As has been done in almost every politically sensitive case in the last few years, the investigation into the death of Paralakehmundi ACF Soumya Ranjan Mohapatra has been handed over to the Crime Branch, more than a month after he died under mysterious circumstances. A four-member investigating team, led by DSP Gyanaranjan Mishra has duly reached Paralakhemundi and started the interrogation of the ACF’S cook, two other ACFs and two forest guards on Monday. The agency has said it would also interrogate the two persons named in the FIR lodged by Mohapatra’s family members – DFO Sangram Keshari Behera and Bidyabharati Panda, the wife of the deceased – in due course.
But the past record of the elite investigative agency of Odisha Police does not inspire much confidence that the truth will ever come out in the case. In numerous cases with political overtones in the past, the Crime Branch has met a dead end. The most glaring of them all, of course, is the chit fund scam in the last decade. Far from probing deep and booking the real sharks, the apology of a probe remained content with arresting a few minor minions. It was only after the CBI took over the probe under the orders of the Supreme Court that the scale and extent of the scam was revealed and some of the big players arrested. Among the other noteworthy cases in recent memory that have lost their way after the Crime Branch took them over are the Jagabandhu Majhi murder case in Umerkote, the Itishree Pradhan case in Tikri and the teenager gang rape case in Kunduli.
To be fair, the Crime Branch has not always been at fault for the probe not making any headway. In some of these cases, the local police have bungled big time, making it impossible for the CB to get to the bottom of the case. The Itishree Pradhan case in Tikri is a case in point. So shoddy was the initial investigation into the case that even the CBI, which stepped in after the orders of the Supreme Court, failed to take the case to its logical end and book the real culprit(s). But there are other cases - the Kunduli gang rape case, for example – where one got the distinct impression that for reasons unknown to the public, the authorities did not want the truth to come out and hence the agency dutifully swept the whole thing under the carpet.
The chronology of events since the death of ACF Soumya Ranjan on July 13, a day after he sustained over 90% burn injuries under circumstances that are still unclear, suggests that this is yet another case that is headed towards a dead end. That Paralakhemundi Police have made a hash of the probe is obvious to anyone who has followed the developments in the case. Nothing proves it more than the fact that more than a month after the incident, we don’t even know yet whether it was a case of suicide, as the police would like us to believe, or murder, as the family members of the dead ACF have repeatedly alleged.
The probe so far - ‘assisted’ by the Crime Branch, mind you - has thrown up more questions than answers. As former DGP Sanjiv Marik has pointed out, it is highly unusual that the crime scene (the ACF’s official quarters) was not sealed immediately after the incident. This has led to legitimate apprehensions that the crime scene was tampered with in the aftermath of the case. The alacrity with which the local police gave a clean chit to the DFO and the cook, both of whom have been named in the FIR, after a perfunctory interrogation has also raised suspicion in the minds of many, including the family members of the deceased ACF.
But the clearest indicator that there is something more to the case than meets the eye comes from the fact that the sudden – and unexplained - transfer of the trusted private secretary of Forest minister Bikram Keshari Arukh without his knowledge, soon after Soumya Ranjan’s family alleged that the minister was shielding the DFO. As anyone familiar with how things move in the power circle would tell you, it is highly unusual for a minister’s PS to be transferred without his knowledge. And when it is someone as powerful as Arukh, it is downright unthinkable. The transfer only lent credence to the allegation made by the dead ACF’s family members.
“The Crime Branch is the government’s shield and the Vigilance its sword,” a former minister in the Naveen Patnaik government once said, off the records of course. Several cases in the past have borne out the veracity of the ex-minister’s statement. But in the interest of truth and justice, one can only hope that the Crime Branch disproves the charge and unearths the truth in the case.
(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are the author’s own and have nothing to do with OTV’s charter or views. OTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.)
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