Odisha govt fails to file charges, IFS officer, son get bail in corruption case
- The Odisha Vigiance Department which had accused teh IFS officer of amassing disproportionate assets worth ₹9.35 crore had claimed that it was the biggest case of disproportionate assets in its history.
In a major embarrassment for Odisha vigilance department, a vigilance court in Bhubaneswar on Wednesday granted bail to senior Indian Forest Service officer Abhay Kant Pathak and his son Akash Pathak by ‘default’ after the department failed to submit the charge sheet within the mandatory period of 60 days.
Pathak, a 1987-batch Indian Forest Service officer, working as Odisha’s additional Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (Plan, Programme and Afforestation), was arrested on November 27 last year after vigilance officials raided his official residence in Bhubaneswar, his office, his apartment and a clutch of other locations
His son Abhay Pathak who had vehicles like Mercedes, BMW and Tata Harrier as well as high-end motorcycles registered in his name, was also arrested. The agency which had accused Pathak of amassing disproportionate assets worth ₹9.35 crore ( 435 % of his total income), had claimed that it was the biggest case of disproportionate assets in its history.
Though it was incumbent upon the vigilance department to submit fie charge sheet in the case within 60 days of arrest, the agency failed to do it.
"As per the SC judgment in the case of Rakesh Paul vs state of Assam in 2017, in cases involving Prevention of Corruption Act, the prosecuting agency has to submit the charge sheet within 60 days. That the vigilance department officials failed to submit it by January 25, the due date, shows that the case was a malafide attempt to tarnish the reputation of the senior IFS officer," said Pitambar Acharya, lawyer of Pathak.
Acharya said the vigilance department kept the IFS officer and his son behind bars for 60 days without any shred of evidence. "The vigilance department curtailed the liberty of my clients by keeping them in custody on flimsy evidence for 60 days. The entire operation against the Pathaks smacked of vendetta. The department does not have sufficient evidence to file a charge sheet," he alleged.
The vigilance department, however, said the disproportionate assets case is not a conventional crime involving private individual.
"It is an offence committed by a public servant, investigation is based on records and documents and it requires detailed investigation for collection of information relating to assets, income and expenditure from multiple sources. In this case, it is a multi-State investigation, involving major investigation outside the State, which is time consuming. It also requires prosecution sanction from government for submission of charge sheet and cognizance of offence by the court to prosecute accused public servant," the department said in a statement.
The vigilance department had alleged that Pathak and his family had made at least 20 trips to different cities of the country through chartered planes at an expenditure of over ₹3 crores during Covid lockdown last year. The vigilance sleuths found hotel bills of more than ₹90 lakhs at Hotel Taj Mahal Palace, Mumbai and advance booking amount of ₹20 lakh at Taj Lake Palace, Udaipur in Rajasthan for the marriage of Pathak's son with the daughter of former BJD minister Pradeep Panigrahy. The marriage was scheduled for December 11 last year.
Following his arrest, the Indian Forest Service officer was suspended from service and subsequently, Odisha CM Naveen Patnaik also recommended his compulsory retirement. The recommendation is awaiting the Centre's approval.
However, Abhay Pathak and his son Akash Pathak may not get out of jail as they are accused in more cases. The IFS officer and his son are accused in a case of cheating over non-payment of money to a travel agency in Bhubaneswar. The father-son duo had booked chartered flights, five-star hotels and air tickets through the agency which cost around ₹2.78 crore. However, they have paid ₹2.13 crore while an outstanding bill of ₹65,16,233 is yet to be cleared.
Akash, who has been accused of conspiring with expelled BJD leader and Gopalpur MLA Pradeep Panigrahy and cheating several job seekers of crores of rupees on the pretext of giving jobs at Tata Motors, has been separately charged by the Crime Branch of Odisha Police.
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