in 2021.

Mahanga Double Murder

The year, 2021 began with the brutal murder of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader and former Mahanga Block chairman Kulamani Baral. Kulamani and his associate Dibyasingh Baral were hacked to death while returning to their village Nrutanga under Cuttack’s Mahanga on the evening of January 2.

Being a BJP strongman, Baral’s murder created a major political storm after the son of the deceased alleged the complicity of Odisha Minister and BJD leader Pratap Jena in the crime. As per the FIR, the murder was executed on the orders of Jena. The case became more complicated after the police recovered the body of the prime accused, Prafulla Biswal, who had been on the run, just a month after the crime, in February.

Though the charge sheet did not make any mention of Jena, a local court later ordered the investigating officer to conduct a fresh investigation and submit the call detail records of all the accused in the case. The battle for justice by Baral’s son is still on.

Jharaphula Death Mystery

In the same month (January), the body of a plus three student, Jharaphula Nayak was recovered from roadside near Mulapala at Kuakhia in Jajpur district on January 27.

Jharaphula was allegedly done to death by her boyfriend Rakesh Swain following a tiff over Rs 30,000. Rakesh had borrowed more than Rs 30,000 from the deceased to purchase a motorcycle.

However, the relationship between Rakesh and Jharaphula turned sour after the latter demanded her money back.

On January 26, the accused had invited Jharaphula on the pretext of returning the money. Rakesh asked Jharaphula to wait at an OYO hotel in Bhubaneswar where he allegedly forced her to drink alcohol and later smothered her.

Gangster Hyder Encounter Death

The name, Sk Hyder needs no introduction in Odisha. Born in Kendrapara, the 58-years-old dreaded gangster was serving life sentence before he was killed in a police encounter on July 24, 202. Hyder was a rickshaw puller who rose to notoriety in underworld ranks in the 90’s. In 2015, Hyder had been sentenced to life.

He was in the news in 2021 when he managed to stage a dramatic from police custody while undergoing treatment at the SCB Hospital in Cuttack. A joint team of Odisha and Telangana Police arrested him from Telangana in April this year. Barely three months after returning to the prison cell, Hyder was shifted from the Choudwar jail to a jail in Baripada on July 24. Police said the gangster made an attempt to snatch the rifle from one of the guards in the jail van which was travelling near Balasore on its way to Baripada. In the retaliatory action, the police fired at Hyder, injuring him critically. He later died at a hospital in Balasore even as his relatives alleged that the encounter had been staged by the police.

DRDO Espionage Case

Pakistan link, honey trap and other murkier details were unearthed in Odisha after a special squad of the Balasore Police picked up five contractual employees at the Defence Research & Development Organisation (DRDO) in Chandipur for questioning over espionage charges on September 14 this year.

Till then, espionage was, more or less, an alien term in Odisha. But following the arrest of five accused in the DRDO espionage case on charges of passing classified information to Pakistani agents belonging to the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), the otherwise sleepy State woke up to the menace of the clear and present danger.

The National Investigation Agency (NIA) later took over the probe. It was disclosed that one of the five accused in the case received cash transfer of around Rs 38,000 from a bank account in Dubai.

The role of a female conduit in the espionage ring also came under scanner during the probe. The female operative had established contact with the accused over Facebook, police said.

Manish Anurag Murder

Bhubaneswarites woke up to a grim news on October 10 (Sunday) when the body of Manish Anurag, son of noted journalist Naveen Das, was recovered under mysterious circumstances from a pond at Patrapada on the outskirts of Bhubaneswar.

It was alleged that Manish was abducted by two persons in a car from Infocity area on Saturday night. The abductors had also reportedly made a ransom call to the family members.

Manish was last seen at the South City Hotel and Bar where he went along with his friends. A day before his death, a quarrel had allegedly broken out at the bar over payment and Manish was detained for some time by the bar management. Three persons have been arrested in connection with the murder so far.

However, the Twin City Commissionerate Police came under fire when it was revealed that the South City Hotel, which was sealed after the death of Manish, was run by a policeman. A video clip which surfaced on social media showed lavish parties being held in the bar till late at night despite restrictions imposed by the police in view of Covid-19. Questions were raised as to why no action was taken against the bar cum restaurant cum alleged dance bar for flouting the government norms.

Mamita Meher Murder Case

Arguably, the most highlighted case of the year, lady teacher of Mahaling College in Kalahandi, Mamita Meher’s disappearance and subsequent discovery of her charred body from a pit at an under construction stadium created a storm in the political circles.

The Opposition’s vociferous protest in and outside the State Assembly brought public life to a standstill and the BJD-led Odisha government on its’ knees after Minister of State (Home) Dibya Shankar Mishra’s purported links with the prime accused Gobinda Sahu surfaced.

Police role too came under the scanner after they hurriedly sought to give a clean chit to the Minister, not before Sahu managed to stage a dramatic escape from the police barracks at Titlagarh where he had been summoned for interrogation. There were enough reasons to suspect that the police was under pressure to save some skins while the government steadfastly kept defending the marked Minister.

The ghastly murder and the alleged loopholes in the investigation continue to raise serious question marks over the functioning of the police department and claims of zero tolerance against injustice to the fairer sex in the State.

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