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New panel to probe house row

Bhubaneswar, Aug. 2: The state government today constituted a three-member committee of officials to examine the issue of allotment of houses and land to influential people by government agencies in the twin cities.

The team, headed by additional chief secretary (revenue) Taradatt, will have the secretary of the housing and urban development department and special secretary of the general administration department as members.

The team will scrutinise the entire gamut of allotment of houses and plots by the government agencies with particular reference to people with political clout managing to get more than one house in Bhubaneswar and Cuttack from various government agencies such as the Bhubaneswar Development Authority, Cuttack Development Authority, Odisha housing board and the general administration department.

The official committee, constituted by the government, will go through the allotments made by government agencies and submit its report to the government. However, no time frame has been stipulated. Official sources said it would examine the policies of various government agencies in allotting houses as well as the discretionary quota of each agency.

Sources said Naveen took personal initiative as the issue involving Kalpataru Das’s family had tarnished his party’s image. The family has managed to get few more houses and plots in the city by using his political influence. Several members of the ruling party, including senior minister Damodar Rout, Puri MLA Maheswar Mohanty and Cuttack–Barbati MLA Debasis Samantray, have made critical statements against Das on the housing issue. These sources said it was because of Naveen’s instructions that Dharmasala MLA Pranab Balabantaray had surrendered two houses.

Talking about the accountant general’s letter to the state government, secretary of the Bhubaneswar Development Authority Ranjan Das said: “We have started cancelling houses of those, who have taken more than one house under the discretionary quota. We have initiated process to cancel the houses of those, who have taken houses giving false affidavits.”

The issue of powerful people managing to get more than one house in Bhubaneswar was brought into focus by The Telegraph in its July 23 edition entitled “Houses too many for comfort”. The report was based on a communication between the accountant general and the state government. The accountant general had given specific instances of 29 people managing to acquire more than one property from the Bhubaneswar Development Authority alone and nine others submitting false affidavits, despite the government having a rule that a person can get only one plot or a house from the government.

The Telegraph report had mentioned that the son of former panchayati raj minister and Rajya Sabha member Kalpataru Das, Pranab Balabantaray, who is a first-time MLA, had managed to get to two houses from Bhubaneswar Development Authority — one in his name and the other in the name of a transport company of which he was a director. Following a public outcry, Balabantaray has surrendered two houses — one from the development authority and another from the Odisha housing board.

Official sources said there had been rampant misuse of discretionary powers of the ministers while allotting houses to powerful people, including politicians and bureaucrats. The allotment issue has become a major issue with BJP leader Bijoy Mahapatra accusing chief minister Naveen Patnaik of suppressing an order of Orissa High Court given in 2002 — which resulted in favouritism between 2002 and 2010. The BJD, on the other hand, has stated that between 2002 and 2010, the housing and urban development portfolio was held by BJP leaders — state unit BJP president K.V. Singh Deo and Samir Dey. The BJP and the BJD were coalition partners till 2009.

In 2011, the Naveen Patnaik government cancelled the discretionary quota of ministers and instead formed a panel to exercise the authority in case of extraordinary cases.

According to the accountant general’s report, nine people have taken land by furnishing false affidavit.