An IAS officer serving in Delhi has been indicted in an alleged sexual harassment case by an internal complaints committee of the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) where he was posted earlier.
After a six-month probe into a complaint lodged by a middle-rung FSSAI woman officer, the committee has described S S Ghonkrokta, former Director of FSSAI, as a “threat to any woman worker under him… the acts and conducts… so grossly immoral and illegal that it makes it highly unsafe for any employer to retain his services”.
Ghonkrokta is now Special Commissioner, Food and Supplies, Delhi government.
The committee has asked the FSSAI to lodge an FIR under sections relating to assault and criminal force with the intent to outrage the modesty of a woman. It has also called for an inquiry into the conduct of senior officers who supported Ghonkrokta.
When The Indian Express sought Ghonkrokta’s response, he said “there was something that was alleged but there was no proof”. He said he did not know how the committee arrived at this conclusion. “I will have to check that because they did not have any proof against me,’’ he said.
FSSAI Chief Executive Officer Yudhvir Singh Malik declined comment. “I am very occupied in a number of things and I am not able to look at it right now.”
Committee members, who were not available for comment on the findings of their probe, stated in their report that Ghonkrokta had “bad intent for the complainant and to fulfil his evil intentions, he started crafting and designing circumstances to firstly entice and lure her to fall for his devious intentions, failing which he created an atmosphere to pressurize and threaten her using his influence in FSSAI”.
The woman officer told the committee that the first incident took place in May, 2012 when Ghonkrokta, then Director at FSSAI, visited a city in north India where she was posted. “(Ghonkrokta) called her from his mobile phone informing her that he would be coming to (the city) for inspection, asked her to book accommodation in a private hotel. He asked her to come to the airport to receive him,’’ the report stated.
She told the committee that after the office visit, he asked her to accompany him to the office of the Commissioner, Food Safety which she did. She said he later told her he had an afternoon flight to Delhi and need to collect his luggage from the hotel.
“On reaching the hotel, the woman officer tried to wait at the reception but he asked her to accompany him to his room as he wanted to give her an important letter and he would have to unpack his luggage once again at the reception to give the letter. Therefore, she accompanied him to room 501 where he asked her to sit comfortably and asked her to make tea for him. When she did not, he said he would make the tea himself. He then gave her his personal mobile number and asked her to always call him on that number only.”
According to the committee report, the woman officer became apprehensive and sent a text message about her location to a friend. “At this time, he approached her, pulled her hand bag from her lap and thereafter pulled her towards him by catching hold of her hand… told her that you are young, if you want to progress in life, come with me.”
The woman officer told the committee that she fell at his feet and begged him to spare her. “He still forcibly tried to embrace her and said don’t hold my feet, embrace me… Gale se lag jaao. She then ran towards the door which was luckily not locked… he again grabbed her and tried to pull her inside and towards him. The complainant, with great difficulty, was able to rush out of the room and he followed her till the lift,” the report stated.
She told the committee that in the first week of June 2012, she was called to Delhi. “When she came to Delhi for training, he called her to meet him in his chamber… after entering the room she asked his permission to call her TO (technical officer) into the room as well… this annoyed him and he said Apne TO ko aanchal mein baandh ke chalti ho. She alleged he tried to touch her.
She told the committee he said he would promote her if she agreed to his advances. Later, the report notes, “he started adopting various tactics to instil fear and make her succumb to his obnoxious and obscene sexual demands. He even went to the extent of creating a negative and suspicious atmosphere in the minds of other senior officers by spreading false complaints of corruption against her”.
According to the report, the woman officer was handed over a transfer order to Guwahati on October 15, 2012 by her replacement who made her speak to Ghonkrokta over the phone. She was told she was being transferred in view of an adverse inquiry report against her. “The inquiry was nothing but an act of vindictiveness and malice in which the then CEO was fully involved,’’ the report noted.
She told the committee that he “again offered to undo her suffering if she gives in to his demands”.
On October 29, 2012, she applied for medical leave. She was repeatedly told to report to different hospitals for a medical examination.
This, according to the report, was when she decided to complain against him. The fear of losing job, however, was so intense that her mother wrote to her seniors at FSSAI, detailing the assaults and harassment.
When The Indian Express contacted the woman officer, she said: “I couldn’t muster the courage to complain myself because I didn’t believe that anybody would come to my rescue. He was a very powerful officer… my mother decided to write to the higher-ups. My mother is bed-ridden but she gave me the strength to fight back.”
The complaint went back and forth between different departments. On September 3, 2014, the Department of Personnel and Training wrote to the FSSAI with a copy of a notification for taking appropriate action against officers inducted in the IAS.
On December 4, 2014, the probe began.
The woman officer and Ghonkrokta were made to cross-examine each other. His “conduct all through the proceedings of the inquiry was contemptuous”. He denied the allegations against him. The committee submitted its report late last month.
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