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Devbrat Patnaik

Bhubaneswar: The Odisha Lokayukta has ordered a Vigilance probe into breach of an embankment on the Kelua river in Ramapur area under Dharmasala block of Jajpur district, which was allegedly blown off using dynamites during floods in August last year.

The Lokayukta has directed Vigilance Director to ensure that a preliminary inquiry under his supervision is conducted either by an SP or ASP rank officer and submit report within two months.

As per reports, the Lokayukta has asked Vigilance to conduct the preliminary inquiry on three major aspects - It will probe whether breaches occurred in the road embankment was due to substandard construction work resulting in washing away of the substantial portion of road embankment.

Further, it will find out if breaches were created in the road embankment to cover up corruption or whether in the construction work of road embankment, canto practice was resorted to by any public servant or any other person.

The submission of report in this regard is scheduled for March 12, 2021.

It is to be noted that the after the ownership of embankment road was transferred to the Works department in February 2014, the surface of the road was widened and improved to an intermediate lane at a cost of Rs 21.99 crore through a private contractor.

On the night of August 28, 2020, a substantial portion of the embankment was washed away due to breaches. This not only inundated and destroyed thousands of acres of paddy fields but rendered many people in nearby areas homeless due to flood.

Notably, Jaraka Irrigation Division Engineer lodged an FIR at Jajpur police station on August 29, 2020, alleging therein that some miscreants have created man-made breaches unauthorisedly on the previous night between 8 PM to 10 PM and Police have also registered offences under IPC sections 427 and 437 against unknown persons.

Following the incident, one Sarbeswar Beura had alleged that the irrigation embankment road was damaged by planting dynamites near Rampur area, further citing that such a step was intentionally taken by Dharmasala MLA Pranab Balabantaray and Junior Engineer Naren Jena, who happens to be the MLA's maternal uncle, to cover up corruption and substandard work.

"They took a huge amount of money from the contractor for their wrongful gain. The contractor, therefore, used sub-standard material in the construction work. And to cover up this, both of them hired miscreants to cause breaches in the embankment road by using dynamites to give an impression that the embankment was washed away because of a strong current of floodwater," stated Lokayukta quoting the complainant's statements.

Based on the allegations, the Odisha Lokayukta in October last year issued notices to Dharmasala BJD MLA Pranab Kumar Balabantaray, and five other government officials including chief engineer of the Works Department, Nirman Soudha Bhubaneswar, Jajpur Collector, Executive Engineer R&B Panikoili division in Jajpur, Deputy executive engineer, Jaraka Irrigation Division, and Naren Jena, posted as a Junior engineer at the office of the Executive engineer R&B Panikoili division.

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In response, Chief Engineer, Works and Executive Engineer, (R&B) Division, Panikoili stated that they have no idea whether the cause of washing away of the embankment was due to strong current of floodwater or dynamite explosion. However, they stated that no corrupt practice was resorted to in the construction work of embankment.

Even, the MLA and his maternal uncle denied allegations of corruption made against them by the complainant. The accused MLA in his response mentioned, "The allegation of corruption has been made due to political rivalry mainly to tarnish my image, but I will welcome an inquiry into the matter. If the allegation is found untrue, the complainant must be punished suitably."

Based on all the responses, the Lokayukta Chairperson has stated, "Huge amount of Rs 21.99 crore was recently spent by the Works Department on the development of road embankment. The breaches would not have occurred resulting in washing away of the substantial portion of embankment if the quality of construction work had been proper. The embankment would have withstood the impact of floodwater. There is also a possibility of creating man-made breaches for covering corruption as alleged in the complaint. An FIR alleging creation of man-made breaches has been lodged by none other than Deputy Executive Engineer, Irrigation Division. Therefore, an inquiry by a competent agency is necessary."

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