It is not very often that a murder case, no less, is registered against a sitting collector/district magistrate. In what is touted to be the first case of its kind in the state, Odisha police has booked Manish Agarwal, the collector of Malkangiri district, and three other staffers of the collectorate, including a retired Odisha Revenue Service officer, for the alleged murder of the collector’s former personal assistant Deba Narayan Panda.
The case was registered against V. Venu (data entry operator), Prakash Swain (stenographer) and retired ORS officer Bhagaban Panigrahi, besides Agarwal, on multiple charges including murder and destruction of evidence. The case was filed on the orders of a lower court in Malkangiri. A five-member special investigation team (SIT), headed by a deputy SP, has been constituted to probe the case.
A day after the case was registered, the state government shifted Agarwal out of Malkangiri and posted him as deputy secretary, Planning & Convergence department.
The case pertains to the mysterious disappearance of Panda on December 27, 2019. Panda’s wife Banaja had lodged a missing case the same day, which was converted to an unnatural death case the following day after his body was found from the Satiguda dam on the outskirts of Malkangiri town. On November 2 this year, Banaja approached the SDJM court, claiming her husband had been murdered after he refused to collect bribes on behalf of the collector.
The case against the former collector has expectedly provided the opposition with a handle to beat the government with. Both the Congress and BJP have jumped into the ring, alleging that the government was shielding the IAS officer. “Agarwal should have been suspended to ensure a fair probe. Since he has only been transferred, he could well influence the investigation. All corruption charges against him in the last two years should be investigated properly,” said senior Congress leader Pradeep Majhi. BJP spokesperson Lekhashree Samantaray went a step further and demanded Agarwal’s arrest to ensure a fair probe. “In merely transferring him, the government has actually rewarded him,” she said.