It is not often that Odisha chief minister Naveen Patnaik makes a statement in the assembly on an individual case. It is even rarer for his office to call up journalists to request them to give priority treatment to the CM’s statement in the house. The inevitable conclusion: the continuing furore over the death of Smitarani Biswal, the panchayat extension officer of Haridaspur in Jajpur district, under mysterious circumstances more than a month ago has rattled the government.
According to the police, Smitarani’s body was found hanging in a private guest house owned by Rupesh Bhadra, a BJD member and husband of Haridaspur sarpanch Madhusmita Bhadra, on the afternoon of October 16. The police have arrested Bhadra under Section 306 (abetment to suicide), but have allegedly refused to pursue leads that point to foul play. At a press conference on October 19, even before the post-mortem report had arrived, Jajpur SP Charan Singh Meena termed it a case of suicide and attributed it to Bhadra’s affairs with several women, including Smitarani.
But there are plenty of alleged loopholes in the police’s story that have raised the suspicion that it was a case of murder, not suicide. In a letter addressed to the chief minister on October 30, Susil Biswal, Smitarani’s husband, has listed no less than 11 such discrepancies. According to him, Bhadra and four of his associates, who were present in the guest house at the time Smitarani allegedly hanged herself, removed the body from the ceiling and went to the hospital without informing the police; neither Susil nor his in-laws’ family were allowed to see the crime scene; and the CCTV footage of the guest house was seized but never sent for examination.
Placing on record his complete lack of faith in the investigation by the local police, Susil has pleaded for a probe by an ‘independent’ agency. Smitarani’s father, Sadananda, and his family, meanwhile, have left their village claiming there was a threat to their life from Rupesh’s goons. As speculations continue unabated, the Smitarani case is turning out to be a major embarrassment for both the party and the government.