An unexpected encounter in a prison, a crucial error spotted in the archives, an elaborate three-month intelligence operation in a village in Odisha, suspicious bank transfers – and a last-minute escape attempt.
These are the main turns on the trail that drove a police team from Bhubaneswar to Lonavala in Maharashtra last weekend and finally to the first accused in a rape case that rocked Odisha in 1999 and led to the resignation of then Chief Minister JB Patnaik.
On Monday, Odisha police officially recorded the arrest of Bibekananda Biswal alias Biban, 50, in Bhubaneswar after bringing him from the Aamby valley where he worked as a plumber earning Rs 17,000 per month and holding a card Aadhaar on behalf of “Jalandhar Swain”. .
“He has been identified as Biban by several sources, including his family. After identification, Biban was officially arrested and handed over to the CBI for further investigation, ”said Dr Sudhanshu Sarangi, Police Commissioner of Bhubaneshwar-Cuttack.
But not without some last-minute hassle, an officer from Lonavala said. At the Aamby Valley Workers Barracks, Biban attempted to mislead a joint police team, including agents from Maharashtra, into claiming he did not have a cell phone, and pointed the finger at the wrong bed fearing a search – when cornered he even tried to run away. “He was immediately apprehended again,” the officer said.
For nearly 22 years, there had been no leads in the case – the gangrap of the ex-wife of an IFS officer in Baranga de Cuttack – after the CBI resumed the investigation in 1999 following orders from the High Court of Orissa. But just three months ago, the Bhubaneswar police station reopened the case following a “chance meeting” between Sarangi and a co-accused from Choudwar prison in Cuttack.
Sarangi had gone to the prison last November as part of an investigation into a Rs 12 crore armed company of the IIFR, a leading non-bank finance company. “I wanted to show the detainees pictures of the accused in the Dacoity case from a CCTV camera. It was then that I ran into one of the co-accused in the 1999 rape case, Dhirendra Mohanty. The jailer informed me that he was one of the oldest inmates, serving a life sentence. When we looked at the case, we learned that the main defendant was still at large, ”Sarangi said.
It was the start of Operation Silent Viper, led by Sarangi and involving three other officers: Deputy Police Commissioner Cuttack; Special Squad Inspector, Cuttack; and the inspector in charge of the Baranga police station.
The case was particularly sensitive, police sources said, due to its impact on state policy at the time. The victim had accused Patnaik and former general counsel Indrajit Ray of playing a role in the incident to intimidate him. Two years earlier, in July 1997, she accused Ray of attempting to assault him and the Chief Minister of protecting him. In 2000, a CBI court sentenced Ray to three years in prison, charging him with attempted rape.
In the Baranga case, two of the defendants, Mohanty and Pradip Sahu, were arrested 17 days after the incident as Biban managed to escape. In February last year, Sahu died while undergoing treatment for chest pain at a hospital in Bhubaneswar.
“In all of the documents in the case, Biban was referred to as ‘VK’. But while interacting with Dhirendra when we met in prison, he informed us that it was actually “BK” for Baranga King, ”Sarangi said.
It was the first break. The next step, said an officer, was to mobilize a network in Baranga, the region where Biban is from, and quietly gather information about his family. “We suspected that the family might have been in contact with him,” said another officer.
Soon, police learned that Biban’s wife was trying to sell land that belonged to her and had requested a death certificate to facilitate the sale. And a closer look at family finances led them to believe they had access to another source of income.
“Biban has a wife and two sons, the eldest son being married. We learned that neither of the sons had a regular source of income or employment and yet there was a constant flow of financial support. This reinforced our suspicion that the family was in contact with Biban, ”Sarangi said.
The team then focused on the family’s bank details and found cash transfers ranging from Rs 5,000 to Rs 25,000 to the account of Biban’s oldest son.
“We have activated a network in Pune to find out more about Swain. According to his Aadhaar map, he was from the village of Naranpur in Baranga, where Biban’s house is located. He identified his father’s name as “P Swain”, and the initial corresponded to the name of Biban’s father, Purnanda Biswal. Finally, we confirmed that there was no one by the name of Jalandhar Swain in the village, ”said an officer.
On Friday, a three-member team from Odisha reached Mumbai, and a joint coordination meeting was held at the Pune Rural regional police office in Lonavala. “We provided them with local support and information,” said DySP Lonavala, Navneet Kanwat.
Dressed in civilian clothes, the joint team arrived in the Aamby Valley on Saturday and found the name “Jalandhar Swain” after a three-hour search of employee files. They took the help of another Odisha worker to locate the barracks where they found Biban and began to question him.
“We said it was a routine procedure and asked for her phone. He said he didn’t have one. When we asked him to point to his bed he pointed to the wrong one where we found a phone that was not working. Then we asked another employee to call his number and found the phone ringing from another bed. We took him to a company office in the evening. As the team prepared to leave, he tried to run out of the room, ”an officer said.
Workers at the site described Biban as a “secret person” who “avoided being photographed” and “changed his appearance at least twice.” “He once grew his hair and kept a beard. Another time he kept his hair short and was clean shaven, ”said a worker.
Supervisors said workers from Odisha started coming to the site in groups about 10 to 12 years ago. “He (Biban) previously worked on general maintenance work. He started plumbing about six years ago, ”said one worker.
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