23 Jun 2023 4:30 AM GMT
The Orissa High Court has quashed the murder charge levelled against IAS officer Manish Agarwal, a former Collector of the district of Malkangiri, for mysterious death of his Personal Assistant (PA) in 2019. However, the Single Judge Bench of Justice Sashikanta Mishra sustained the charge of abetment to suicide and criminal conspiracy against the ex-District Magistrate and other accused...
The Orissa High Court has quashed the murder charge levelled against IAS officer Manish Agarwal, a former Collector of the district of Malkangiri, for mysterious death of his Personal Assistant (PA) in 2019.
However, the Single Judge Bench of Justice Sashikanta Mishra sustained the charge of abetment to suicide and criminal conspiracy against the ex-District Magistrate and other accused persons and held,
“The foregoing narration relating to the events leading to commission of suicide by the deceased would prima facie, show that all the three accused persons had acted in unison to belittle the deceased in several ways and on multiple occasions which caused him to be mentally upset.”
Deba Narayan Panda (deceased) was working as the PA to Manish Agarwal, the then Collector, Malkangiri (petitioner herein). He went missing on December 27, 2019 while on duty. On the next day, his dead body was recovered from the Satiguda dam site by fire personnel.
Subsequently, post mortem was conducted by a team of doctors. The post-mortem report disclosed the cause of death as ante-mortem drowning and its complications. It also revealed that the dead body did not have any injury or mark of violence.
While the matter stood thus, on November 13, 2020 the wife of the deceased filed a complaint in the Court of SDJM, Malkangiri alleging that on the date of occurrence, her husband went to the residence of the Collector at about 10 AM and never returned thereafter. It was alleged that the then Collector was responsible for death of the deceased.
The SDJM forwarded the complaint to the police to register an FIR and to conduct investigation as per Section 156(3) of the CrPC. Upon completion of investigation, the investigating officer submitted the closure report holding that no foul play was involved in the death of the deceased and that the accused persons had not committed any offence.
However, the complainant-wife filed a protest petition against the submission of the final report by Police. In the said protest petition, she alleged that the matter was not properly investigated and that the involvement of the Collector in the death of the deceased was being deliberately kept under cover.
Accordingly, the SDJM recorded the initial statement of the complainant and basing on such statement and other materials on record, took cognizance of the aforementioned offences and postponed issue of process by deciding to call upon the complainant to produce all her witnesses.
Four witnesses were examined on behalf of the complainant whereupon the SDJM directed the complainant to file requisites by an order dated January 11, 2023 and on January 13, 2023, he issued summons to the petitioners to appear before him.
Being aggrieved, the Collector and other accused persons approached the High Court seeking to quash the order of cognizance.
Contentions Of Parties
It was submitted for the petitioners that the case of the complainant, even if accepted on the face of it, still would not reveal even a shred of allegation against the petitioners as having had any role to play in the death of the deceased.
It was also submitted that he had been issued with show cause notices in the past by the previous Collectors for misconduct as also by Manish Agarwal as Collector, Malkangiri. Investigating Officer took note of the same and was of the considered view that the deceased was upset because of his service-related issues and the case was rightly concluded as one of suicide.
On the other side, it was submitted for the State that even though closure report was filed by the police, it was open to the SDJM to act upon the protest petition filed by the complainant.
It was underlined that whether the petitioners had any role to play in the suicide committed by the deceased is a matter that can only be ascertained after recording and examining evidence during trial and not at this premature stage.
Court’s Analysis & Order
The Court took note of the facts and observed that the only allegation made by the complainant against the petitioner-collector is that on April 4, 2018 he had asked the deceased as to who are the people or projects or agencies who contributed money to the Collector either on monthly basis or on work-to-work basis.
The complainant also alleged that the Collector wanted to know who were the people who usually did the collection. The Collector allegedly asked the deceased whether he can take up the responsibility of collecting commission on his behalf. When the deceased expressed his inability to make such collection, the petitioner was visibly upset.
After examining the available materials, the Court was of the view that neither the medical evidence nor the petitions and statements of the complainant as also that of the other witnesses contained, prima facie, any evidence to even suggest that the death was homicidal in nature.
“What is important to note is, there is simply no allegation which would even remotely link the Petitioners with the death of the deceased. In the protest petition also, apart from alleging that the Petitioner-Manish Agarwal had used his position to suppress relevant facts during investigation, there is no allegation of the Petitioners having caused the death of the deceased,” it observed.
Therefore, the Court held, unless possibility of homicidal death is established, it would be meaningless to put effort in ascertaining the identity of the culprit. Thus, the Court expressed inability to sustain the charge of murder (under Section 302 IPC) against the petitioners.
As far as the charge of abetment to suicide was concerned, the Court highlighted that the chargesheet itself recorded, “The investigation has thus reveals that deceased Deba Narayan Panda was upset in his service matters and he committed suicide by jumping in the Satiguda Dam.”
Hence, the Court underlined that even the prosecution accepted that the deceased was upset because of his service matters which was strong enough to push him to commit suicide.
“Whether the aforementioned conduct of the accused persons would amount to instigation or not can obviously be determined from the evidence adduced during trial but not at this preliminary stage. It is to be noted that investigation has not suggested any plausible reason for the deceased other than being upset because of his service matters to contemplate taking the extreme step,” it added.
Therefore, the Court deemed it proper to modify the charges by striking down the charges under Section 302 and 506 IPC and sustaining the imputations under Sections 306/120-B/34 IPC as enough materials exist to proceed against the accused persons for the aforesaid offences.
Accordingly, the Trial Court was directed to conclude the trial as expeditiously as possible and ideally within eight months.
Case Title: Manish Agarwal v. State of Odisha & Anr.
Case No.: CRLMC No. 551 of 2023
Date of Judgment: June 22, 2023
Counsel for the Petitioner: Mr. Milan Kanungo, Senior Advocate & Mr. Yuvraj Parekh, Advocate
Counsel for the State: Mr. T.K. Praharaj, Standing Counsel
Citation: 2023 LiveLaw (Ori) 69
Click Here To Read/Download Judgment