THREE DAYS after a fire at Bhubaneswar’s SUM Hospital left 21 dead and over 100 injured, some of them still battling for their lives, its owner Manoj Ranjan Nayak surrendered to police Thursday.
Nayak reportedly arrived at Khandagiri police station around 3.30 am, a day after the state government had urged the Ministry of Home Affairs to issue a lookout circular against him to prevent him from fleeing.
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He was sent to two days in police custody by a court.
Nayak, 56, is a computer science teacher-turned-businessman, whose rise to prominence in just over two decades had become a subject of widespread discussion in Odisha. Since the fire, there have been widespread demands for his arrest.
At the same time, several supporters of Nayak staged a demonstration in front of the Khandagiri police station protesting the arrest while the Odisha Private Hospital Owners’ Association threatened a strike if he was not released.
Nayak’s trust issued a statement: “Taking full responsibility for the fire tragedy at the SUM Hospital, Prof Manoj Ranjan Nayak, founder president of Siksha O Anusandhan, has surrendered before Khandagiri police station at 3.30 am on October 20, 2016 as soon as he came to know that a Look Out Circular had been issued in his name. Prof Nayak has assured the local police that he would extend full cooperation in the process of investigation. The SUM hospital authorities will wholeheartedly cooperate in all respects.”
Bhubaneswar police commissioner YB Khurania said Nayak has been charged under sections 304, 308, 285 and 34 of IPC. A team of police officials interrogated him till 7.30 pm following which he was forwarded to the court of the subdivisional judicial magistrate. The police are likely to seek his remand for further interrogation.
The police commissioner said Nayak’s wife Saswati Das and another person, who are members of the Siksha O Anusandhan trust that managed the 1000-bed hospital, may also be arrested.
Nayak, who started as a computer science teacher in a city-based government engineering college in 1997, set up the state’s first private engineering college, Institute of Technical Education and Research. He landed in controversy in 2000 when the JEE subcommittee of the state government accused him of forgery and cheating in the admission process. In the FIR, police said Nayak used a novel means of selling his college seats to the highest bidder. Odisha High Court, however, quashed the police chargesheet.
Between 2000 and 2016, he set up several professional colleges including a medical college and a hospital in 2006. By 2007, he had his own deemed university – the Siksha O Anusandhan University. Three years ago he started a TV channel and an Odia daily.
Nayak is said to have a number of political contacts, most of them in the ruling BJD. BJP members took to the streets demanding the resignation of Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik and Health Minister Atanu Sabyasachi. They alleged that Nayak could rise due to his proximity with Atanu – the minister’s wife works as a faculty member in Nayak’s plus-two college. BJP spokesman Sajjan Sharma demanded that CM should also resign as the home department under Naveen failed to ensure the fire safety certification of SUM Hospital.
The CM has the home portfolio since last 16 years.
More embarraassment seems to be in store for the BJD after Excise Minister Damodar Rout Thursday said that in 2013 “we had discovered certain lapses… I do not know of any action that was taken.”