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Jan 19, 2012 at 12:09pm IST

Pipili rape case: Odisha Agriculture Minister Pradeep Maharathy resigns

New Delhi: Odisha Agriculture Minister Pradeep Maharathy, who has been facing controversy in Pipili rape case, has resigned on Thursday.

Maharathy has been in the line of fire for the past one week following allegations that he had harboured those accused of raping and attempting to kill a 19-year-old girl at Pipili in Puri district on November 28.

After increasing public and political pressure for its lapses in the alleged gang-rape of a 19-year-old girl in a Pipili village, the Puri police on January 16 nabbed main accused Prashant Pradhan from Jatni.

"I have tendered my resignation on moral ground. In view of the coming panchayat elections, I have taken the move to safeguard BJD's image," Maharathy told reporters after handing over the resignation to Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik at CM's residence.

Asserting that he wants the culprits to be punished and the 19-year-old dalit girl to get justice, Maharathy said his resignation was not the outcome of any pressure from any quarter but to protect the ruling BJD's image.

Denying the allegations against him, he said, "I am not a coward, I am a stalwart. I am ready to face any inquiry."

The five-time MLA, who had been made a minister on May ten, last year, said he had full faith in judiciary and truth would come out despite a campaign by opposition political parties to tarnish his image.

The move came a day after the chief minister took stock of the situation and said that a decision on the fate of Maharathy would be taken in a day or so.

Patnaik had earlier said that "extremely strong" action would be taken against the persons found guilty in the gangrape case in Pipili.

Not satisfied with Maharathy's resignation, opposition Congress and BJP said it was an eye-wash and a drama and demanded that the chief minister step down on moral ground.

"Maharathy's resignation is not enough. It is a drama. We want the chief minister to resign. Our battle will continue," Odisha Pradesh Congress Committee President Niranjan Patnaik said.

Making the same demand, state BJP President Jual Oram said Patnaik must resign on moral ground and agitation would continue to ensure justice to the rape victim, now undergoing treatment at SCB Medical College Hospital in Cuttack.

The opposition political parties and civil society outfits, which had undertaken state-wide agitations in the wake of the dalit gangrape case, also demanded a CBI probe into the matter as people had no faith in investigation by the state police.

Meanwhile, three of the four accused persons have been arrested by the police in the November 28, 2011 gangrape case.

Official sources said the state government was taking steps to bring experts from outside Odisha for the treatment of the victim, who was undergoing treatment in the ICU of SCB Medical College, Cuttack.

They said all efforts were being made to nab the fourth accused -- Abua alias Sukant Pradhan.

The government decided to bring experts from outside after the victim's parents refused to shift her to AIIMS, Delhi, according to Chief Secretary BK Patnaik said.

As Orissa High Court had categorically observed that the victim could not be shifted from SCB Medical College Hospital without permission of her parents, the state government had no option but to bring specialist doctors from Delhi or somewhere else.

The girl was shifted to SCB Medical College Hospital from the Capital Hospital here following a High Court order. Though the girl was allegedly raped by four persons on November 28, police registered an FIR on January 9, this year after the State Human Rights Commission intervened following public outcry.

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