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Sunday, September 19, 2021

Bombay HC quashes FIR against IFS officer in range forest officer’s suicide case

Deepali Chavan had shot herself with a service revolver on March 25 at her official residence in Melghat’s Harisal, leaving three notes

Written by Vivek Deshpande | Nagpur |
August 13, 2021 8:35:52 pm
A division bench comprising Justices A S Chandurkar and C A Sanap ruled that there was no ground for registering an FIR against Reddy in the case.

The Nagpur bench of Bombay High Court Friday quashed an FIR against suspended IFS officer Srinivasa Reddy in the suicide case of Range Forest Officer (RFO) Deepali Chavan in March.

A division bench comprising Justices A S Chandurkar and C A Sanap ruled that there was no ground for registering an FIR against Reddy in the case.

Chavan had shot herself with a service revolver on March 25 at her official residence in Melghat’s Harisal, leaving three notes, one each addressed to her mother, her husband and Reddy.

The FIR was registered on March 26, a day after Chavan died by suicide, as addition to the original FIR filed by Chavan’s husband Rajesh Mohite against Deputy Conservator of Forest Vinod Shivkumar, who Chavan had accused of harassment and mental torture.

Chavan was RFO of Harisal range of Melghat Tiger Reserve (MTR) while Shivkumar was her immediate superior.

While Shivkumar was arrested, Reddy, then Field Director of MTR of Additional Chief Conservator of Forest (APCC) rank, was arrested on April 29 following political pressure from local people’s representatives despite the fact that Chavan had held only Shivkumar as being solely responsible for her death.

Reddy was in magisterial custody for 14 days before being granted bail. Chavan had also mentioned in the note addressed to Reddy that he had always supported her and she felt safe when he would be around. She had, however, mentioned that she was afraid that Reddy won’t initiate any action against Shivkumar, the latter being a fellow RFS officer, despite her bringing the harassment caused by Shivkumar to his (Reddy’s) notice.

While discussing inaction by Reddy against Shivkumar in her suicide note, Chavan had mentioned about a text message and a complaint, in response to which, Reddy had allegedly told her to “be careful” if she wanted to file a written complaint against Shivkumar.

Chavan had categorically mentioned many instances of harassment and hurling of abuses by Shivkumar, including the one in which she was allegedly made to tour an undulating terrain when she was pregnant, leading to her miscarriage.

The bench ruled that there was nothing in the three suicide notes left behind by Chavan to infer Reddy as having driven Chavan to suicide.

Upholding the argument by Reddy’s lawyer Sunil Manohar, the bench observed, “From the material referred to hereinabove in the form of three chits written by the deceased, it becomes clear that according to the deceased, it was only the accused number 1 (Shivkumar) who was responsible and was the cause for her committing suicide. Statements to that effect are consistently found in all the three chits and the same is reiterated in those chits. In the chit addressed to the petitioner, the deceased herself has stated in the last paragraph that the petitioner had supported her a lot and that whenever the petitioner was around, the deceased had no fear.”

The bench added, “In fact, the deceased has proceeded to thereafter thank the petitioner to a great extent. It is thereafter stated that it was her last wish that action be taken against the accused number 1. The complete reading of all the three chits gives a clear indication of the feelings of the deceased qua the petitioner. She has not sought to blame the petitioner for taking the ultimate step.”

“A plain reading of the said statement which when translated means ‘if you want to submit a written complaint against accused number 1 you could do so but be careful’ can hardly amount to any abatement as contemplated by Section 107 of the Penal Code. All in all, it is found that the statements made in the First Information Report coupled with the three chits written by the deceased and other material collected by the prosecution are all woefully short to hold the petitioner liable for being prosecuted under Section 306 of the Penal Code. There is hardly any material to indicate abetment and for that matter any illegal omission by the petitioner,” the bench said.

Citing the “principles” laid down in the case of state of Haryana vs Bhajanlal (1992), the bench observed, “Continuation of the present proceedings against the petitioner would amount to an exercise in futility thus resulting in abuse of the process of law. We find the present case a fit one to exercise inherent powers under Section 482 of the Code to quash the FIR.”

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