Cuttack/Bhubaneswar, Oct. 17: Odisha High Court sought response from the central and the state governments on a PIL seeking intervention against 'illegal' occupation of forestland by Pratima Das, wife of BJD leader and Rajya Sabha member Kalpataru Das.
The PIL, filed by Iswar Chandra Pradhan, 52, and three others of Jajpur, accused Pratima of occupying nearly seven acres of forestland 'in a fraudulent manner' under the Dharmasala tehsil in the name of Gokernaswar Charitable Trust and setting up an Industrial Training Institute on it.
The division bench of Chief Justice Amitava Roy and Justice A.K. Rath posted the matter for hearing after two weeks, along with replies from the central and state governments.
In a related development on the Ghangapatna land scam, crime branch officials today arrested 13 leaseholders, who had sold the land to others even though their lease had been cancelled. The arrests were made exactly a month after the arrest of the officer on special duty to the Bhubaneswar Municipal Corporation mayor on the Ghangapatna land scam case. The officer was a retired revenue official in the city.
The crime branch's additional director-general of police Bijoy Sharma said: 'Now, we are focusing on the arrest of those middlemen, who had played the role of brokers and arranged for sale of the land.'
A crime branch official said the arrested were poor and many fell victim to the nexus between the revenue officials and the brokers. Many of the brokers have died, while some of them are still active in the field.
'The brokers with the local revenue officials' help have won over the land owners. We arrested the revenue officials, including tehsildars. Now, efforts will be made to expose the nexus. No one will be spared,' said the official. The 13 arrested persons are the original leaseholders, who had later sold the land to other parties, he said.
During 1969-1973, the state government had provided 18 acres to 13 landless persons on lease for agricultural purpose. But, as the leaseholders did not utilise the land for that purpose, it got cancelled. Instead of returning the land, they had sold it to private parties.
Kalpataru's son Dharmasala MLA Pranab Balabantaray had bought five acres in the name of the Gokarneswar Charitable Trust at Ghangapatna to set up an educational institution. After the Ghangapatna land scam surfaced, Balabantaray said that since the project was not viable, the land was sold in 2012. However, it was sold to one of the trustee members. There was allegation that Kalpataru had influenced the government to build a road on the forestland connecting the plot allotted to the trust.
Earlier, Balabantaray was forced to surrender two houses allotted in his favour by the Bhubaneswar Development Authority and the Odisha State Housing Board, following the controversy over allotment of more than one house or plot under the discretionary quota. Later, the CBI interrogated Balabantaray in connection with the money deposit circulation scam. After the issue snowballed into a controversy, Kalpataru had to resign from the post of the party's Rajya Sabha leadership.