Odisha govt bid to obfuscate Chandaka land scam comes a cropper

Reported by Chinmaya Dehury
Bhubaneswar, Aug 21:

Which department of the Odisha government owns the 100 acres of illegally acquired by two senior BJD leaders, among others, in Ghangapatna mouza under Chandaka tehsil on the outskirts of Bhubaneswar? And which of them undertook the construction of a road inside what is claimed to be forest land?

With the issue turning into a major embarrassment for the Naveen Patnaik government, the three concerned departments – namely Revenue, Forest and Rural Development – are busy passing the buck to each other in an obvious effort to obfuscate the whole matter.

Controversial road to controversial plots
Controversial road to controversial plots

A day after Revenue Minister Bijayshree Routray asked the Khordha district collector to conduct an inquiry into the matter, Forest Minister Bikram Arukh today directed the Divisional Forest Officer (DFO), Chandaka wildlife division to probe the matter while admitting construction of a road on the said land.

“I have directed the Divisional Forest Officer (DFO), Wildlife, Chandaka, to probe the allegation regarding misuse and encroachment of forest land at Ghangapatana mouza under Chandaka tehsil in Khurda district,” Arukh said this afternoon.

Claiming that action would be taken as per the law if there any violation was found, Arukh said he was expecting a final report from the DFO within a week.

Revealing that he had directed an inquiry by forest officials immediately after being informed about the alleged encroachment of rural forest land, including a hill, Arukh said, “The preliminary report suggests that the 100 acres of land in question does not come under reserve forest area nor does the road being constructed there fall under the rural forest category.”

Curiously, even as the minister claimed that the road being constructed was not ‘rural forest’ comes the revelation that it was actually ‘chotta jungle’ land as per the record of rights (RoR) which required permission of the department of Forests and Environment for construction of a road.

Based on a report filed by the local forest range officer, the DFO, Chandaka has written to the sub collector, Khurda asking for ‘strong action’ against those responsible for the construction of the road, reliable sources told OST.

Given the fact that the DFO has already got the matter investigated and even written to the sub collector asking for action, the announcement by Arukh appears to be nothing but an exercise in obfuscation.

Rural Development minister Badrinarayan Patra, it may be noted, has already clarified that his department had nothing to do with the construction of the road at Ghangapatna village.

“As soon as the allegation was made, I asked the officials to verify whether the Rural Development department had carried out any road construction work. Our officials reported that the department was in no way involved in it,” Patra has said.

Interestingly, the one department which was, in all likelihood, involved in the construction of the road, has chosen to remain silent on the issue.

Panchayati Raj minister Arun Sahoo, normally more than eager to talk to the media, avoided journalists today and hurried into his vehicle when confronted by them this afternoon.

Sources told OST that the Panchayati Raj department had sanctioned the road, but its construction could not be taken up ‘officially’ as the gram sabha refused to endorse it.

Sukant Pradhan, the Block Development Officer (BDO), Bhubaneswar, admitted as much when he said the villagers simply refused to turn up for the gram sabha called on the issue twice.

“I have submitted a report on the construction of a road at Ghangapatana village to the district collector,” he said declining to divulge the contents of the report or name the people who constructed the road.

With the ‘official’ way blocked, someone obviously started the construction of the road under ‘unofficial’ orders of the powers that be.

Incidentally, Rajya Sabha member Kalpataru Das, alleged to be among the beneficiaries of the land grab, was the Panchayati Raj minister at the time when it all happened.

With revelation after embarrassing revelation coming to the fore with each passing day, the last has certainly not been heard on the Great Odisha Land Scam.

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