|File picture of an employee stacking up affidavits at Patra commission’s office in Cuttack
Bhubaneswar, April 21: The wait to identify and probe individuals and entities involved in unauthorised collection of public deposit might get longer with the state government failing to respond to the extension plea of the Justice R.K. Patra Commission.
The tenure of the judicial body, which is probing into the multi-crore deposit collection scam that rocked the state last year, expired on April 9. This is the second time that the commission has sought an extension.
On March 13, the commission asked the government to extend its tenure by another six months as it has got to go through nearly eight lakh affidavits that it had received.
The government is yet to respond to the request reportedly on the plea that the model code of conduct was in force. Official sources said that as per the norms, the extension to a commission should be given within one month.
“Since the tenure of the commission has not been extended, it no more enjoys any legal status. As on today, the commission is practically non-existent. The purpose of setting up the commission seems to have been defeated,” said eminent lawyer and former BJP state president Suresh Pujari.
Highly placed sources said the proposal to give a six-month’s extension is pending with the Chief Minister’s Office. Chief minister Naveen Patnaik was busy electioneering and no one seemed to have pursued the matter.
The state home department deals with the commissions of inquiry. “We have given one month’s extension to the Justice C.R. Pal Commission, looking into the issue of having high court benches outside Cuttack after taking permission from the chief electoral officer’s office. The Pal Commission’s tenure was to end in March. I have no idea about the Patra commission,” a senior official of the home department told The Telegraph.
An official of the state chief electoral office Naba Nayak told The Telegraph: “The state government has not approached us so far about the tenure of the Justice Patra commission. We will examine the matter only after the proposal is received by us.”
The state government’s dilly-dally approach on the issue has evoked sharp criticism from the Opposition.
Former law minister and Congress leader Narasingha Mishra said: “Before the term expires, the government should have given an extension to it taking its voluminous work into consideration. Since a number of ruling party leaders are involved in the scam, the government is in a state of confusion on what to do.”
The Opposition leaders pointed out that the government had taken a prompt initiative to renew the lease of liquor shops in the state for three months before the model code of conduct came into force. “Should it not have been pro-active on an issue involving lakhs of people,” said a leader.
However, a senior government official said that it’s not a major issue. The commission’s tenure can be extended with retrospective effect from date of expiry of its term.
Chief minister Naveen Patnaik had avoided a CBI inquiry and appointed the judicial commission on July 9 last year following flak from the Oppositions for the spate of cheating cases involving deposit collection companies. The commission was asked to submit its report within three months.
Later the government had granted six months extension till April 9. In the last week of March, the commission had sought another six months extension. The formal notification of extension however, is yet to be issued.
The state government had officially admitted that the default scam was around Rs 4,375 crore. However, the opposition maintained that nearly 20 lakh people have been cheated and the scam could touch nearly Rs 20,000 crore.