The Orissa High Court has refused to quash an FIR against BJP national vice president Baijayant Panda and his entrepreneur wife Jagi Mangat Panda for alleged grabbing of land, belonging to Dalit community, by a company promoted by the family. The FIR was registered on October 31, under several sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and SC and ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, by the Economic Offence Wing (EOW) of the crime branch of the state police.
Dismissing a petition filed in this regard by the Odisha Infratech Pvt Ltd, a company in which Baijayant Panda and his wife are major shareholders and promoters, Justice B P Routray on Friday also vacated an interim protection given to the couple by the high court earlier. In an interim order, the High Court on November 5 had restrained the police from arresting the couple in connection with the case pending against them before the Khurda district and sessions court.
The FIR against the BJP leader and his wife inter alia, pertains to an alleged fraud by their company in purchasing patches of land, measuring over seven acres, on the outskirts of the state capital. The FIR said that the land initially belonged to at least 22 scheduled caste persons and the vendors had sold them to an employee of the company, also from the SC community, who was used as a "sham purchaser".
The company had argued that the land deal does not attract relevant provisions of the IPC and the SC and ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act. "The alleged action may attract offence under the Prohibition of Benami Property Transaction Act", the petition said, adding that even if the allegations are taken at face value, they do not prima facie constitute an offence.
Rejecting the arguments of the petitioner, the High Court said, "The allegations (in the FIR) prima facie satisfies the ingredients for offences under the SC and ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act. "I am not inclined to interfere with the criminal proceedings, more particularly at the stage of pending investigation and accordingly, the prayer of the petitioners is rejected and the Criminal Misc. Case is dismissed. All interim orders passed stand vacated." Naming Baijayant Panda and his wife Jagi Mangat Panda, Managing Director of Odia news channel OTV, as promoters of the Odisha Infratech, the EOW had earlier said that the company used a driver of one of the directors, to act as a conduit to purchase the land.
Over seven acres was purchased by the company in the name of one Rabi Sethi, the EOW had said. The land bought in 2010 to 2013 in Sethi's name and later sold in 2016 and 2019 to OIPL was never in the possession of Sethi, the EOW said.
Meanwhile, Jagi Mangat Panda in a statement denied the allegations levelled against them and alleged that the Odisha police in the past two months has registered about 20 "false cases" against OTV, its sister companies, employees and her family members, including her 84-year-old father. "We vehemently deny the allegations. There has been no wrongdoing by us and we are confident that this will be ultimately proved in the courts.
"We assert that these cases are being orchestrated by the BJD government in Odisha, because of Chief Minister Naveen Patnaiks personal vendetta against us," Panda alleged in the statement.