Odisha Sun Times Bureau
Cuttack, Nov 30:
Acting on the directive of the Odisha High Court, the Cuttack district administration took control of Barabati Palace, the upscale marriage mandap adjacent to the iconic Barabati Stadium, and nearly a a dozen shops on a piece of 800 decimals of land on Sunday.
“As per the direction of the honourable High Court, we have taken control of Barabati Palace and other commercial establishments being run on the encroached land. We have asked the Odisha Olympic Association (OOA) to deposit the money they have taken by way of advance towards bookings of the mandap. From now on, anyone who wants to book the premises or rent the shops will have to deposit the money with us,” Cuttack Sadar tehsildar Abanikanta Patnaik said after taking possession of the premises.
The tehsildar, however, made it clear that none of the commercial establishments being run on the encroached land, including Barabati Palace, would be shut down.” They would continue to function as before. The only change is that people booking the mandap and those running commercial establishments on it will now have to make the payments to the district administration instead of the OOA,” he said.
Preparations for a marriage ceremony were on even as the administration took possession of the Barabati Palace on Sunday afternoon.
Earlier, the district administration made an announcement about the take-over over loudspeakers before descending on the premises with a sizeable contingent of police force and taking charge of the premises. They measured the entire encroached area and took possession of it.
“Anyone interested to run business on the property or take the marriage mandap (Barabati Palace) on rent shall contact Cuttack Sadar tehsildar,” said a notice of the district administration pasted on various constructions on the land.
OAA secretary Asirbad Behera, at the centre of the encroachment row, was guarded in his response to the taking over the premises that many believe he had converted into his private fiefdom.
“We will study the verdict of the High Court after we get a certified copy of it and then act accordingly. A meeting of the Association has been convened on Monday to discuss the issue where a decision will be taken on the next course of action,” he said.
Odisha Olympic Association (OOA), which had got 20 acres of government land on lease basis for construction of Barabati Stadium way back in 1949, subsequently encroached upon two acres of vacant government land adjacent to it in the mid-1970s.
After Asirbad Behera became OOA secretary in 1986, he sub-leased the encroached land and developed various business establishments on it.
Challenging the encroachment, the state government in 2000 filed an eviction case. But Behera contested it in a civil court and managed to obtain a favourable decree in his favour. The state government then moved the High Court against the judgment of the lower court in 2001.
In an interim order passed by the High Court on Saturday, a single judge bench of Justice B P Ray asked the Cuttack district administration to take possession of the encroached land and also directed the State crime branch police to probe into the affairs of the OOA.
Behera, however, maintained that the impugned land has been in the possession of OOA for the last 40 years and income from the property was being spent on developing sporting activities in the state.