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Odisha: 22 years after gangrape case, prime accused arrested from Maharashtra

Twenty-two years after a gangrape case rocked the Odisha government, leading to the resignation of then Chief Minister J B Patnaik in 1999, the Odisha police on Monday arrested the prime accused from Maharashtra.

The victim, then 29, the estranged wife of an IFS officer, was travelling with a friend from Cuttack to Bhubaneswar on January 9, 1999, when their car was waylaid and she was gangraped allegedly by three men.

The case had created a political uproar when the victim accused Patnaik and former advocate general Indrajit Ray of having played a role in the incident, leading to the CM’s resignation. The allegations, however, are not part of the FIR.

Seventeen days after the incident, two of the accused, Pradip Sahu and Direndra Mohanty, were arrested while the prime accused, Bibekananda Biswal alias Biban, managed to evade arrest for more than two decades.

On Monday, Bhubaneswar-Cuttack Police Commissioner Sudhanshu Sarangi said Biban was arrested by the twin city Commissionerate Police from Aamby Valley in Lonavla, where he had been working as a plumber.

“We launched Operation Silent Viper to track and arrest the accused. Our teams got active in Maharashtra after we received a tip-off about his whereabouts. He was working at Idyllic Resorts under a false identity of Jalandhar Swain,” said Sarangi.

In 2002, the Khurda District and Sessions court convicted Sahu and Mohanty, the other two accused in the case, and sentenced them to life imprisonment. In February last year, Sahu, who complained of chest pain, died while undergoing treatment at a Bhubaneswar hospital.

While there had been no leads in the case after the CBI took over the investigation in 1999 following orders from the Orissa High Court, three months ago, the Bhubaneswar Commissionerate Police reopened the case.

“I had met one of the convicts in the case at Choudwar jail and it had come to my notice that the prime accused in the case is still on the run. So we reopened the file, studied it and launched the operation to nab the accused. The convict informed us that Biswal (Biban) was called BK and then we got a tip-off that the accused was in Maharashtra,” Sarangi said.

“The accused had even managed to obtain an Aadhaar card and open a bank account in Maharashtra. We have also learnt that he had been in touch with his family. They even attempted to obtain his death certificate in a bid to permanently close the case against him,” added Sarangi.

Reacting to the arrest, the victim said, “All these years, I felt dead inside. Every day was a struggle, knowing that my perpetrator was free. Justice was denied all these years. I want him (Biban) to be sentenced to death,” she said.

Two years before the incident, on July 12, 1997, the victim had accused Ray, then Advocate General, of attempting to molest her. She had filed a case against Ray under charges of attempt to rape at the Cantonment police station in Cuttack on July 19, 1997. She had also accused then CM Patnaik of shielding Ray. Ray resigned as A-G in 1998 after the CBI filed a chargesheet against him.

Following the rape, the victim alleged that the gangrape was a pre-mediated act to scare her into withdrawing the charges against Ray.

In February 2000, a CBI designated court sentenced Ray to three years rigrous imprisonment, charging him with attempted rape.

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