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Now, a hawala scam haunts Mr Clean Naveen Patnaik

Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik has been enjoying a clean image in the national media till now, but stains have already surfaced on the white dress of Patnaik. Biju Janata Dal (BJD), led by Patnaik, is under scanner for alleged dubious funding made to the party through hawala routes.

An expose done by Times Now suggests that huge unaccounted funds have been deposited into the BJD’s account. It is really interesting to note that one Purna Chandra Padhi – a peon who works in the BJD headquarters and stays in Naveen Niwas – has deposited a sum total of Rs 1 crore into the bank account of the party in various instalments between 2012 and 2014.

It could be noted that Padhi is a BPL (below poverty line) card holder. Now, the moot question is how could a man who is working as a peon and holds a BPL card donate such a huge amount to the party.

What is even more intriguing to learn that there was a suspicious transaction of lakhs of rupees from a bank account named “Bhubaneswar main branch of State Bank of India” – with an account number 10091805573 and the Customer Identification Number (CIN) 8007240248 – to the BJD’s account. Perhaps for the first time a political party in India has received funds from a account named after a public sector bank, which obviously is now suspected to be a fake account.

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This has laid bare the ugly underbelly of the BJD’s political funding. This is in serious violation of Election Commission of India’s guidelines. Senior BJP leader and Union Petroleum Minister Dharmendra Pradhan was said, “This is a subject matter of a detailed investigation. The Election Commission must act on this.”

BJD’s dubious political funding was exposed days after the Orissa High Court issued notice to the Election Commission of India on a complaint demanding disqualification of Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik. The Petition, filed by RTI activist Subash Mohapatra, has highlighted discrepancies in the statement of accounts and expenses submitted by the Chief Minister subsequent to the 2014 elections.

Earlier, allegations have surfaced that a huge chunk of the chit fund money has gone into the BJD coffer. The issue was raised on the floor of the Odisha Assembly by the Opposition bench in May last year.

The multi-crore chit fund scam came to the light post-2014 elections. Chit fund companies in Odisha were allegedly flourishing under the direct patronage of the Naveen Patnaik government. A number of senior BJD leaders, including a dozen of Ministers, and two dozen of IAS officers are already under CBI scanner.

Incidentally, the list of chit fund companies is long in the state. There are as many as 50 companies under the purview of CBI investigation. Deposits of as many as 80 lakh investors – majority of them from low-income families – were duped. According to estimates, Odisha chapter of chit fund scam is much bigger than its West Bengal counterpart.

Allegation of BJD using scam money in party funds is not new. Way back in 2010, it was alleged that mineral smugglers funded the BJD in the 2009 elections. Odisha mining scam can be argued to be the biggest scam of independent India with mineral-rich Odisha becoming a paradise for illegal mining, with losses to the tune of Rs 3 lakh crore to the state exchequer. The inquiry report by Justice MB Shah Commission, which was submitted in the Supreme Court, highlighted serious irregularities by Naveen Patnaik government.

Then there are allegations of corruption regarding Vedanta. It was the BJD government which allotted as much as 6,000 acre of three-crop agricultural land – including 1,300 acre belonging to Lord Jagannath Temple – for the Vedanta university project in Puri-Konark marine drive. Odisha Lokpal had indicted the Patnaik government for the illegal land allotment in 2010. The London-listed aluminium czar Vedanta Resources’ $1.7 billion proposed bauxite mining project in Niyamgiri was nixed in 2010 following the NC Saxena report cited violation of a series of laws by Vedanta in active collusion of the Odisha Government.

In addition, there are rural jobs scam, coal scam, land scams and dal scam under Patnaik’s tenure, which did not make national headlines. This may change with the hawala scam catching the attention of Delhi media.

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Saswat Panigrahi
Political writer, policy observer.

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