The call for the ouster of Odisha’s minister of state for home Captain Dibya Shankar Mishra for his alleged role in the disappearance of the prime accused from police custody in a missing case in Bolangir district got shriller on Tuesday after police exhumed the charred remains of a body suspected to be those of the lady teacher who had gone missing since October 8.
The remains of the body, along with some articles, were found after digging up an under-construction stadium near the Sunshine School at Mahalinga in neighbouring Kalahandi district Tuesday morning under heavy police bandobast and the presence of a magistrate. The excavation was undertaken by police after it received information that the body of the missing teacher might have been buried inside the stadium.
Both the Congress and the BJP accused the minister of shielding Gobinda Sahu, who was being questioned by Bolangir police in connection with the disappearance of Mamita Meher, a lady teacher of Sunshine school and the warden of the girls’ hostel, and facilitating his escape from police custody late on Sunday night.
Congress workers burnt effigies of MoS Home Dibya Shankar Mishra and Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik in Bhawanipatna while Chhatra Congress activists threw eggs at the heavily guarded residence of the MoS, Home in Bhubaneswar. Senior party leader and the MLA from Kantabanji Santosh Singh Saluja demanded the immediate dismissal of minister Mishra and a CBI probe into the case. State BJP president Samir Mohanty too demanded the resignation of the minister and the immediate handing over of the investigation into the case to the CBI.
The prime accused Gobinda Sahu, who had been missing since escaping from the police barrack in Titliagarh on Sunday night, was later arrested by Bolangir police from a sugarcane field in Budhipadar village under Bangomunda block Tuesday evening, hours after a cash reward for information on him was enhanced from Rs 20, 000 to Rs 1 akh. A massive manhunt was launched for Sahu, who gave the slip to the police, and managed to escape from the police barracks at Titilagarh, barely hours before he was to be taken to Bhubaneswar for a polygraph test.
Though it is yet to be ascertained if the remains of the body exhumed from the playground in the school premises belonged to Meher, circumstantial evidence suggests it is a strong possibility. Along with the remains of the body, a bag, a gold chain and a pair of anklets were recovered after the digging up inside the stadium by the police this morning. Family members of Mamita, who were present on the ground during the excavation today, confirmed that she was indeed wearing the chain and anklets and carrying the beg when she went out on October 8. The bodily remains were sent for DNA profiling to establish whether they were of Mamita, police said.
Meanwhile, an audio clip of a conversation between Bunty, the brother of the missing teacher who had lodged the FIR at the Sindhikela police station, and a colleague of Mamita, which has gone viral, hints at the murky goings on inside the school. Mamita’s colleague is heard in the audio clip saying Gobinda Sahu, the president of the school managing committee, was in the habit of sexually harassing female staff and was running a sex racket inside the school. He is also heard saying that it was Sahu, who had called Mamita on the day she went missing on the pretext of a meeting. Mamita had apparently earned the wrath of Sahu after threatening to expose the shady goings-on in the school.
That she was with Sahu before going missing was subsequently proven when police recovered CCTV footage that showed them together in the car and on the streets of Bhawanipatna, the district headquarters of Kalhandi.
Notwithstanding this delayed alacrity, however, police are in the dock for their shoddy handling of the case from the very beginning. Mamita’s uncle toady accused local police of not registering the FIR on Mamita’s disappearance. “We were led to believe that she was alive and would return. The police kept assuring us that she would come back and asked us not to open our mouth. We talked to Sahu, who assured that he had spoken minister Mishra and that she would return soon,” he said.
The FIR naming Sahu was finally lodged by Bunty, Mamita’s sister, at the Sindhikela police station on October 13. It was only after that police took Sahu into custody. But his mysterious disappearance from police custody on Sunday night led to allegations of complicity against the police.