New Delhi: Jagi Mangat Panda, the wife of BJP national vice-president Baijayant Jay Panda and owner of the regional news channel Odisha TV (OTV), has accused the Naveen Patnaik-led Biju Janata Dal (BJD) government of filing false cases against the family out of “personal vendetta”.
In a statement issued Saturday, she alleged that, in the past two months, Odisha Police has registered 20 false cases against OTV, its sister companies, employees and her family members — including her 84-year-old father Randhir Singh. She denies the criminal allegations.
“We assert that these cases are being orchestrated by the 21-year-old BJD government in Odisha because of CM Naveen Patnaik’s personal vendetta against us,” she alleged in the statement.
She further alleged that ever since her husband Jay Panda started speaking out against the BJD, and then joined the BJP, the Odisha government and the ruling party have been targeting and harassing her family members and organisations and entities connected with them. She said there have also been several instances of actual violence against them.
“On top of this has been the BJD’s anger against OTV for repeatedly exposing widespread corruption in Odisha, including recent massive corruption from Covid funds,” her statement said.
She also said the behaviour of the Odisha authorities is biased and the allegations should be investigated by a national agency. She denied any wrongdoing and said the network is confident that it will be vindicated in the courts.
Jagi Panda’s statement comes on the back of the Orissa High Court Friday cancelling its 6 November order protecting the couple from arrest in a case of alleged land grab. The duo is accused of ‘cheating’ and acquiring land from Dalits in the state’s Khurda district against government norms. With the court order, they are now liable for arrest.
A senior police official from the Odisha crime branch told ThePrint that multiple angles have emerged in the case. “We have requested the income tax to investigate the benami transaction angle or financial frauds associated with the case. The others on usurping SC (Scheduled Caste) land will continue to be investigated by the EOW (Economic Offences Wing),” a senior Odisha police official told ThePrint.
A second senior Odisha Police official denied the Pandas’ allegations of a witch-hunt.
The official said, in the land case, the high court has dismissed their petition and declined any protection. “This clearly establishes that the case has merit,” the official said. “There is no witch-hunt by police. They have filed numerous petitions in the high court, including petitions to quash FIRs. Not one such petition has been successful.”
The official added that, in the land case, in the absence of any protection, “police could have arrested the Pandas Friday evening or Saturday or Sunday if they were so motivated”. “But we haven’t,” the official said.
ThePrint tried contacting Jagi Panda through calls and messages for a comment on the land case. She is yet to respond. Her father Randhir Singh had earlier sought help from Union Home Minister Amit Shah against the alleged harassment by Odisha Police of his family and employees of the channel.
The land grab case
The land grab case involves Odisha Infratech Pvt Ltd, in which Jay Panda and Jagi are major shareholders. The duo are accused of using the firm to fraudulently buy a patch of land that belonged to members of the Scheduled Caste community in Sarua village. The nearly seven acres of land were purchased from 22 Dalits between 2010 and 2013.
The FIR, filed by the Economic Offence Wing of the Odisha police, states that Panda allegedly cheated the 22 people to acquire their land in the state’s Khurda district.
According to the Odisha Police crime branch, which is investigating the case, the Odisha Land Reforms Act states that non-Dalit buyers cannot buy Dalit land.
The police alleged that to bypass this law, Panda used his driver Rabi Sethi, who is from the Scheduled Caste community, to buy the land and then transferred it to his company.
According to police, Rabi Sethi was only earning Rs 8,000 a month but lakhs of rupees were transacted in these land purchases.
While Jay Panda, at one point, was considered to be close to Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, the family has been locked in a series of legal battles with the state administration over the last few months.
Much of it revolves around OTV, in which the Pandas are the majority shareholders.
Last month, the Keonjhar police detained OTV journalist Ramesh Rath for a few hours in a case pertaining to the circulation of an obscene video clip of a sitting female MP. The channel had claimed that Rath’s arrest was a fallout of him “exposing” Naveen Patnaik’s chopper run to assess the flood situation in the state.
Then, earlier this month, the Economic Offences Wing of Odisha Police arrested Manoranjan Sarangi, a director of Odisha InfraTech Private Limited and also the Chief Financial Officer (CFO) of OTV Network, in the alleged land fraud case.
Both Rath and Sarangi resigned from the network after the police action.
The crime branch has also been investigating an alleged gang rape of a minor girl by two employees of OTV and some others in April-May this year.
The Orissa High Court had reportedly expressed displeasure over the status report on the case and directed the DGP of Odisha to personally appear during the next hearing on and submit affidavit on status of probe.
The Odisha State Commission For Protection Of Child Rights (OSCPCR) has also directed Jagi Panda to appear before it in person on 2 December in connection with the case.
Started in 1997, Odisha TV is an Oriya-language news television channel owned by Odisha Television Limited. The network also owns a few other channels including Tarang, Tarang Music, Prarthana and Alankar.
Jay Panda and his wife Jagi together hold 59.74 per cent direct shares in Odisha Television Limited.