Rajendra Prasad Mohapatra

Following the Centre’s direction to Khordha Collector and Odisha Chief Secretary to keep the diversion process of forest land in favour of the Kalinga Institute of Social Science (KISS) in abeyance, an RTI activist and an environmentalist have trained their guns at former BJD MP and the owner of KIIT and KISS Achyuta Samanta. 

It is alleged that Achyuta Samanta is a habitual land grabber. Moreover, the former ruling party- Biju Janata Dal (BJD)- has also come under scanner after the development.

Khordha Collector had allegedly started the process of diversion and handing over 4.032 hectares of revenue forest land under Chandaka Wildlife Division in favour of KISS, Bhubaneswar for the development of education facilities for tribal students. 

In a letter on June 21, Tribal Affairs Minister Jual Oram directed the Khordha Collector and Odisha Chief Secretary to keep the entire process in abeyance. 

The Ministry of Tribal Affairs has also separately sought clarifications from the State government on the matter.

"Complaints have been received about proper compliance with the Forest Rights Act (FRA) while processing the proposal. It is understood that you have initiated the process to hand over the aforesaid revenue forest land to Kalinga Institute of Social Science (KISS). You are advised to keep the process in abeyance till the required clarification is received in the Ministry of Tribal Affairs and formal clearance is issued in the matter,” the letter read.

Earlier before the general elections, an advertisement was issued by KISS regarding obtaining clearance from the Ministry. Time and again it has been alleged that several forest lands are being illegally encroached upon by KISS.

Who Said What On Alleged Forest Land Grabbing By KISS’ Achyuta Samanta...

In response to the allegations, Khordha Collector Chanchal Rana said, “We have received the letter from the Ministry and it is being examined. We don’t know what happened in the past and the case record is being examined. What is there on the land will be investigated.”

RTI activist and environmentalist slam KISS’ Samanta

Meanwhile, RTI activist Pradeep Pradhan and environmentalist Prafulla Samantaray rapped Samanta by bringing land-grabbing allegations against him.

“Former BJD MP Achyuta Samanta, who owns KIIT, is an expert in land grabbing and encroaching upon lands by submitting false affidavits. If anyone is grabbing lands in Bhubaneswar, he is Achyuta Samanta. In 2014, when CAG report was out, information regarding KIIT’s land scam came to the fore. As per RTI, Achyuta Samanta has encroached upon 10 acres of land there,” alleged Pradeep Pradhan, an RTI activist.

Commenting on the issue, environmentalist Prafulla Samantaray alleged, “The question remains how it was allowed to the institution engaged in business. The Odisha government should decide on it. Whatever directive has come from the Centre now is very much in the purview of the law. The State government should take action after a review of past violations. There have been instances of violation in the past and the voices of people suppressed. There is also an NGT order and there have been violations.”

“In 2011, they were served a notice wherein they were asked to vacate the land and a penalty of Rs 30,000 was imposed. In 2016, they said they had surrendered eight acres and kept 10 acres. In March 2017, the NGT directed the government to take the 10-acre land under its control and bring it back to its pristine condition by planting trees,” alleged Shankar Pani, an advocate. 

“In 2020, the court said in its final order that no non-forest activities could be carried out on that patch of land as they didn’t have approval under the Forest Conservation Act. However, the then government didn’t take any action on it,” he further alleged. 

Now a question is raised as to whether Samanta is trying to grab land on the pretext of providing education to the tribal students. Has Samanta misutilised his power when he was an MP of the ruling party? Why didn’t the then BJD government implement the order of NGT for a long time? Is there involvement of senior officials in the illegal activity?

In response to the development, BJP leader Babu Singh said that the State government will not spare anyone if found guilty.

“If there is any illegality, the Central and State governments won’t spare anyone irrespective of their positions,” said Babu Singh.

No reaction regarding the allegations could be obtained from KISS’ Samanta or the BJD.

While Achyuta Samanta is yet to comment on the allegations, KIIT Chief PRO Shradhanjali Nayak said, “No official letter has been received.”

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