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Sanjeev Kumar Patro

Bhubaneswar: With the advent of New Year, a high-profile murder had rocked Odisha.  The gruesome murder of 73-year old BJP leader Kulamani Baral in the Cuttack district yesterday had triggered a political uproar in the State. The Opposition – BJP and Congress – slammed the BJD for what they call setting off the trend of ‘political revenge’ killing in Odisha ahead of Panchayat polls in 2022.

As per the provisional data available with the State Crime Records Bureau (SCRB), Odisha had recorded around 1,332 murders in the year 2020. The election year of 2019 saw a total of 1,356 murders.

Data crunching of SCRB crime statistics shows that murders in Odisha had increased from 2017 – the year that saw Panchayat polls in the State. In another instance of sheer coincidence, the pace of murders in the State had dramatically posted a drop during the second half of the election year 2019. Elections were held in the State in March –April 2019.   During the poll period of January to May in the State, Odisha had recorded over 52 per cent of the total murders, the SCRB data revealed.

Murder Enormity In State

On an average, the State had been recording nearly 4 murder crimes every day for a period of the last three years (2018-20). An analysis had further showed that the crime rate of murders (murders per lakh State population) in Odisha for the period of 2016-20 had been hovering at around 3. This shows how the murder crime rate in Odisha had almost maintained stagnancy over the years.

 NCRB on Murders In Odisha – Political Or Not?

As per NCRB reports for the years 2017-2019, Odisha figured in the dubious list of the top -10 states that have registered higher murder crimes in the country.

The number of murders for political reasons in Odisha in 2017, when the rural polls were held, stood at 8. And the State stood second to Jharkhand in the country. During the BJP executive meet in Bhubaneswar in 2017 and also in 2019 elections, PM Narendra Modi had raised the issue of political murders in a big way.

The NCRB data for the years 2018 and 2019 saw zero murders for the cause of political enmity or vendetta in the State. However, the number of murders owing to personal vendetta or enmity, and for gain had posted a sharp rise in the State since 2018.

For instance, A BJP worker Manguli Jena was murdered in Khordha on April 14, 2019, days ahead of poll in Bhubaneswar LS and Khordha Assembly Constituencies. Even, PM Narendra Modi had made the murder a big issue during the polls. He blamed the political violence on BJD. But police record showed that the murder was a result of personal enmity/vendetta, and the assailants were yet to be arrested.

2021 Murder In Cuttack District

"The brutal murder of our septuagenarian leader Kulamani Baral, former Chairman of Mahanga Panchayat Samiti, has been at the behest of BJD leaders who are in-charge of the Mahanga Assembly constituency. He was targeted for exposing large-scale corruption in PMAY in Mahanga block," charged BJP leader Dilip Mallick.

Since Kulamani was earlier in the Congress party, before joining BJP, Odisha Congress had also castigated the BJD for unleashing a culture of political violence in the State.

“Kulamani was a good leader. The murderous assault on him shows political killings have started in the State. Odisha Government should take this case seriously and initiate stern actions against the assailants,” said Odisha Congress State President Niranjan Patnaik.

Making a strong rebuttal, Mahanga MLA and State Law Minister Pratap Jena said,

"BJD never believed in violence. I am also deeply disturbed over Baral Babu's brutal killing. I will personally look into this murder and assailants will soon be taken to task."

However, police sources there had revealed that the murderous attack on Baral could have been due to 'personal enmity'.

Why Odisha On Top 'Murderous' States' List?  

"Delay in investigation of cases has been the sole reason behind rising murders in the State," opined senior advocate Nishikant Mahapatra.

A Reality Check: Though the provisional data for year 2020 shows that in a whopping over 85 per cent cases the preliminary inquiry had been completed, the filing rate of charge-sheet, however, stood at around 30-35 per cent..

Now, take the instance of 2019. Police records revealed that charge sheets were filed in 42 per cent cases. And preliminary inquiry (PI) is conducted in over 53 per cent of murder crimes registered in the year.

The Impact: Last year the conviction rate was around 25 per cent, much lower than the national average of around 50 per cent.

"A charge-sheeting rate of around 50 per cent will be termed as good. The slower charge-sheet rate this year in the State could be attributed to the restrictions imposed due to Covid-19. But the lower conviction rate is a big worry. Higher acquittal will embolden the assaulters," observed former DGP Bipin Behari Mishra.

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