Bhubaneswar: Sabyasachi Panda, counted among one of the most dreaded Maoist leaders in Odisha who was allegedly involved in several high-profile cases of violence, was on Saturday sentenced to life imprisonment in the first conviction since his arrest five years ago.
A lower court in the southern Ganjam district awarded Panda, in his early 50s, rigorous imprisonment for life and a fine of Rs 10,000 for his conviction under Section 121 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). Failure to pay the fine would entail further rigorous imprisonment for one more year.
The additional district and sessions court of Berhampur also handed Panda rigorous imprisonment for two years for his conviction under Section 353 of IPC. Additional district judge Sanjay Sahu announced the verdict after examining 15 witnesses and other evidences. The case pertains to seizure of illegal arms and ammunition along with cash and jewellery from a rented house under Badabazar police station area in Berhampur in 2015.
Of the 135 criminal cases registered against Panda in Odisha, he had so far been acquitted in 52. This is the first case in which he has been convicted.
“The convict will have to undergo life imprisonment as the smaller jail terms awarded to him will run concurrently. He has been slapped a total fine of Rs 25,000 under different sections of the IPC,” said additional public prosecutor (APP) Anil Sahu.
Major cases in which Panda was allegedly involved include the sensational murder of Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) leader Swami Lakshmanananda Saraswati and his four associates in Kandhamal district in 2008, which had triggered severe ethno-religious riots in the area and eventually led to the collapse of the state’s ruling BJD-BJP alliance. Panda was also allegedly involved in the abduction of two Italian citizens in Kandhamal district in 2012 and the Nayagarh armoury loot.
The Maoist leader, who used to carry the alias Sunil, was on the most-wanted list of Odisha police for over a decade till his arrest during a combing operation in Berhampur on July 18, 2014. He was carrying a cash reward of Rs 5 lakh on his head.
Panda used to be with the banned outfit of left-wing insurgents, CPI (Maoist), which expelled him in August 2012. He then formed Odisha Maowadi Party (OMP) and also made efforts to consolidate the Maoist elements in the state with the formation of Communist Party of India – Marxist-Leninist-Maoist (CPI-MLM) in May 2014. But these initiatives failed badly.
Incidentally, Panda’s wife, Subhashree alias Mili, who had spent about two years in jail for her alleged Maoist links, contested the recently concluded simultaneous polls in Odisha as a candidate of the Opposition Congress for Ranapur Assembly constituency in the coastal Nayagarh district.
She had contested the 2014 polls in the same constituency as a candidate of the now-defunct Ama Odisha Party (AOP), then formed and led by ex-MP Soumya Ranjan Patnaik, who is currently with the ruling BJD. The daughter of three-term Ranapur MLA Rama Panda, Subhashree had come fifth in the tally of votes.