Gobinda Sahu 'suicide': Too little surveillance at Odisha jail for high profile prisoner

Two prison staff were on duty on Tuesday; CCTV cameras did not adequately cover jail.
Gobinda Sahu was the main suspect in the Mamita Meher murder case.
Gobinda Sahu was the main suspect in the Mamita Meher murder case.

BHUBANESWAR/BALANGIR: Even as the Crime Branch of Odisha Police began investigation into the alleged suicide of Gobinda Sahu on Wednesday, a preliminary probe suggests there was virtually little or no surveillance at Kantabanji sub-jail where the main suspect in Mamita Meher murder was lodged.

Sahu had been arrested by Odisha Police after they launched an investigation into Mamita's disappearance in October 2021. Family members of the 24-year-old teacher of Sunshine English Medium School, set up by Sahu, had earlier alleged that she mysteriously disappeared after accompanying Sahu, the school's managing committee president, in his car to Bhawanipatna on October 8. The police after investigation had concluded that the murder had been pre-planned and executed by Sahu. He was subsequently arrested and jailed.

On Tuesday, just two jail staff were on duty at Kantabanji sub-jail. One was guarding the gate while the warder was in charge of 71 inmates of the prison. The lone warder, Akshaya Mohanty, was placed under suspension for dereliction of duty.

In fact, the sub-jail had a staff strength of seven but two had gone on leave. Of the rest five, two were on duty on Tuesday morning shift. The Kantabanji sub-jail has seven wards, six for male inmates and the rest for females.

Besides, the jail had installed 12 CCTV cameras to keep an eye on the prisoners. Interestingly, the CCTV cameras did not adequately cover the backside of the jail where Sahu is alleged to have taken the extreme step.

Prison Directorate officials acknowledge that the crime scene – backside of the kitchen where the alleged suicide took place – had trees which apparently blocked view of the CCTV camera. That area, according to jail officials, was isolated. Yet, it did not have adequate surveillance. Even warder Mohanty was not aware of the incident until an inmate flagged the matter around 10.30 am which has been admitted by the prison authorities.

Sahu was a high-profile inmate because of the sensitive nature of the case. Yet he was not lodged separately from others. The jail did not have a special cell although the Odisha Model Jail Manual 2020 mandates that high-security prisoners should be separated from others.

Besides, Sahu was supposed to appear for trial at Additional District Judge Court at Kantabanji but till the court van arrived on Tuesday, no one had any clue where the prisoner was. Around 10.30 am, when the van reached and he was not seen around, there was a commotion and an undertrial prisoner spotted him behind the kitchen.

With such scarce surveillance at the jail, Sahu’s alleged suicide has only drawn a sharp reaction. His uncle Mahendra Sahu alleged that it did not appear to be a suicide as there were too many loose ends. He demanded a CBI investigation into it.

Sahu’s brother-in-law Bhubaneswar Sahu said he had spoken to him at around 7.40 am and the accused sounded perfectly alright. “I spoke to him at 7.41 am for five minutes and he was fine. I briefed him about the legal status of his case. He had revealed to me that he was being tortured by police,” he said.

Meanwhile, the CB team started the investigation by seizing a towel, one pair of slippers, a kitchen cloth and a wooden log from the spot. Earlier, after post mortem, Sahu’s body was handed over to his daughter Lipika Sahu for cremation. Two professors of the Departments of Forensic Medicine and Toxicology, VIMSAR, Burla and another professor of Bhima Bhoi Medical College and Hospital, Balangir conducted the post-mortem at Balangir

Meanwhile, a complaint by Sahu’s wife Susama was transferred to Kantabanji police station by Kalahandi police. She had demanded a high-level probe into the case suspecting it to be a murder.

(If you are having suicidal thoughts, or are worried about a friend or need emotional support, someone is always there to listen. Call Sneha Foundation - 04424640050 (available 24x7) or iCall, the Tata Institute of Social Sciences' helpline - 02225521111, which is available Monday to Saturday from 8 am to 10 pm.)

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