September 21, 2021 1:56:44 am
Senior Indian Forest Service (IFS) officer M S Reddy, who was given a clean chit by the Nagpur bench of the Bombay High Court last month in the suicide case of Range Forest Officer (RFO) Deepali Chavan, continues to remain suspended from service. A committee headed by state Chief Secretary Sitaram Kunte recently granted an extension of three months to the departmental inquiry against him.
The decision to extend the inquiry was taken at a meeting of the committee, held last week. This means Reddy will remain suspended from service and will have to wait for his reinstatement till the inquiry is completed.
The committee comprised Kunte, Additional Chief Secretary (General Administration Department) Sujata Sounik, senior Additional Chief Secretary Vandana Krishna, Head of Forest Force Sai Prakash and Principal Secretary of Forest Department Venugopal Reddy.
Reddy, who was director of Melghat Tiger Reserve (MTR), was suspended after an FIR was lodged against him by RFO Chavan’s husband after her suicide at Harisal in MTR on March 25. He was later arrested and was in jail for about two weeks before being released on bail.
The action against Reddy came despite Chavan blaming only her immediate superior, Deputy Conservator of Forest Vinod Shivkumar, in three suicide notes she had left behind, one each addressing Reddy, her mother and her husband.
Chavan had accused Shivkumar of abusing her in front of other staffers and also of harassing her over issued related to work. She had also accused him of making her travel with him on undulating roads of MTR when she was pregnant, leading to a miscarriage.
While Chavan had complained to Reddy in a letter addressed to him, saying he didn’t intervene to rein in Shivkumar since he was from the IFS cadre, she had also unambiguously mentioned that only Shivkumar be held responsible for her suicide.
In the same letter, she had also expressed her respect for Reddy and said she always felt safe whenever he was around.
After his release on bail, Reddy had moved the High Court, seeking quashing of the FIR against him. The HC had, on August 13, granted the plea, saying there was nothing in the suicide note to implicate Reddy and the suicide note had, in fact, mentioned his support to Chavan. The HC had also said that Chavan had clearly mentioned that only Shivkumar be held responsible for her suicide and there was “no illegal omission” by Reddy in the matter.
But even one month after the HC’s clean chit, there is no relief in sight for Reddy.
“The committee headed by CS was clearly split over the issue. While Principal Secretary Venugopal Reddy and HoFF Saiprakash strongly pitched for M S Reddy’s reinstatement, the two woman officers, Krishna and Sounik, insisted that the departmental enquiry going on in the matter must be allowed to be completed before any relief is granted to Reddy. CS Kunte, as the Chairman, had to maintain his neutrality although he was also not apparently convinced about the two officers’ contention,” said a senior official on condition of anonymity.
Another official said, “The woman officers felt that Reddy had faltered in not intervening in the matter or using his authority to rein in Shivkumar and as such, an inquiry was needed to decide his culpability.”
However, another senior official said, “Once the HC has unambiguously settled the issue, the departmental inquiry should automatically have been closed since the FIR, on the basis of which it was set up, stands quashed by none other than the honourable HC. This is, in a way, a neglect of the HC order. If you have any other matter to be probed against Reddy, go ahead. But in this particular case, the government is clearly doing injustice.”
Sai Prakash refused to discuss the details of the meeting but said, “As HoFF, I had recommended his reinstatement immediately after the clearly-worded HC ruling that exonerated Reddy. I will not be able to share anything about why the committee headed by CS decided otherwise.”
Calls and messages to Venugopal Reddy, Sounik, Krishna and Kunte, seeking their responses, went unanswered.
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