Law catches up with Baijayant Panda for grabbing Dalit land in Odisha; way cleared for arrest by Odisha HC
The land purchased from 22 Dalits at fifty per cent of the market price was later acquired by Panda’s company, in which he and his wife have 95 per cent share, for a mere Rs. 65 lakh
By SN Sahu
Consider the line “To break the rules, you must first know the rules” in an article headlined “Arriviste in a hurry” authored by Baijayant Jay Panda carried by The Indian Express on April 23, 2010. Or the sentence “After all, politics is full of people who fail the Caesar’s wife test (or, for the more Swadeshi inclined, the similar test involving Lord Rama and his wife Sita)” in the same article. He wrote those two sentences in that article in the context of Shashi Tharoor’s resignation from the Union Council of Ministers for his “alleged misdeeds during the auction for a cricket franchise of the Indian Primer League in 2010”.
It is indeed shocking that two months before he wrote those lines, beginning from June 22, 2010 and ending on March 1, 2013, he and his wife Jagi Panda acted in breaking Land Reforms legislation and other laws of Odisha with impunity to acquire the land of 22 Dalits by circumventing the law by using in a low paid employee of his company who happened to be a Dalit. That hapless employee, Rabi Sethi, later gave a statement before the magistrate that he was coerced and used as a facade of a genuine purchaser because of his Dalit identity without any money getting credited to his account for the purchase of land owned by Dalits in a highly questionable manner.
Almost a decade later, both Jay Panda and his wife have been prima facie found guilty of breaking the law for acquiring the said land in Sarua in Khurda district of Odisha for their company Odisha Infrateh Pvt. Ltd (OIPL) by using Sethi, a former driver in Panda’s company ORTEL Communication Ltd. Panda knew that the rules embodied in the Odisha Land Reform Act and Land Revenue Act prohibited purchase of land of Dalits by non-Dalits. The land purchased by Sethi from 22 Dalits at fifty per cent of the market price was later acquired by Panda’s company, in which he and his wife have 95 per cent share, for Rs. 65 lakh.
In the entire process, not a single rupee came to Sethi’s account, which led the High Court of Odisha in its judgment dated November 20, 2020 to describe the buyer of the land as a “sham purchaser”. The High Court also observed that, “Because the allegations prima facie reveal total non-payment of consideration amount to opposite party no. 3 (Rabi Sethi) and lesser payment to those twenty two original vendors of the land in question, the definition of ‘cheating’, ‘dishonestly’ and ‘fraudulently’ as incorporated in the Indian Penal Code are made out at first sight.
This observation of the High Court of Odisha constitutes the proof of Baijayant Panda’s own words, uttered in 2010 in his aforementioned article, that, “After all, politics is full of people who fail the Caesar’s wife test”. Indeed both Panda and his wife Jagi Panda miserably fell short of the standards of Caesar’s wife test which they so rigorously applied to others.
When such unforgivable violations of law were committed and the land of poor Dalits was grabbed for commercial purposes in reckless disregard for the cause of their economic security, Panda was a Lok Sabha MP representing the parliamentary constituency of Kendrapara, which in 1934 was crossed by Mahatma Gandhi in his famous and only padyatra for the cause of Dalits.
Now Panda is the national vice president of Bharatiya Janata Party and is entrusted with important responsibilities by his party, ostensibly advocating the credo centering around the slogan of the party “sabka sath, sabka vikas, sab ka vishwas”.
The gross violations of laws by Panda and his wife and making poor Dalits a victim of their predatory land deals using a poor Dalit as a cover to hide their sinister designs to dispossess them of their land negate this slogan.
He and his wife face charges of violation of the Scheduled Caste Atrocities Act, Prohibition of Benami Properties Transaction Act, income tax laws, and Odisha Land Reforms Act. All their pleas in the High Court of Odisha that the FIR against them for violations of such laws was registered with a malicious intent has been dismissed by the court when it vacated the interim protection from arrest and observed in the aforementioned judgment: “… the submission that the prosecution at the behest of the ruling political party is acting with malice or malafide motive is bound to be rejected”.
It is quite significant that the High Court rejected the pleas of both Jay and Jagi Panda that “…offences under the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act though is not made out or constituted, but the same has been deliberately added only to deprive the petitioners from the benefit of provisions for anticipatory bail”. The court held that the principal reason why the offences under the SC&ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act are made out is because “the land in question was originally contained by scheduled caste members before being transferred in the name of the company and in between stands opposite party no. 3 (Rabi Sethi) as a member of Scheduled Caste community to whom the consideration amount was not paid at all”.
The Court added that offences were not only committed against Rabi Sethi who was used by them as a “sham purchaser” but also against twenty two Dalits who were original possessors of the land. It, therefore, asserted that “the allegations prima facie satisfies the ingredients for offences under the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act”.
It is for these prima facie violations of laws that the Odisha High Court vacated the interim protection granted to both Jay and Jagi Panda and dismissed their petition to quash the FIR filed against them and investigations launched by the Economic Offences Wing of Odisha police. With this, all hurdles for their arrest have been removed.
The dismissal of their petition and withdrawal of interim protection for them by the High Court clearly proves the merits of the FIR filed against them in spite of their hallow and baseless claim that the Odisha Government is targeting them due to “personal vendetta”.
Earlier, Panda, out of sheer desperation, drew a parallel between Pakistani police and Odisha police after the latter took lawful action against those who dispossessed land of Dalits by relying on irrefutable evidence. It was quite unbecoming of him to do so. He is now with BJP and its leaders are invoking Pakistan to target Indians on some ground or other.
He should respond to the demand of the 22 poor Dalit families to return their land which has been purchased from them by the company owned by him and his wife by hoodwinking them and trampling upon multiple laws. So far, he has not refuted the charge that land of Dalits has been usurped by the said company by employing a “sham purchaser”. Now that there is a judgment of the Odisha High Court clearly indicting the manner in which a Dalit employee of the company was used to take away land of Dalits for its appropriation, he and his wife must face law and arrest for giving justice to the Dalit families who have been duped by his company.
He should be mindful that Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik does not tolerate any insult and injury inflicted on the basis of caste, which was demonstrated in December 2017 when the then state Agriculture Minister Damodar Rout was sacked from the Council of Ministers for his remark “tribals never beg in adverse situation, rather Brahmins beg for alms”. In case of Baijayant and Jagi Panda, the offence does not emanate from spoken words but from a calculated action to defraud Dalits. Both of them are not just ordinary citizens but highly acclaimed personalities because of their enviable educational and economic status and well-cultivated mannerisms. It is astounding that such people indulge in such activities with a clear intent to deprive Dalits of their meager possession of landed property for the purpose of multiplying their commercial fortunes.
No wonder that Ravi Joshi, a former senior official of the Cabinet Secretariat, Government India, said, “What a scam is this! That too grabbing land belonging to Scheduled Castes! The Wire report says this order of the Odisha High Court clears the path for the arrest of Panda and his wife. I hope Odisha govt goes ahead with the arrest”.
Courtesy : NH