Orissa High Court refuses to quash criminal proceedings against Odisha Infratech in land grabbing case

The company, owned by Baijayant Panda and Jagi Panda, is accused of purchasing land from scheduled caste landholders at rates far below the benchmark value and without the sums actually changing hands.
Orissa High Court refuses to quash criminal proceedings against Odisha Infratech in land grabbing case
Orissa High Court

The Orissa High Court has refused to quash proceedings against Odisha Infratech for financial transactions that purportedly defrauded persons belonging to scheduled castes (M/s.Odisha Infratech Pvt. Ltd and ors v. State of Odisha and others).

A Bench of Justices BT Routray rejected the petitions yesterday.

"I am not inclined to interfere with the criminal proceeding, more particularly at the stage of pending investigation and accordingly, the prayer of the petitioners is rejected and the Criminal Misc. Case is dismissed."
Justice BT Routray

It is alleged that the company owned by industrialist Baijayant Panda and Jagi Panda purchased land from scheduled caste landholders and registered the purchased property in the names of members of the scheduled castes.

After the lands were purchased at rates far below the benchmark value and without the sums actually changing hands, possession over the land passed to the company.

The transactions, spread out between 2010 and 2013, came to light after the company purchased land in such a way from one of its own drivers.

For these irregularities, the company was booked for dispossessing a member of a scheduled caste and giving false information to a public servant to the detriment of a person of the community (Section 3(1)(g) and Section 3(1)(q) of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act) and provisions of the Indian Penal Code. The investigation against the Company was instituted by the Economic Offences Wing.

The Counsel for the company claimed the case to have been foisted upon the company for political considerations, stating that one of its sister-concerns Odisha TV aired a television programme on the Orissa Government's COVID-19 hospitals.

Even if the allegations were proved correct, the Prohibition on Benami Transactions would be attracted, at best, it was further argued.

There were additional submissions put forth on the correctness of the Economic Offences Wing conducting investigations under the SC/ST Act, the Benami Act as well as the Indian Penal Code.

The petitioner's counsel also asserted that the Government's Charter of Duties precluded the Economic Offences Wing from investigating such offences. Further the matter was also stated to have been transferred to the Income Tax Department, he informed the Court.

As such, it was contended that the criminal proceeding was malafide and triggered by ulterior motives. It was added that the FIR's registration by the EOW Crime Branch and subsequent investigations by the agency was without jurisdiction.

Rejecting these submissions, the Court found that the material facts had not been denied by the company, nor was material produced to allege fraud.

"On the question of fact, the allegations are clear and candid to speak against the petitioners."
The Judge said.

Since the material at hand disclosed prima facie offences and the investigation was still in the early stages, the Court deemed it appropriate to reject the company's petition.

Responding to the submissions pertaining to the Benami Transactions Act, the Court stated that the Act could be added if offences under the legislation were found against the Petitioner-company.

Finding that offences under the SC/ST Atrocities Act were disclosed, the Court also ruled that there was no bar on an investigation by the Economic Offences Wing. The Government's Charter of Powers specifically allowed the Economic Offences Wing to investigate offences of the kind alleged against the petitioner, it was observed.

Therefore, the petition was rejected.

Odisha Infratech was represented by Senior Advocate SS Das. Senior Advocate Millan Kanungo appeared for the company's former driver who accused the company of irregularity. The State was represented by AGA J Pattnaik.

Read the Judgment:

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Odisha Infratech v. State of Odisha and Ors..pdf
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