Life term for 8 convicts in Saraswati murder case
A lower court in Odisha’s communally sensitive Kandhamal district on Thursday pronounced life imprisonment for all eight convicts in the 2008 murder of Hindu religious leader Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati and four of his disciples.
The murder had taken place inside Saraswati’s ashram located in the Jalespeta area of Kandhamal. The eight include Puruli Rama Rao alias Udaya, a hardcore Maoist.†
After an over four-year long trial, seven of the accused were convicted on Monday, while Udaya’s judgment was pronounced on Tuesday. The judge had let off one of the accused due to insufficient evidence.
The August 2008 killing of Saraswati and his associates had led to unprecedented Hindu-Christian communal violence in the backward district, which had claimed more than 40 lives besides rendering thousands homeless.
Several houses had been torched and religious places destroyed. The violent outbreak had inflicted a severe blow on the country’s image at an international level.
While holding the Maoists responsible for the crime with the help of a few local hands, the crime branch (CB) of the Odisha Police had investigated the murder and chargesheeted fourteen people, including a few big Maoist names like Sabyasachi Panda, who was then in charge of the CPI (Maoist) operations in Odisha.
Panda, who is heading his own Maoist outfit now, is currently absconding.
Of the chargesheeted 14, the CB managed to arrest 10, including two top Maoists – Udaya and Azad. While Udaya was convicted along with seven others, Azad’s trial is to be conducted separately, as he is currently facing trial in several other Maoist-related cases.
The Andhra Pradesh-based Maoist is lodged in the Jharpada prison here amid tight security.
The lawyers of all the eight convicts on Thursday announced to challenge the lower court’s verdict in the Orissa High Court. The CB expressed its satisfaction over the judgment and punishment.
“We are happy that eight of the nine accused have been convicted and have received appropriate punishment. We had furnished a water-tight charge sheet,” said a senior CB official.