Baripada: Minister of Agriculture in the Naveen Patnaik-led government Pradeep Maharathy tendered his resignation on Sunday after Prime Minister Narendra Modi urged the Odisha government to re-investigate the Pipili gang rape-and-murder case. Maharathy’s resignation came after strong protests over his callous remarks on the acquittal of those accused in a controversial rape case of 2011.

However, Maharathy feigned innocence and said, “I’ve always been an honest party member of BJD. I deeply respect BJD head and CM Naveen Patnaik and all other party members. They shouldn’t be blamed because of me. There was no pressure on me to quit. I did this on my own.”

It is being said that Maharathy has stepped down from the post of Ministry on moral grounds.

A 19-year-old Dalit girl, who was raped in November 2011 and died in June 2012 after remaining in a semi-comatose state, sparked a state-wide furore. It was alleged that the accused in the case had been sheltered by Maharathy.

On December 24, 2018, the court of additional district judge in Bhubaneswar had acquitted the two persons arrested in the case. Following the acquittal, Maharathy had said, “I welcome the court judgment. It is a victory of truth. The victim girl got justice.”

His remark had stoked controversy and had the angered family of the victim seeking stringent action against the accused. Maharathy had to resign from the ministry at the time in the face of a state-wide hue and cry for allegedly sheltering the accused. He again became a minister after the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) returned to power in 2014.

While addressing a rally in at Baripada on Saturday, PM Modi had accused the Odisha government of not being serious about the welfare of women and girls saying, “This (state) government failed to give justice to a girl in an incident that took place 7 to 8 years ago in Puri district. It is natural that women and girls are angry over laxity in the investigation into the case for which the victim has been denied justice.”