RAYAGADA/BHUBANESWAR: In a significant judgment, the Rayagada District and Sessions Court on Tuesday sentenced former school inspector Netrananda Dandasena to life imprisonment in the sensational Itishree Pradhan murder case.
Dandasena, the lone accused in the case which was being investigated by the Crime Branch of State Police, was found guilty of murder, abetment and criminal conspiracy. District Judge Janab Mohammed Ajmal pronounced the verdict in an open court.
Itishree, a non-formal teacher with the Upper Primary School at Tikri in Rayagada, was set on fire by an unidentified miscreant on school premises on October 27, 2013. She succumbed to the injuries at a private hospital in Visakhapatnam on November 1. The case had assumed significance since the lady teacher had accused Dandasena, the then Schools Inspector, of sexual and mental harassment. She also alleged apathy of local police and administration as Dandasena roamed scot-free and no action was taken against him.
When Itishree lodged an FIR with police, she came under intense pressure from the school inspector to withdraw the case. Following Itishree’s death, the State Government asked the Crime Branch to take up investigation.
The Crime Branch, which started investigation on November 1, 2013, submitted its chargesheet on February 22, 2014 and Dandasena was named as the only accused under Sections 302/109/120 (B) of the Indian Penal Code. The agency also roped in Rajendra Sahu as special public prosecutor to expedite the case. The trial started in November 2014 and during the process, as many as 36 witnesses were presented by the prosecution while the defence produced four. Four of Itishree’s dying declarations, with her thumb impression, were also presented as evidence before the court.
In her dying declaration, the teacher had stated that Dandasena was mounting pressure on her to withdraw the cases and arrive at a compromise. Itishree had also stated that she could not recognise the person who poured kerosene and set her on fire on October 27 but the miscreant told her that she was paying for not withdrawing charges against Dandasena.
After the court verdict, Special DG of Crime Branch Bijay Sharma said, the four dying declarations of the victim, which were also videographed, were major evidence in the case. “During the 18-month trial, we produced as many as 36 witnesses from the prosecution side,” he told mediapersons here.
It is an interesting case considering the fact that the killer is yet to be identified and nabbed but investigating agency managed to establish role of the key conspirator.
Sharma said, CB investigation established that Dandasena was trying to coerce Itishree to withdraw the cases and when he failed, he used an associate to eliminate her.
The case, which went on to grab national headlines, was taken over by CBI in 2015 following a Supreme Court order based on a petition filed by Sudipta Lenka, a Bengaluru-based law student. The CB handed over the case to CBI to identify and trace the person who set Itishree on fire. The national agency also announced reward on the perpetrator who is still at large.
The State had earlier dismissed Tikri IIC Sujit Sai, ASI Murali Pradhan, District Inspector of School Dharanidhara Behera and Dandasena invoking Article 311(2) of the Constitution.
A conspiracy, say daughters
Meanwhile, the daughters of Dandasena claimed that their father was innocent and he was entangled in the case by some political leaders and former headmaster of the school. The two sisters – Naliniprabha and Rosy Dandasena – said their father had no role in the killing and alleged that the entire incident was conspired by the then headmaster Chandra Sekhar Panda with the help of political leaders. They said as Dandasena was having good relation with former Koraput MP Jayaram Pangi, who was hostile to N Bhaskar Rao (present Deputy Chairman of State Planning Board and vice-president of Biju Janata Dal), a conspiracy was hatched to against their father. They said they will file an appeal at High Court. Protesting the judgment, Netrananda started hunger strike in the sub-divisional Jail of Rayagada.
Lone Accused in The Case
Dandasena, the lone accused in the case, was found guilty of murder, abetment and criminal conspiracy. District Judge Janab Mohammed Ajmal pronounced the verdict.
36 Witnesses Presented
36 witnesses were presented by the prosecution while the defence produced four. Four of Itishree’s dying declarations were also presented as evidence.
In her dying declaration, the teacher stated that Dandasena was mounting pressure on her to withdraw the cases. But she could not recognise the person who set her on fire.