Odisha chit fund scam: Naveen in a pickle as CBI zeroes in on his MLAs

The arrest of three legislators has convinced Odisha CM that the CBI means business in its investigation into the chit fund scam.

Sandeep Sahu November 07, 2014 10:32:31 IST
Odisha chit fund scam: Naveen in a pickle as CBI zeroes in on his MLAs

Bhubaneswar: Asked by media persons if he had come to ‘manage’ the ongoing CBI probe into the mega chit fund scam on his arrival in New Delhi on Tuesday, a visibly upset Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik snapped back; “This is a ridiculous suggestion.” When a persistent media asked him about the possible arrest of some of his ministerial colleagues by the CBI, he said; “I have no such information.”

The same routine was played out on Wednesday afternoon when he met Union Finance minister Arun Jaitley. Asked about the arrest of a sitting MP, an MLA and a former MLA of his party by the CBI for their role in the scam, the clearly irritated chief minister said; “The party has nothing to do with it. It is their individual affair” before adding his standard line in all such situations; “The law will take its course.”

Patnaik’s exasperation was understandable. For a man who has long got used to choosing both his questioner and the question back in his ‘home’ state, such an irreverent question was the last thing the chief minister wanted to be confronted with on his arrival in the national capital on a six-day visit, which coincided with the arrest of sitting BJD MP from Mayurbhanj Ramchandra Hansda and former party MLA Subarna Nayak by the CBI. Coming as it did within a week of the arrest of senior party leader and four-time MLA from the Banki constituency Pravat Tripathy, the arrest of Hansda and Nayak has clearly set the alarm bells ringing in the ruling party.

For the record, Naveen has gone to New Delhi to meet Union Finance minister Arun Jaitley to request for central assistance for the Cyclone Hudhud affected areas of the state, besides reiterating the oft repeated demand for special category status to the state and a host of other demands. But there are not many takers for this ‘official’ version about the purpose of his visit – and for good reason.

Odisha chit fund scam Naveen in a pickle as CBI zeroes in on his MLAs

Naveen Patnaik in this file photo. PTI

For one thing, his fourth visit to New Delhi since May this year comes barely a month after the last one. And uncharacteristically, each of his last four visits has lasted at least five days, with one in September stretching for an unprecedented 12 days. In fact, Naveen has spent more time in New Delhi in the first five months of his fourth term as chief minister than he has in his entire third term. This sudden love for erstwhile playground can hardly be attributed to a new found love for the Delhi weather.

For another, the arrest of three legislators has convinced him that the CBI means business in its investigation into the chit fund scam. With the Supreme Court posting the hearing on a petition moved by amicus curie Shyam Divan on Wednesday urging it to monitor the probe for next week, the BJD is fearing the worst.

What in particular is giving the BJD supremo sleepless nights is that the probe into the affairs of the Seashore group, one of the biggest players in the scam with fraudulent collections of an estimated Rs 1500 crore, has not even begun. In the case of other companies, the Naveen government can at least hope to get away by attributing any involvement of BJD leaders to their ‘individual’ greed. But no such luxury is available in the case of Seashore since the government itself has signed nearly a dozen MoUs with the group, handing over the management of everything from government hospitals to tourist places.

Naveen himself inaugurated the company’s first venture and also launched the group’s television news channel, the now defunct STV, lending further legitimacy and credibility to the group. There is no way he can shake off his links with the group.

At least a dozen BJD MLAs, including some ministers, are under the CBI scanner for their role in facilitating the chit fund scam and there is every likelihood of the list expanding as the probe widens. CBI sources say some of them have already been served summons for questioning, but have been dodging the summons so far.

The state government has been trying everything it can to stall or derail the probe, refusing to part with documents asked for by the CBI, Enforcement Directorate (ED) and even the Supreme Court appointed Special Investigation Team (SIT) to probe black money. Taking a leaf out of the Trinamool Congress (TMC) book, the ruling party has also embarked on a vilification campaign against the CBI. BJD goons owing allegiance to arrested senior party MLA Pravat Tripathy laid siege to the CBI office last Friday and did not allow it to take their leader to the court for nearly three hours.

All these matters are bound to be raised by the petitioner Alok Jena and amicus curie Shyam Divan next week when the petition seeking court monitoring of the probe is taken up by the Supreme Court. If the apex court does accede to the request, Naveen and his party could be in for serious trouble over the coming weeks and months.

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