BHUBANESWAR: The Supreme Court on Tuesday ordered a CBI probe into the murder of Itishree Pradhan, a school teacher in Rayagada district, who died on November 1, 2013. Her death five days after she was set ablaze had snowballed into a major political controversy because in her dying declaration she said she had approached chief minister Naveen Patnaik for justice against sexual harassment.

An SC bench of Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justice Pinaki Chandra Ghose asked the CBI director to constitute an investigation team within seven days while hearing a petition filed by Sudipta Lenka, a law student of Bangalore and Odisha native.

Petitioner’s counsel Suresh Chandra Tripathy said the apex court also asked the central probe agency to nab the main accused and submit a report within two months. “Inordinate delay in conducting the probe by the state crime branch gave the court enough grounds for shifting it to CBI. The SC said it can’t trust the crime branch any further,” Tripathy said.

Tripathy said the court observed that the state government had failed to comply with its March 12 order asking for expedition of the investigation process, arrest of second accused and an administrative probe to fix responsibility of government authorities. The crime branch had arrested one accused, Netrananda Dandasena (then school SI), but failed to identify the second accused who poured kerosene on Itishree and set her afire.

Opposing the petition, the state government counsel had submitted that the crime branch had conducted a thorough inquiry while the government had completed its administrative probe and had issued show-cause to 16 officers including then DGP Prakash Mishra. The court was not convinced, Tripathy said.

Opposition BJP and Congress had sought CBI probe into the case earlier. Senior BJP leader Bijay Mohapatra the state government had been desperately trying to stall a CBI probe and shield influential people involved in the crime. “The order has exposed the state government’s true face,” he said.

“The SC order vindicated our stand that the state government was shielding the accused,” BJP spokesperson Suresh Pujari said. Welcoming the CBI probe, opposition leader Narasingha Mishra said the SC order in itself is a strong indictment of the state government.

The ruling BJD too welcomed the SC direction. “We welcome the SC decision. It is a heinous crime. The victim must get justice,” BJD spokesperson Amar Prasad Satpathy said.

Itishree was torched in her accommodation inside Tikiri Upper Primary School on October 27, 2013 night. A local magistrate had recorded her first statement at the Rayagada district headquarters hospital. A metropolitan magistrate of Vishakhapatnam recorded her dying declaration (at a hospital there) in which she alleged she had approached the chief minister and top police officers against sexual advances by Dandasena but had failed to get justice. (EOM)