Updated: March 27, 2021 12:52:47 am
Police have arrested Vinod Shivkumar, Deputy Conservator of Forest (DCF), Gugamal division of Melghat, for allegedly abetting the suicide of Deepali Chavan, Harisal Range Forest Officer (RFO), who shot herself dead on Thursday evening. Shivkumar was suspended by the forest department on Friday.
“We arrested him from Nagpur railway station on Friday morning when he was about to board a train to his place in Karnataka,” Superintendent of Police Hari Balaji said. “The arrest was made on the basis of a note that we rcovered, in which Chavan has accused Shivkumar of harassing her in her day-to-day work. The note clearly mentioned that he was responsible for her taking the extreme step. Chavan’s husband Rajesh Mohite has filed a police complaint regarding this,” Balaji added.
Mohite also filed a police complaint against Melghat field director Srinivas Reddy on Friday, accusing him of being responsible for his wife’s death.
Principal Chief Conservator of Forest (Wildlife) Nitin Kakodkar visited Amravati on Friday and, after checking the facts, recommended Reddy’s transfer.
Protests were witnessed at Amravati’s District General Hospital, where Chavan’s body was brought for a post-mortem on Friday. Workers from the BJP demanded justice for Chavan but were later evicted by police. Members of Beldar community, to which Chavan belonged, also staged protests demanding action against senior officials. The RFO and forest guards association has also demanded strict action against senior officials, including Reddy.
Chavan’s mother Shakuntala, who left Harisal for Satara on Thursday morning, was inconsolable after hearing the news of her daughter’s death by suicide. She said, “Senior officials harassed my daughter about which she would often tell me. They didn’t sanction her leave and often didn’t release her salary. She would tell me that Shivkumar often uses vulgar language against her and she feels lonely.”
Chavan, 34, was working as RFO at Harisal for over three years. Shivkumar, who was serving his first posting as DCF, was her supervising officer. Chavan shot herself in the chest with her service pistol on Thursday evening after her mother left. Chavan’s husband Mohite is working as treasury officer at Chikhaldara, also in Melghat.
The four-page note is addressed to Melghat Tiger Reserve (MTR) Field Director Srinivas Reddy, who has also been accused of not addressing the issue of Chavan’s harassment despite repeated requests by her.
The note recovered by police states, “Initially, Shivkumar was being nice to me, but later started issuing notices to me as he believed some local staffers, who would mislead him about me. He would frequently threaten to suspend and chargesheet me. When I was doing rehabilitation work in two to three villages, Shivkumar would come to there and abuse me in front of everyone using foul language. He would never try to understand my position and would force me to do things not in conformity with the rules.”
It further states, “On March 7, 2020, when I was busy removing forest encroachment at Mangia village, some local people abused us and locked us up in a house. When I informed Shivkumar, he said I was lying and staging a drama. When I told him that the villagers were threatening to register an offence against me under the Atrocities Act, Shivkumar said he would call the SP and tell him to apply the atrocity to see how you feel spending four months in jail,” adding, “my mobile has a recording of this conversation with him.”
The note also stated that Chavan had played the recording to Amravati MP Navneet Rana.
Shivkumar has also been accused of making her travel for three days on undulating roads in the Makur area, leading to a miscarriage. “But Shivkumar did not grant me leave,” the note stated.
Shivkumar has also been accused of not allowing her to go to Amravati to be with her family even once during the month. “He asks me to meet him at late hours in the night and speaks to me in vulgar language. Many times he called me to the tourist complex and even at the Akot diversion and tried to take undue advantage of my being alone with him. He is punishing me for not submitting to his whims,” the note states.
Addressing Reddy, the note states, “You will not be able to do anything about him because you are firmly behind him.”
“He often comes to Harisal and hurls abuses. This can be proved if you check CCTV footage. All the staffers at Harisal also know about this,” the note states.
It further states, “You (Reddy) have supported me a lot till now. I feel safe when you are around and I thank you a lot for this. Shivkumar alone is responsible for my taking the extreme step and I hope you will take strict action against him.”
Asked about the accusations in the note, Reddy said, “Chavan and her husband came to me in September and told me about the alleged harassment by Shivkumar and sought my intervention. But she didn’t give anything to me in writing. So, I admonished Shivkumar asking him to behave.”
Asked whether police were contemplating action against Reddy, Inspector General of Police (Amravati range) C K Mina said, “We will have to investigate into whether Reddy is culpable. Any possible action against him will have to be based on correct assessment about his role.”
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