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Baijayant Panda's chopper seized, family hangar sealed for flying over eco-sensitive zone in Odisha

Bhubaneswar: Former Lok Sabha MP Baijayant Panda's chopper has seen seized by the police for allegedly flying over the Chilika Lake — an 'eco-sensitive' zone in the coastal belt of Odisha, police said on Tuesday.

The industrialist-turned-politician, who quit the ruling Biju Janata Dal (BJD) in May following his suspension for "anti-party activities", denied the charge and accused the state government of trying to "handicap his movement."

File image of Baijayant Panda. News18

File image of Baijayant Panda. News18

An FIR filed by the Chilika Development Authority (CDA) at the Marine Police Station in Puri has alleged unauthorised flying of a chopper at a "dangerous level" on 15 September, Superintendent of Police Sarthak Sarangi said. The action was taken Monday upon verification of flying records at the Bhubaneswar airport, the Puri SP said. "Panda's chopper was seized and a hangar belonging to his family at the Biju Patnaik International Airport here sealed late on Monday," Sarangi added.

The SP further said that notices have been issued to Panda, the pilot of the chopper, and two others — Abhijit Iyer Mitra and Aarti Tikoo — who allegedly accompanied the former MP in the helicopter that day. They have been asked to appear in person at the Sadar Police Station in Puri on Wednesday, Sarangi said.

A CDA official said the FIR was filed on the basis of reports gathered from local people in the Chilika area.

The SP said the police has also received a complaint from Priyadarshi Patnaik of "Sachetan Nagarika Manch" against Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, Revenue Minister Maheshwar Mohanty and former minister Sanjay Dasburma accusing them of flying over Chilika, Asia's largest brackish water lake, in the past. It is being looked into, he said.

Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of CDA, Sushant Nanda, said the complaint against the chief minister pertains to chopper flight taken long ago, but if required the matter would be examined.

Panda, on his part, denied the allegation and claimed that he had no intention of landing on Chilika and the chopper was not flying low. He tweeted:

The former MP also clarified that he was flying to Kendrapara to meet parents of two children, who recently drowned in a pond.

The issue led to a heated exchange of words between the ruling BJD members and opposition Congress and Bharatiya Janata Party MLAs during Tuesday's Assembly session. The ruling party members staged a dharna on the Assembly premises, demanding immediate arrest of Panda over violation of environmental norms.

BJP Legislature Party leader KV Singhdeo, however, extended support to the former parliamentarian. "We are maintaining double standards. We are opposing chopper landing in Chilika, while allowing hundreds of mechanised boats to operate in the lagoon," he said.

Congress MLA and Leader of Opposition Narasingha Mishra sought a thorough investigation into the case.

Meanwhile, Forest and Environment Minister Bijayshree Routray said the state government will take necessary actions in the matter as per law. "A preliminary investigation shows he (Panda) committed a mistake by flying at a low-level in a fragile and eco-sensitive area," Routray said. While no harm was caused to the bio-diversity of the lake, people in the area were frightened, he said.

Director of Biju Patnaik International Airport SC Hota stated that the former MP had received permission from the authorities after producing a "proper flight plan". He, however, could not confirm if Panda flew over the restricted area.


Updated Date: Sep 19, 2018 07:45 AM

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