The Leading Story
Most people (politics aside)*– and not just the followers of Naveen Patnaik and the followers of the power couple (Jay & Jagi Panda), who run a popular media house of Odisha, know there is more to the tug of war between the two sides than meets the eye. Frankly, the spat is not about Jay Panda’s political ambitions. The current BJP national vice president had left the BJD a year and a half back and joined the BJP, embarrassing the former – and in particular its supremo Naveen Patnaik – nationally. Had that not been the case, dozens of ruling party spokespersons would have been defending Jay Panda as well as OTV in the same case. The Naveen Patnaik dispensation has gone all guns blazing against OTV and its promoters after the latter began going hammer and tongs against the government following Jay’s growing proximity with BJP a couple of years ago.
According to the sources in the government, Odisha Infratech Pvt. Ltd has been involved in multiple Benami transactions. The BJP National Vice President and his wife and OTV MD Jagi Mangat Panda are the key shareholders of the firm. The firm had purchased more than 7 acres of land of Sarua village in Khurda district in the name of one Rabi Sethi, who is a driver by profession. The charge against the Pandas is that they used Rabi as a front to buy land from Dalits fraudulently. Rabi, the FIR said, had never been in possession of the land he is supposed to have purchased from fellow Dalits (SCs), which strengthens the suspicion that he was used only as a ghost buyer to circumvent the law.
Under the law, non-SC buyers cannot buy SC land. Only SC buyers can buy SC land as per the Odisha Land Reforms Act. In this background, the land deal does raise suspicion in the public mind that Rabi was used as a decoy to bypass the law. After the land was purchased in his name, it was promptly sold off to the real estate firm of which the Pandas are the promoters. The suspicious deal prima facie appears to have violated the provisions of Scheduled Tribes & Scheduled Caste (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, the Benami Transactions Act as well as the Income tax Act.
With the Honourable High Court giving the go-ahead for the investigation by Govt. agencies into the alleged land grab, there appears to be little room for the Pandas to wriggle out of the case.
While it is too early to pronounce the Pandas guilty of fraud, it’s clear that they cannot get away simply by screaming ‘vendetta’. After all, the matter involves land belonging to poor Dalits and there is enough ground to suspect that everything about the land deal was not honky dory.
The phrase “Law will take its course” was popularized by Naveen Patnaik. But he is yet to reiterate in this particular case what has become a catchphrase of his regime. The party Supremo is in no action mode while his Govt. is in hyperactive mode.
Everyone’s dignity matters and the Pandas should be presumed innocent till they are held guilty by the court. Settling personal scores and fighting ego battles by using the law is unacceptable since the case also involves the question of editorial independence of OTV.
Only a fair investigation under an independent agency can bring out the truth and inspire confidence in the public. Law should take its own course not just in this case, but in every case against anyone irrespective of how big or powerful their affiliations are. It is essential to strengthen the trust of the people in the supremacy of the law and ensure probity of public life. Let’s stand for a constructive participatory State in the time to come.
Written By- Dibyajit Sahu