Twenty-six years after Sanatan Mahakud, then an alleged small-time local don, illegally encroached on five acres of reserve forest land, the bulldozers moved in to flatten the compound walls around it on Friday.
Guarded by 25 platoons of police and overseen by eight executive magistrates, including Keonjhar district magistrate and superintendent of police, the bulldozers and drilling machines razed the 20-foot-high walls, watched by hundreds of people, professing support to Mahakud. No untoward incident was reported.
Mahakud’s air-conditioned kennel, cow and goat-shed were left untouched after the Independent MLA gave an undertaking that he will shift the animals within a week. “We will take possession of the land after that,” District Magistrate N Thirumalla Nayak said.
Since 1990, when he encroached on the piece of land in Uchabali tehsil of Keonjhar by building a temple and claiming it to be a religious site, Mahakud has grown to become an MLA of Champua — one of the richest legislators in one of the poorest, but mineral-rich, districts of Odisha.
As per 2011 census, 73 per cent of Koenjhar’s 1.8 million people lives below the poverty line. As per declarations made before the 2014 Assembly elections, Mahakud has assets worth Rs 51 crore, and his wife Shantilata another Rs 18 crore.
Mahakud allegedly made most of his money in the mining scam between 2004 and 2008. In July 2015, the Enforcement Directorate had raided his mining and transportation firm as part of its investigation in the multi-crore illegal mining scam.
After Mahakud formed the ‘Jagat Janani Seva Trust’ in 2011 and constructed a Jagat Janani temple on the land, followed by an office complex, guesthouse, cowshed, and finally fortifying it with a 20-foot wall, locals filed a case against his trust. A local court ordered eviction, which Mahakud challenged in Odisha High Court. The HC upheld the lower court’s order in 2012. The Supreme Court also upheld it in 2015 but allowed Mahakud to retain the temple. But despite the apex court’s order, the Keonjhar district administration made no move to to clear the area of encroachment.
Following a PIL in HC, citing violation of SC order, the district administration on April 8 filed an affidavit stating it would clear the encroachment within a month.