Bhubaneswar: The Biju Janata Dal (BJD) MLA who stirred controversy by forcing a tribal engineer to do sit-ups in public as punishment for ‘poor quality’ of an under-construction road under his watch has been arrested.
The arrest of Patnagarh MLA, Saroj Meher, comes a day before the first session of the 16th Odisha Legislative Assembly commences from June 25. Tribal organisations across the state, which had been demanding the Meher’s arrest and staged protests, had decided to gherao the state Assembly on June 26.
After Meher was arrested and sent to jail in Balangir district, the tribal organisations called off their plans to gherao the Assembly. This brought a major relief to the BJD government under the 72-year-old Naveen Patnaik, which returned to power in the state for a record fifth term in the April-May elections.
Meher’s arrest also put an end to an unseemly confrontation between the tribal communities and OBC communities in Balangir district. Even as the tribal outfits demanded the MLA’s arrest, organisations of the OBC communities had taken to the streets in the district demanding that he should not be arrested.
While the engineer, Jayakant Sabar, who works as a junior engineer with the state’s public works department, belongs to a tribal community, the MLA hails from an OBC group.
The incident, which was caught on camera and widely circulated on the social media, took place on June 5 and an FIR was registered the next day under Sections 341, 363, 294, 323, 353 and 355 of IPC and Section 3 of the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act.
Balangir district collector Arindam Dakua had said five days after the incident that a probe conducted by the Patnagarh sub-collector had confirmed that the junior engineer was manhandled and insulted at the instance of the MLA.
The episode sparked outrage across the state, while the Opposition BJP and Congress to vehemently demand Meher’s arrest and his disqualification from the Assembly for holding a kangaroo court. But the local police kept dithering for 18 days on whether to arrest him.
“The honourable MLA was arrested after sustained interrogation. He was taken for a mandatory medical check-up after being taken into custody,” said Balangir SP K Siva Subramani.
Sources said Meher himself called up the SP on Sunday evening saying that he wanted to surrender. Police detained the MLA in Nuapada area and brought him to Balangir for questioning. He was then produced before a local court, where he pleaded for bail as no lawyer agreed to represent him due to an ongoing strike of work by the lawyers.
Since the lawyers’ strike is ending on June 30, Judge Mamita Dash of the special court for SC-STs in Balangir forwarded the MLA to jail and ordered that his bail application would be heard on July 1.