BJD MLA Pradeep Panigrahi was sacked from the party on Sunday.(HT PHOTO)
BJD MLA Pradeep Panigrahi was sacked from the party on Sunday.(HT PHOTO)

Naveen Patnaik sacks MLA for alleged involvement with tainted forest officer

Pradeep Panigrahi, MLA from Gopalpur in Ganjam district came under the scanner of the vigilance department for his alleged links with 1987-batch Odisha cadre IFS officer Abhay Pathak who has been arrested for alleged corruption.
By Debabrata Mohanty | Hindustan Times, Bhubaneswar
PUBLISHED ON NOV 29, 2020 04:23 PM IST

The arrest of Indian Forest Service officer Abhay Pathak and his son in a disproportionate assets case took its toll on BJD MLA Pradeep Panigrahi with the party on Sunday expelling three-time MLA and former minister Pradeep Panigrahi accusing him of indulging in anti-people activities.

The 56-year-old Panigrahi, MLA from Gopalpur in Ganjam district came under the scanner of the vigilance department for his alleged links with 1987-batch Odisha cadre IFS officer Abhay Pathak. Vigilance department officials who raided Pathak’s premises three days ago discovered that he had disproportionate assets worth Rs 9.3 crore. Pathak and his son Akash were arrested on November 27 and remanded in judicial custody till December 9.

Panigrahi, whose links with Pathak and his son were revealed during the raid, has been summoned by the vigilance department under section 160 of Criminal Procedure Code to join the probe, people familiar with the probe said.

Embarrassed by the developments, chief minister and BJD president Naveen Patnaik on Sunday served a terse expulsion order on Panigrahi with immediate effect making it the first time that a sitting party MLA has been sacked. In May 2012 and October 2014, BJD MLAs Prabhat Biswal and Pravat Tripathy respectively were suspended from the party after they were arrested by CBI in multi-crore rupee chit fund scam.

“I have not done any anti-people activity. BJD should clarify what anti-people activity is. Journalists should unearth what kind of anti-people activities I am involved in. I have not taken a single penny from sand mafias and 80 liquor shop owners in the district. I challenge anyone to prove me wrong,” said Panigrahi in his reaction.

Not long ago Panigrahi was the CM’s blue-eyed boy when he asked him to after the affairs of his assembly constituency Hinjilikatu. As a reward of his work, Panigrahi was given a party ticket in 2009 from Gopalpur assembly constituency and made minister in 2014. He was also made president of the district unit of the BJD for Ganjam.

BJP leader Bishnu Sethi said the expulsion of Gopalpur MLA Pradeep Panigrahi from BJD is a ploy of the ruling party to divert public attention from the murder case of a 5-year-old girl in Nayagarh district.

Panigrahi’s daughter was set to get married to Pathak’s son Akash next month in a ceremony at a palace hotel in Rajasthan’s Udaipur. During the raid on Pathak’s properties, vigilance officials came to know of Panigrahi’s involvement in Pathak’s dealings, investigators said.

Panigrahi’s trouble began after Tata Motors lodged a complaint with the crime investigation department (CID) of Odisha Police in September against Akash Kumar Pathak accusing him of cheating, forgery and impersonating as the managing director of the company. At least 60 jobseekers in Ganjam district had received fake appointment letters purportedly issued by Tata Motors Limited in which Akash Pathak reportedly played a major role, said officials of the special investigating team (SIT) probing the case. Many of the youths in Gopalpur, Panigrahi’s assembly constituency, had allegedly paid huge amounts of money to Pathak for jobs.

Tata Motors in its FIR said that Akash had taken huge amounts of money fraudulently from unemployed youth by promising them in the company. Akash allegedly projected himself as the MD of Tata Motor Pune Passenger Division and CEO designate.

Ganjam district BJD president Ramesh Chyau Patnaik said Pathak’s son had cheated people on false promise of giving them jobs. “Such fraud is not possible without any political patronage. Panigrahi’s role in it is very clear,” he said.

Earlier, the vigilance department’s raid uncovered the opulent lifestyle of Pathak who worked as additional principal chief conservator of forests (PCCF) in the state forest department. It was found that Pathak made cash deposits of about Rs 9.4 crore in the bank accounts of his son, out of which about Rs 8.4 crore was deposited in Bhubaneswar through ATMs. During the house search and subsequent inquiry, Rs 60 lakh in cash was found along with gold ornaments weighing 800 grams from his nephew and driver.

His son owned expensive vehicles like Mercedes, BMW and Tata Harrier as well as high-end bikes was also arrested. The vigilance sleuths found hotel bills of more than Rs 90 lakhs of Hotel Taj Mahal Palace, Mumbai and a booking amount of Rs 20 lakhs at Taj Lake Palace, Udaipur in Rajasthan for the upcoming marriage of his son.

During the search in the last two days at his Bhubanesewar home, investigators found that Pathak and his family had made at least 20 trips to different cities across the country through chartered planes at an expenditure of over Rs 3 crore during the lockdown. He was found to own an 8,000 sq ft luxurious apartment with an ivory-crusted bed.

Investigators say this is the biggest-ever disproportionate assets case in Odisha. The case has come to light at a time when the Naveen Patnaik government is stressing on transparency in government works through a fancy slogan of 5T( Teamwork, Transparency, Technology leading to Transformation in Time). It also started Mo Sarkar programme on Gandhi Jayanti last year to bridge the trust deficit between government officials and common people due to large scale corruption in government offices over the last decade.

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