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Friday, June 21, 2013

Forest department slaps criminal case against woman for ‘false’ sexual harassment complaint

Prey turns predator? If a departmental inquiry by the forest department is the last word in a sexual harassment case, the woman, a receptionist at the government-run Jungle Lodges and Resorts (JLR) who made the allegations against her immediate boss, had cooked up the entire story. 
The tables have turned in such a way that the managing director of JLR has now filed a criminal complaint which could land her in the slammer.
The incident occurred in September 2012, and the woman lodged a complaint with the city police commissioner on January 1, 2013. A copy of her complaint was sent to the secretary, forest, environment and ecology department, who in turn forwarded it to the MD of JLR.

In her petition, the woman had levelled serious charges of sexual harassment against Deputy Conservator of Forest (DCF) and well-known wildlife photographer K M B Prasad. Taking serious note of the complaint, the JLR management instituted an internal inquiry by a divisional manager in February. The inquiry was conducted over four months and 17 witnesses were examined. It gave a clean chit to the DCF and concluded that the complainant had tried to tarnish the image of her male colleague by making false allegations.

Following the report, the JLR management lodged a criminal complaint against the receptionist at High Grounds police station on June 5, accusing her of forgery and defamation. If the charges against her are proved, the woman, who quit her job on January 31, will have to spend a minimum of three years in prison.

“The truth has come out in the 8departmental inquiry,” Prasad told Bangalore Mirror . “This should not happen to any government official. I am thankful to the department which ordered a probe to check the veracity of the complaint before acting on it.”

In her complaint, the woman had stated: “Around 4.30 pm on September 8, 2012, I went to the table of Sri Murali, accountant of our office, to get his signature on a conveyance voucher. K M B Prasad was also present. When I was talking to Sri Murali and getting his signature on the voucher, K M B Prasad patted me on the lower back and gave me an embarrassing (sic) look. I scolded him and being 8frightened, I ran with the file to my place of work, but before that I told him I would complain to the police. K M B Prasad said he would finish me if I did so.”

The JLR MD, on receiving a copy of her petition, asked divisional manager Khaleel Ahmed to probe the allegations. Ahmed is said to have spoken to 17 witnesses, as well as examined mobile calls and the mobile locations (when the incident was said to have occurred). 

The probe found that the allegations did not hold water. Firstly, September 8, the day of the alleged incident, was a second Saturday, and the complainant was not present at the workplace. This was backed by attendance records. Three employees too told the probe panel that the complainant was not present at the Khanija Bhavan headquarters at Race Course Road. Besides, it was found that Prasad had worked at the M G Road office on that day.

Also, as per official records no voucher was signed by the employee — Murali — named in the petition. Cellphone records also went against the complainant. Going by her mobile’s signals, she was at Srinagar that day. And Prasad's mobile showed he was located near the Museum Road tower.

Over 10 witnesses either said they had not seen the DCF at the HQ or that no such incident took place on September 8. Two staffers also provided an alibi for Prasad, saying they were present with him at his M G Road office and he had dropped them at Malleshwaram in his car. 
During the course of the probe, the complainant is said to have changed the date of the incident and said it actually took place on September 7. 
The departmental inquiry took this factor into consideration and found that though she had worked in the office for extra hours on September 7, she had presented the conveyance voucher on September 10. It was passed on September 12. The investigation officer concluded that as the receptionist had worked between 5.30 pm and 6.30 pm on September 7, the question of presenting the voucher around 4.30 pm, two hours prior to completion of work, did not arise.

It was found that she had changed the dates in her voucher — from September 8, to September 7 and , later, September 10 — raising doubts of voucher-tampering.

Another six witnesses said they had not seen the DCF at the head office on September 7 either. It was found that the DCF had gone to the forensic laboratory. He later went to the M G Road office. In his report submitted on May 15, Ahmed gave a clean chit to the DCF and concluded that the allegations of sexual harassment were false.

“The inquiry found that no such incident took place either on September 8 or September 7. The charges made are far from the truth. Further, it was found that the woman had tampered the vouchers. This amounts to a criminal act. Hence, legal action against her is recommended,” Khaleel Ahmed said in his report.
The JLR then lodged a criminal case under various sections of Indian Penal Code which include sections 182 (giving false information), 465, 469 and 471 (forgery to tarnish image). A senior police officer told Bangalore Mirror that probe into the case was on.
‘They can now twist the story’
“I left the job on January 31 itself. They can now twist the story however they want. I will not know whatever happens within the office. They did not conduct an inquiry till the day I was there. They are doing everything only after I left. If you are in front of me I can talk,” the complainant told the media.

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