Read Order: Vinod Shivkumar v. State of Maharashtra 

Pankaj Bajpai

Mumbai, July 16, 2021: Observing that bail cannot be refused to douse the collective anger and outrage of society, the Nagpur Bench of the Bombay High Court has granted bail to an Assistant Conservator of Forest who was accused of abetment of suicide of a subordinate female officer. 

Justice Rohit B Deo said despite the existence of a prima facie case, bail merits to be granted if the offence is not punishable with death or life imprisonment.

The High Court reiterated that while there does appear to be, in favour of the prosecution, the existence of a prima facie case of abetment as would attract the provisions of Section 306 of the IPC, the same cannot be said as regards Section 312 which penalizes voluntarily causing a woman with child to miscarriage. 

In the instant case, a complaint was filed by the husband of the deceased officer, upon receiving suicide notes. This led to filing of an FIR against the accused Shivkumar, who was then the immediate supervisor of the deceased. 

The counsel appearing for the accused argued that even if the contents of the suicide letter are taken at face value, no prima facie inference of abetment to suicide can be drawn. It was further argued that the allegations mentioned in the suicide letter are also belied by other material collected during the investigation.

After examining the letters submitted by the prosecution, the High Court noted that the deceased had blamed the accused of continuous and deliberate oppression. The suicide letter also alleged that the deceased was insulted and humiliated in the presence of colleagues and was summoned at odd hours and addressed in inappropriate language. 

In addition, the suicide letter also alleged threat of departmental action and involvement in criminal prosecution by the accused against the deceased officer. 

“The cumulative effect of the allegations is that a reasonable inference can be drawn, that a situation was deliberately created as would compel a lady officer of even a normal sensitivity to contemplate the extreme step,” said the Bench.

Justice Deo stated that the existence of a prima facie case is not the only consideration governing grant or refusal to grant bail, particularly since the applicant is not charged with commission of offence punishable with death or life sentence. 

“The gravity of the offence, the status of the accused, the possibility of the accused not being available, or otherwise, to face the trial, the propensity or the potential to influence the course of trial are but some of the relevant considerations,” said Justice Deo. 

Observing that bail cannot be refused either as a pre-trial punishment or to douse the collective anger and outrage of society, the High Court clarified that if there was no material on record to suggest that Shivkumar, who is a member of the Indian Forest Service, will flee from the course of justice or will subvert the trial or influence the witnesses, there is no purpose in continuing his incarceration. 

The High Court thus granted bail to Shivkumar upon furnishing of personal bond of Rs. 1 lakh with two solvent sureties of like amount, noting that the prosecution was not able to place any material to show any attempt of influencing witnesses. 

However, it was clarified that the observations were being made by the High Court only to consider the bail application and it was for the trial court to consider if the conduct of the accused had pushed the deceased to commit suicide.

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