From financial scams to growing violence against women, Odisha hit the headlines in 2013 for wrong reasons. While the entire nation was gripped by outrage over women’s safety and security following the sensational Delhi gangrape incident, the State was shamed by one atrocity after another.
It was the murder of Itishree Pradhan, a school teacher of Rayagada district, which haunted the Naveen Patnaik Government the most. After her complaint against a school inspector Netranand Dandsena went unheeded, Itishree was set on fire by unidentified miscreants on October 27 at her school in Tikri. A week later, she died in a hospital in Visakhapatnam.
The teacher’s death triggered a storm with the Odisha Government facing a barrage of accusations over inaction and even shielding the culprits. Dandsena, who hitherto, had managed to evade police arrest was apprehended but that was not to be the end of the story as his connection with a Biju Janata Dal MP intensified the storm further.
The Odisha Government handed over the case to Crime Branch but till date the miscreants who had allegedly set the teacher on fire are at large with the National Commission for Women stepping into the case and demanding an inquiry by the Central Bureau of Investigation into the entire incident.
A 15-year-old girl from Kendrapara’s Mahakalpada block was set on fire by two youths for thwarting their advances. The girl was hospitalised at SCB Medical College at Cuttack but her family faced more harassments at the hands of the hospital staff who demanded bribes leaving the Government red-faced.
As her condition deteriorated, the State Government decided to shift her to AIIMS, New Delhi but she perished near the Biju Patnaik Airport while being in the ambulance. This created a flutter as the Government was accused of inaction and delaying her treatment. The NCW also posed further problems for the Government demanding that action taken reports on these two cases be presented before the State Assembly.
Even as the incidence of rape rose from 1,112 in 2011 to 1,458 in 2012 and kept rising in 2013, a 16-year-old gangrape victim of Rayagada died in a Visakhapatnam hospital. Similarly, a blind girl was raped and murdered in Puri raising huge outrage over the deteriorating law and order that reflected in increasing violence against women in the State.
The year was also year of sensational murders. The month of June saw one of the most gory murder ever reported in the Capital City. Retired Army doctor Somnath Parida allegedly killed her 62-year-old wife Ushashree and chopped her body into small pieces which he preserved in their IRC Village house for at least three weeks. Had it not been for suspecting relatives of the deceased, the murder would have remained suppressed for more time as the 71-year-old retired Colonel did not allow anyone to visit his house.
Most bizarre was his explanation: Ushashree died naturally and he had preserved the body so that it can be taken to Shirdi for cremation as per her last wishes.
In September, City businessman Manu Charan Patnaik’s 53-year-old wife Bachansudha was brutally murdered in her posh Rasulgarh home sending shockwaves in the Capital. As it turned out, security guard Dipti Ranjan Patnaik was the killer.
Unlike previous years, the outgoing 2013 saw a let-up in Maoist violence in the State. The security forces gained strategic ground against the Left Wing Extremists. Huge hauls of arms, ammunition and explosives were seized by the State Police who were well aided by Border Security Force and CRPF.
In September, the Malkangiri Police gunned down 13 suspected Maoists in Silakuta forest of Podia block inflicting a huge blow to the outlawed outfit. It was a success which saw the coming of age of Odisha Police. The year also saw the least number of casualties (seven) suffered by security personnel in last five years while inflicting at least 23 casualties on Naxals, one of the highest in recent times.
Amidst all the bloodshed and gory news, white collar crime appeared like it never had in the State. While West Bengal saw Saradha Group scam, Odisha was reeling under a chit fund scam whose magnitude was as big, if not bigger. A status report by the Institutional Finance wing of the Finance department put the total number of depositors in various money circulation firms at 6.89 lakh and their combined investment at a whopping ` 4,375 crore.
From Seashore Group of Industries to Artha Tatwa Group, the Naveen Patnaik Government had its hands full as political leaders found themselves dragged into the controversy for their nexus with the company promoters. While the State Government ordered a judicial probe by Justice RK Patra into the scam to bail itself out, the Economic Offences Wing went after the companies. So far, over 350 cases have been registered while 480 people arrested in connection with the chit fund scam including big names like Prashant Dash of Seashore, Pradip Sethi of AT Group.
The Government also successfully pushed for the Odisha Protection of Interest of Depositors (In Financial Establishments) Act 2011 getting Presidential assent for the legislation which led to attachment of assets of at least four big financial firms.