A row has erupted over the handcuffing of an Odisha Opposition party leader, accused in a case of financial irregularities.
The Bhubaneswar Police on Tuesday handcuffed Odisha Jana Morcha (OJM) secretary general Jagneswar Babu, a former member of chief minister Naveen Patnaik’s Biju Janata Dal (BJD), while bringing him to a vigilance court from the Jharpada special jail here. However, police had to unlock the cuffs following protests from lawyers present in the court.
Babu was arrested on May 1 by the state vigilance department on charges of illegally sanctioning loans worth R37 crore to a cooperative sugar mill during his term as president of Odisha State Cooperative Bank.a
A former BJD general secretary, Babu had sided with Rajya Sabha MP Pyarimohan Mohapatra when he formed the OJM following his expulsion from the ruling party for allegedly plotting a coup against Patnaik in May last year.
“By handcuffing Babu, the police have flouted the Supreme Court guideline that says that even hardcore criminals cannot be handcuffed without prior permission of the court,” said Babu’s lawyer Suman Biswal, who has brought the incident to the notice of the court.
OJM chief Mohapatra termed the police action as undemocratic, unethical and vindictive. “How can a assistant sub-inspector dare to handcuff a person of Babu’s stature and violate the law,” he asked. “This was done at the behest of the chief minister.”
The main Opposition parties Congress and Bharatiya Janata Party also criticised the incident. State Congress chief Jayadeb Jena said Patnaik himself had appointed Babu as the bank’s president and the alleged irregularities had occurred two years ago. “Arresting Babu after he left the BJD and then handcuffing him smacks of political vendetta,” he said.
“Handcuffing Babu was meant to humiliate him,” BJP spokesperson Suresh Pujari said. “Clearly, the chief minister has sent a message not only to Opposition parties, but also his own partymen that they would pay a heavy price if they stray from the BJD.”
However, BJD vice president and panchayati raj minister Kalpataru Das refuted the allegation that Patnaik or his government had anything to do with the incident and blamed it on the police.
“It is the police’s job to take an accused from jail to court and back safely,” Das said. “If anybody (police) has violated the Supreme Court guideline, he will face the consequences.”
Bhubaneswar deputy commissioner of police Nitinjeet Singh said whether an accused should be handcuffed or not was at the discretion of the police squad taking him from jail to court and back.