BHUBANESWAR: It was a year of pandemic. The killer second wave left a devastating impact on life and livelihood across Odisha which remained shut for most parts of 2021. Unlike 2020 when law and order had remained under control due to the prolonged lockdown, the current year saw the complete opposite as Odisha Police grabbed the headlines for wrong reasons.
The sensational Mamita Meher murder in Kalahandi emerged as a blot because it showed police in extremely poor light. So was the botched police investigation in Mahanga double murder in which Law Minister Pratap Jena was named.
The Mamita Meher murder was one of the incidents which gave the BJD government some real embarrassing moments. At the centre was Minister of State for Home Dibya Shankar Mishra whose alleged proximity with prime accused Gobinda Sahu snowballed into a huge political controversy that left the State Assembly paralysed.
Accusations of politician-criminal nexus aside, it exemplified how police at large cared two hoots for all the reforms brought under Mo Sarkar initiatives of the Odisha government. Despite the priority on safety and security of women and children, family members of Mamita had a tough time lodging a missing complaint at Kalahandi’s Kegaon police station on October 9 after the lady teacher disappeared under mysterious circumstances.
Dejected, they returned and lodged a complaint with Sindhekela police station in Balangir district on October 12. What followed was a long story of bad police work. So much so that key accused Gobinda even managed to flee the police custody before being nabbed. The entire episode left the Naveen Patnaik government red-faced with State Police top brass failing to even put up a decent defence.
Had Kegaon police acted effectively and sensitively on the missing complaint of Mamita's family, the cops could have possibly cracked the case. After State-wide outrage, Kegaon IIC Damu Parija was suspended for 'negligence of duty' on October 20.
The other was the investigation in the Mahanga double murder earlier in January. Former Mahanga block chairperson and BJP leader Kulamani Baral (73) and his relative Dibyasingh Baral (80) were killed over alleged political rivalry.
The political murder allegations were bolstered when another accused was found run over by a vehicle. Interestingly, the Salepur JMFC was completely dissatisfied with the police investigation and ordered a fresh probe. It took the Mahanga Police weeks to submit call detail records after being pulled up by the court several times. The police work was at its lowest ebb.
Another episode of bad policing was the mysterious death of Paralakhemundi ACF Soumya Rajan Mohapatra in a fire mishap on July 12. The sensational incident which remained in headlines for weeks took the State Police over two months to conclude that it was an accidental death but charged the officer's wife with negligence.
On October 7, Crime Branch submitted a 300-page chargesheet where wife Bidya Bharati was named as the only accused, charged under sections 304A and 285 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) - both bailable offences.
Even as Odisha Police continued to portray itself as a people-friendly organisation, custodial deaths remained a cause of major concern. In Bargarh, a daily wage earner Gobinda Kumbhar died allegedly due to custodial torture in September. He was picked up for questioning over a two-month-old group fight case.
The incident led to serious law and order situation in Bargarh as family members said that he was completely hale and hearty while police claimed that he was taken ill the morning after he was taken into custody.
Cause of concern
Kegaon Police failed to act swiftly in the Mamita Meher murder case
Mahanga Police took weeks to submit call detail records of the accused in the double murder case. It did so only after being pulled up by the Salepur JFMC court several times
Low rate of conviction remains a concern for the State police