Odisha govt faces oppn barbs over probe into Minister Das’s death

The BJD government has come under fire from the BJP and the Congress with former alleging that portraying the accused police officer Gopal Das as a mental patient was a deliberate plan of the government to make the court take a lenient view on his crime, writes Aravind Mohapatra

Even as Odisha police delve deeper into the motive behind the sensational murder of former health minister Naba Kishore Das on January 29 in the western Odisha town of Brajrajnagar, a war of words has erupted between the ruling Biju Janata Dal (BJD) and the opposition over the state government’s move to seek the help of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) of the United States to crack the case  by finding out what was the exact mental state of the assassin, Gopal Das, a sub-inspector of police.

Making a statement in the state Assembly on the case, Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik recently said, “The State Crime Branch is seeking the help of the Federal Bureau of Investigation of the United States of America, as they have the best expertise in behavioral analysis in such cases.”

“We have requested the Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India, to facilitate an evaluation of the behavior of the accused by the Behavioral Support Unit of the FBI of the United States of America. I want to reassure the House that no stone will be left unturned in ensuring a full, fair and open investigation in the case with the assistance of the best forensic experts in India and abroad,” Patnaik added.

Patnaik also expressed his shock over the politicization of the sensitive case. “In the aftermath of this terrible incident, the manner in which this very sensitive case is being politicized has shocked me as well as the people of Odisha. It is disturbing to see the baseless and malicious allegations that are being made. Independent judiciary is one of the strongest pillars of our democracy. After the honourable High Court has appointed a retired High Court Judge to monitor the investigation of the case, the whole police investigation will be subjected to judicial scrutiny. So, what is the need to do politics in the case and make baseless and malicious allegations? We should all respect and have faith in our independent judiciary,” said the Chief Minister, who expressed shock over the fact that the killer was a policeman.

However, opposition appears unfazed by Patnaik’s statement that some leaders of opposition, especially those belonging to the BJP, have been pointing accusing fingers on the entire state police force. Senior BJP leader and Leader of Opposition in the state assembly, Jayanarayan Mishra hit out at the ruling party. “The Chief Minister woke up after 24 days of Naba Das’s death. There is nothing new in his statement. The Crime Branch investigation is still revolving around Gopal Das. The CB is shying away from investigating the motive behind the murder. CM is still not willing to hand over the investigation to the CBI, and instead has put his faith in the FBI,” said Mishra who was one of the first to question how an official gun was issued to the accused police officer if he was of unstable mind and under treatment for a mental illness.

The ongoing budget session of the Odisha Legislative Assembly has been witnessing repeated ruckus over the issue with both BJP and Congress attacking the government. The BJP has also been raising heat over the issue outside the assembly. Senior BJP leader and former director general of police Prakash Mishra has alleged that portraying the accused police officer Gopal Das as a mental patient was a deliberate plan of the Odisha government to make the court take a lenient view on his crime. Mishra said, “I have gone through the media reports and have been closely observing the developments after the murder of the minister. I feel that the prosecution will present before the court that since Gopal is a mental patient, his punishment can be relaxed.”

Mishra further said while the police are yet to find the bullet that pierced Naba Das heart, the announcement of his death was delayed to save dismissed ASI Gopal. “Now Gopal can tell the court that if he fired at Naba, where is the bullet? Besides, if his bullet pierced the minister’s heart, he would have died instantly. Since Naba was alive till 7 pm, he did not die due to firing from Gopal’s gun. About his presence near the minister, Gopal can say that when he heard the gun firing, he rushed to the place to find out what happened. Since Naba was taken to Bhubaneswar, he does not know how he died,” said the former cop-turned-politician.

Mishra said it was in the light of these facts that BJP was demanding investigation into the case by an impartial agency like CBI. The BJP leaders also criticized the chief minister. The BJP MP from Bargarh, Suresh Pujari said, “We are not politicising the issue. The State should have faith in the CBI.  Time may come when they will seek the help of other international agencies like Russia’s KGB and Israel’s Mossad.”

Reacting to BJP’s allegation, BJD spokesperson and MP SasmitPatra said, “ The CBI had also referred cases earlier to the FBI. There are more than 25 cases like Bhanwari Devi Murder Case, SunandaPushkar Death Case and murder of national-level shooter Sippy Sidhu, where FBI help was requested.”

On the other hand a local court in Odisha recently refused permission for further mental evaluation of Gopal Krishna Das, the prime accused in murder of former Odisha Minister Naba Kishore Das.  The court’s refusal to examine Gopal Das came as a blow to the Crime Branch of Odisha Police, which is under tremendous pressure to find the motive behind the high profile murder. “Accused Gopal Krishna Das had a prolonged history of mental illness. Due to the mental ailment of the accused a Special Medical Board was constituted consisting of four psychiatric experts. The board examined him and carried out the analysis at Jharsuguda,” said the Crime Branch in a statement. The board later opined that there was a need to have a detailed examination of the accused to come to a definite conclusion about his mental health, it said.

“Subsequently, further comprehensive psychological, psychometrical and mental evaluation in National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS), Bengaluru was prayed for by the prosecution before Judicial Magistrate First Class-1, Jharsuguda on Monday, in accordance with the advice of the medical board of four expert doctors who had previously examined and evaluated the psychological or mental condition of the accused,” said the Crime Branch. However, the court rejected the plea.  The investigating agency will now examine the certified copy of the court order and take further legal steps in the matter.

Meanwhile even as the ruling and opposition leaders continue to exchange barbs over the issue with leader of opposition Jaynarayan Mishra calling the Crime Branch probe directionless and Congress Legislature Party leader Narasingha Mishra questioning why the investigating agency was busy trying to prove the accused mentally ill people seem to have great faith in the ability of additional director general (ADG), Crime Branch, ArunBothra who has earned a name for himself by solving some high profile cases in the past. He was the officer who solved the infamous Patnagarh“ wedding bomb” case of 2018. After a massive search and investigation led by Bothra, the police in 2020 finally arrested a college teacher in connection with the case. It was one of the most complicated cases in the crime history of Odisha.  

Bothra, who hails from Rajasthan, also solved the sensational murder case of a 5-year-old girl Pari in Nayagarh in 2020. The minor girl’s body was found in a gunny sack near a pond in her village in July that year. The 1996 batch IPS officer unearthed the plot behind the sensational murder and arrested an 18-year-old student for the crime. Bothra was subsequently promoted to additional director general of police (ADGP) rank.

While serving as a police officer, Bothra has also been in charge of Odisha State Road Transport Corporation (OSRTC) as its CMD. As the managing director of Capital Region Urban Transport (CRUT), Bothra is credited with making the city bus service, called Mo Bus, in Bhubaneswar, Cuttack and Puri comfortable and dependable. The Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs declared this bus service as the Best City Bus Service Project in 2019.