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Cops get Panda on 10-day remand

Maoist leader Sabyasachi Panda being taken to a court in Berhampur and (right) his mother waits outside the court on Saturday. Pictures by Gopal Krishna Reddy

Bhubaneswar/ Berhampur, July 19: Police today got the custody of high-profile Maoist leader Sabyasachi Panda for 10 days to interrogate him in 61 criminal cases, which include killings of 25 policemen and 34 civilians.

Panda’s lawyer Deepak Patnaik claimed that sub-divisional judicial magistrate Pradip Kumar Behera, while sanctioning police remand for 10 days, has stipulated several conditions.

“During the interrogation, a doctor of the Berhampur Circle Jail will check Sabyasachi’s health and he must be given appropriate food and water. He must be in safe custody. He can’t be mentally or physically tortured by the police. During the interrogation, his family members or his lawyer should be present,” claimed the lawyer.

District police superintendent Anirudh Kumar Singh, who was instrumental in capturing Sabyasachi, refused to divulge the whereabouts of the 48-year-old rebel leader. Family members of Panda were not allowed to meet him in the jail today. The authorities said that there were fixed timings to meet the inmates. Security at the jail was beefed up last night after Panda was lodged there.

In the afternoon, when Panda was brought to the SDJM’s court, he told the media that the jail authority had not given him the prison manual and that he was on a hunger strike.

“It is undemocratic to cover someone’s face with a piece of black cloth,” he said.

Police sources said that considering the involvement of the Maoist leader in many cases, they would need more time to interrogate him. As Left-wing extremism does not pertain to one state, the police from all Naxalism-hit states would like to interrogate him. A team of National Investigation Agency is expected to join the Odisha Police to elicit information from Panda about the network that the rebels have in the country, which includes supply of arms and weapons.

Panda’s involvement in high-profile cases requires meticulous investigation and collection of proofs by the police. In March 2012, two Italian nationals were abducted at the behest of Panda from the forests bordering Ganjam and Kandhamal district. The incident had caused an international furore. The foreigners were kept hostage for 29 days.

Panda, a mathematics graduate who joined the Naxalite movement in 1991, hit the headline when he masterminded a major Naxalite operation in R. Udaygiri in Gajapati district on March 24, 2006. More than 80 armed Maoists raided R. Udaygiri sub-jail and set free all the prisoners.

They also attacked the local police station. Besides killing two policemen, the rebels took the officer in charge of the local police station and jailor of the local jail hostage.

On February 15, 2008, Panda had executed another major operation in his home district Nayagarh. In that operation, armed rebels had looted the district armoury and attacked the police station in the district headquarters town and neighbouring towns. The operation had claimed 18 lives.

On the night of August 23, 2008, armed Maoists killed Vishwa Hindu Parishad leader Lakshmanananda Saraswati and five of his followers at Jalespeta Ashram in Kandhamal district, which triggered a communal riot in the region. The riot had claimed more than 40 lives. Panda was said to have planned out the murder of the VHP leader.