Less than 100 days into his fourth term as Orissa Chief Minister, Naveen Patnaik can barely afford to smile. The brute majority of 117 seats in the 147-member State Assembly and a hopelessly-depleted opposition should have made his fourth term a dream run. But the dream seems to be turning into a nightmare with a determined CBI ploughing deep into the nexus of his partymen and scamsters who duped thousands of crores while running cooperative societies that essentially functioned as ponzi firms.
Though the CBI probe gathered pace only last month, 2 months after the Supreme Court ordered a probe by the apex investigating agency into the Orissa chit fund scam, the spectre of dirt reached BJD’s doorsteps after party MP Ramchandra Hansda’s home was raided about a fortnight ago. Hansda, the sitting MP from Mayurbhanj, was one of the directors of Nabadiganta Capital Service Limited, one of the 43 chit fund companies under probe by CBI. The raiding party recovered Rs 28 lakh in cash from Hansda’s home. Simultaneously former BJD MLA Subarna Nayak’s houses was also raided and incriminating documents seized.
If Naveen thought his worries were over, his hopes died soon as CBI sleuths last week raided his party MLA and former chief whip of BJD, Pravat Tripathy’s houses as well as a small-time Congress leader over their proximity to Artha Tatwa multi-state cooperative society, the most well-known ponzi firm in the state.
Three years ago Artha Tatwa, once headed by Pradeep Sethy, a 37-year-old computer science diploma holder from Ganjam district, was the toast of BJD as well as ruling class as it sponsored a IPL-like tournament, dabbled in real estate and started several ventures which had several BJD politicians on its rolls.
He allegedly lent several of his flashy cars to ruling party politicians. Tripathy, during his presidentship of Orissa State Cooperative Union, a government cooperative society, also did his bit to shore up Sethy’s image as he got him the award of ‘Best Youth Cooperator’.
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Sethy’s luck however ran out last year after the city police arrested him in the chit fund scam. In what appears to be fresh trouble for Tripathy, the CBI sleuths yesterday interrogated Ranjan Das, who headed Swastik India Multi State Credit Cooperative Society and seized several documents from him. With help from Tripathy, last year Das had almost made it to the Orissa State Cooperative Council, a government body which makes policy decisions in State’s cooperative sector.
That the scamsters enjoyed political patronage is evident from the tardy pace of investigation carried out by the Bhubaneswar police and CID in last 2 years. While CBI raided the offices and residential premises of several directors of Artha Tatwa last week, the Bhubaneswar police did not bother to interrogate them despite having incriminating documents for over 6 months.
What has triggered panic among BJD leaders is that most of the CBI raids have happened based on the documents given by the State CID and Bhubaneswar police. Privately they are apprehensive of the revelations by Sethy and other heads of chit fund firms who have been taken on remand by CBI for interrogation. Government officials admit that these chit fund firms would not have been able to get away without patronage provided by ruling party politicians and the laxity shown by State and central government.
For Naveen Patnaik, the CBI probe may permanently end up harming his image of a popular and untainted politician if more and more BJD leaders are sucked into the investigation. The chit fund scam broke the economic backbone of millions of rural and urban poor, who re-elected him with the hope of getting justice and their money back from scamsters. To make it clear that he would not brook any scamsters, Naveen has to take decisive action before voters lose their trust on him.