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Evidence withheld for 5 years in Mumbai sexual harassment trial

For nearly five years, a vital piece of forensic evidence against three employees of the accounting firm KPMG was mysteriously not filed in court, virtually delaying the trial in a case of sexual harassment at the workplace.

Six years after the first information report (FIR), charges against the three accused are yet to be framed by the trial court.On July 16, 2007 the N M Joshi Marg police station registered an offence against three persons, all employees of the accounting firm KPMG, for sexual harassment under sections 509 and 354 of the Indian Penal Code after which they were arrested and released on bail. Even though the chargesheet was filed in December 2007, and the court has taken cognizance of the charges, the trial has been meandering.

After the complainant pointed this out to a senior police officer, an inquiry has been ordered to find out why the forensic laboratory report was not submitted to the trial court till March this year. The N M Joshi Marg police station was asked to file an action taken report. No police official was available for comment.

Last year after attending court on several occasions without the matter progressing, the complainant sought an update on the case in May. Inspector Kishore Shinde of N M Joshi Marg police station wrote back to her in June 2012, saying the case was stayed under section 258 of the Criminal Procedure Code (Cr Pc). Under this section, a magistrate has the power to stop proceedings in certain cases. However, it turns out Mr Shinde had given her wrong information. While one of the accused did make an application for stoppage of proceedings in 2009, it was pending in court for the public prosecutor’s say since then.

The complainant demanded to inspect files of the case and to her horror, she found that the report of the Forensic Science Laboratory (FSL), Mumbai, certifying the authenticity of the offending emails to her, was missing. The FSL report was submitted to the police in November 2008 itself. She then filed an RTI query seeking details from the police who did not reply and she had to approach the first appellate authority under the RTI act, the deputy commissioner of police. The FSL report was given to her in October 2012 and also sent to the public prosecutor.

However, the report was not submitted to the court on any of the subsequent dates when the matter came up for hearing in December, January and February. The complainant says no one gave reasons for the FSL report not being filed in the trial court and till now charges are yet to be framed, despite the public prosecutor finally opposing the application for stoppage of proceedings last December. The public prosecutor in his submission said that the application was untenable and the same accused had tried to stall the investigation earlier and had filed a petition in the Bombay high court to quash the FIR which he later withdrew. There was significant evidence and witness statements were recorded in the chargesheet filed in 2007, he submitted. The prosecutor also said that the contention of the accused that there was no significant evidence was misleading since there was the forensic report from the FSL dated November 19, 2008. He said the application for stoppage of proceedings under 258 of Cr PC should be rejected and charges framed against the accused.

Despite explicit directions by the public prosecutor last year, the FSL report was not submitted to the trial court till March 22, 2013. Another accused filed a discharge application on February 23 saying there was no evidence in the case to which the prosecutor was to file a say on March 22 but the application later withdrawn. The same person filed a plea for condonation of delay of 46 days in the sessions court to file a criminal revision application seeking to quash the charges against him, claiming there is no evidence. This was granted on March 5. The applicant it is stated was waiting for the FSL report which was submitted on December 7, 2012, and therefore the delay of 46 days.

However, records of the court proceedings clearly show that the FSL report was submitted on March 22, 2013. That makes the actual delay much more. The complainant challenged the decision in high court and justice Roshan Dalvi set aside the sessions court order while allowing the accused to make a fresh plea.

An inquiry is also initiated by the deputy registrar of the sessions court to determine who made a mistake in computing the delay as 46 days and what documents were relied upon. On May 2, the accused has filed a fresh application for condonation of delay (which is subject to a maximum 90 days), stating it to be 1885 days.

Caught between all these various applications, the case drags on. “I am almost at fault for invoking a legal remedy after I was terminated for making a complaint to the oversight board and demanding an inquiry,“ says the complainant.

The public prosecutor has changed thrice and the trial court as well. The next date for the hearing is now in June. The Maharashtra government has been boasting about its fast track courts and speedy trial for women but it is nowhere in evidence on the ground. Nearly six years to even frame charges in a case is hardly encouraging for women to approach the legal system. The complainant was almost forced to supervise every aspect of the case. She was the one who had to inspect the case files only to find that the forensic report was not submitted to the trial court, a grave omission. Clearly, something is beyond rotten here.

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Printable version | Nov 23, 2021 8:39:39 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/evidence-withheld-for-5-years-in-mumbai-sexual-harassment-trial/article4692717.ece

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