By Sandeep Sahu
The ongoing CBI investigation into the multi-thousand crore chit fund scam is fast turning out to be a theatre of the absurd. More than a year after it last questioned Balasore MP Rabindra Jena and Laxmibilasini Biswal, wife of Choudwar-Cuttack MLA Pravat Biswal, in connection with the Seashore case, the agency suddenly felt on Saturday that it needs to question them again – presumably in an effort to seek answers to some hitherto unanswered questions. But no one is sure what it was doing for a year.
Of course, it is possible that the CBI was busy investigating the case in all sincerity all this while and decided to summon the two in the light of fresh revelations that it had stumbled on during the course of the investigation. But there have been far too many flip-flops during the investigation that has been meandering along for two and a half years now for anyone to give it the benefit of doubt.
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Earlier this year, there was much hullabaloo over the notice served on Sanjay Dasburma, the Food and Civil Supplies minister and a key member of the Naveen Patnaik’s team, in connection with the Pajero Sport SUV that he allegedly received from the Artha Tatwa (AT) Group, another major player in the scam, as a ‘gift’. Dasburma was so ‘perturbed’ over the summons that he did not even bother going himself but sent a lackey with some papers instead. No one knows if the papers presented by Dasburma’s associate answered all the queries the central investigating agency had about the ‘gift’. But no one has heard anything about it since then.
Then there was the curious case of former Advocate General (AG) Ashok Mohanty, who had been arrested by the CBI for allegedly receiving yet another ‘gift’ from the generous AT boss Pradeep Sethy – this time in the shape of a house in Cuttack city. The agency had claimed at the time to have ‘clinching’ evidence to nail him. But once the Khurda District and Sessions court gave him bail under circumstances that can only be called highly controversial, no one knows what happened to the case and the ‘clinching’ evidence that the CBI had!
Earlier, the CBI investigation reached the doorstep of Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik when it grilled his key confidante Saroj Sahu for two hours in connection with the Seashore scam, forcing the BJD supremo to promptly disassociate himself from his erstwhile Man Friday and even bar his entry into Naveen Nivas. But two years down the line, Sahu is back where he was and the CBI is back to square one!
Four-time Banki MLA Pravat Tripathy was just about the only political leader of note, who had to actually serve time in prison for alleged involvement in the scam. But though the CBI has questioned him even after he came out of jail, he appears to be sitting pretty, confident that the worst is now well and truly over. [Poor Ramachandra Hansda! He can be forgiven for believing that he was ‘dumped’ – or, at the very least, not ‘bailed out’ – by the leadership of the party he had joined just months before being arrested because he was not ‘weighty’ enough and/or because he was a tribal from Mayurbhanj!]
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And to think that at one time about two years ago, the CBI, under the able leadership of the then SP MK Sinha, had gone about its investigation with clinical efficiency and had raised hopes that it would get to the bottom of the case, which could well have landed a dozen or more BJD leaders behind bars. But everything changed after a change at the top of the agency. Sinha was replaced and the probe began to meander.
BJD Parliamentary party leader Bhartruhari Mahatab’s off-the-cuff remark published in leading Odia daily ‘Sambad’ recently proved that there was more to the allegation about a ‘deal’ between the BJD and BJP for taking the CBI off the back of the former than just malicious opposition propaganda and wild speculation. Earlier, on New Year Day this year to be precise, Union Tribal Affairs minister Jual Oram, in a moment of rare candour, had admitted much the same.
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Notwithstanding the periodic visits of top sleuths of the CBI and SIT to Bhubaneswar and the façade of ‘high level’ review meetings conducted by them, the fact remains that the probe into the scam is all but dead. In a stinging comment on the working of the CBI, the Supreme Court had observed - quite appropriately, one must say – that it was a ‘caged parrot’. Three years down the line, the parrot appears to have neither spunk nor even the desire to come out of the cage!