17 May 2023 6:06 AM GMT
The Supreme Court, on Wednesday, granted interim anticipatory bail to BV Srinivas, National President of Indian Youth Congress in respect to the FIR registered in Assam on a sexual harassment complaint lodged by a member.A Bench comprising Justice BR Gavai and Justice Sanjay Karol noted that alleged incident happened during 24-26 February 2023 in Raipur and the complaint was lodged...
The Supreme Court, on Wednesday, granted interim anticipatory bail to BV Srinivas, National President of Indian Youth Congress in respect to the FIR registered in Assam on a sexual harassment complaint lodged by a member.
A Bench comprising Justice BR Gavai and Justice Sanjay Karol noted that alleged incident happened during 24-26 February 2023 in Raipur and the complaint was lodged in April 2023 in Assam. The bench also noted that the complainant, in her tweets and interviews to media before the complaint was lodged, there was no "whisper of allegation" of sexual harassment against the petitioner.
"Prima facie, taking into consideration the delay of almost two months in lodging the FIR, will entitle the petitioner to interim protection. We direct that in the event of arrest the petitioner shall be released on anticipatory bail on furnishing solvent sureties to the sum of Rs 50,000", the bench observed.
The bench has asked Srinivas to appear before the investigating officer on May 22 and on the subsequent dates as and when directed by the officer. He has been asked to cooperate with the investigation. The matter will be next considered in July 2023. The Court further directed the petitioner to cooperate with the inquiry being carried out with the National Commission for Women.
After the order was dictated, ASG Raju made a request to not make any observations regarding the merits (such as absence of sexual harassment allegations in the initial statements) and said that interim protection be granted without assigning reasons. However, the bench refused to remove the observations, but clarified that they are made only for the purposes of granting interim relief.
Senior Advocate Dr AM Singhvi, appearing for Srinivas, submitted that in the tweets made by the complainant before lodging the complaint, the grievance raised by her was regarding the discrimination being faced in the party. She also had given six media interviews before the complaint was lodged. There was no sexual harassment allegations in her statements. Though the allegations pertain to February, she kept quiet till April. Singhvi added that she is a lawyer and not an ordinary person. He added that her statements were regarding the IYC in-charge of Assam, who is a different person and that her public allegations were that IYC Assam in-charge was not treating her respectfully. In her complaint filed the next day, allegations regarding heckling, holding of arm etc., were added and these allegations were added to include Section 354IPC, which is the only non-bailable and non-cognizanble offence.
When Additional Solicitor General SV Raju started his submissions, the bench asked him whether he was appearing for the CBI or ED. Raju replied that he is appearing for the State of Assam. "CBI, ED have not yet come in?", Justice Gavai asked in a lighter vein.
Raju said that the case can't be termed as politically motivated as the complainant is a member of the same party. He said that the petitioner did not appear in furtherance of notices issued under Section 41A CrPC. He did not even respond to the notice issued by the National Commission for Women.
"We gave him a second notice...he says he is unwell. Perpetually he is unwell! Consistently he is defying the notice", Raju said. "That might be because of your reputation. You had arrested someone at the Airport", Justice Gavai replied in a lighter vein, alluding to the arrest of Congress leader Pawan Khera by Assam police.
ASG added that lady had complained to the party and she came out in public only after the party refused to take action.
The complainant also appeared before the bench through lawyer. The bench asked her lawyer why she kept quiet from February. The lawyer replied that she was taking up the issue within the party. "You are a lawyer, you don't know the party can't take criminal action? Are you not aware of the legal rights?", the bench asked him.
On May 4, a single bench of the Gauhati High Court had dismissed his petition seeking to quash the FIR. The High Court also dismissed another petition filed by Srinivas seeking anticipatory bail. Justice Ajit Borthakur observed that there is no indication that the FIR is "politically motivated" and refused to interfere by noting that the investigation is at a nascent stage. While dismissing the petition, the bench also censured Srinivas's lawyer for suggesting that judges on the verge of retirement will pass orders favouring the government in hope of post-retirement benefits.
The petition before the High Court was filed under Section 482 Cr.P.C. for quashing of the case filed by the former President of the Assam Youth Congress under Sections 509/294/341/352/354/354A (iv)/506 of the IPC read with Section 67 of the Information Technology Act, 2000.
It has been alleged that the accused had been persistently harassing the victim mentally by way of sexist and slang words and also threatening her with dire consequences if she complained the same before the high office bearers of the Youth Congress. It has also been alleged that the alleged victim was also heckled and threatened by the petitioner in a Congress session at Chhattisgarh in February, 2023.
Justice Ajit Borthakur had said, “The nature of offences disclosed in the FIR are crime against the society being basically pertaining to outraging of the modesty of woman.”
Senior Advocate Dr AM Singhvi was assisted by AoR Rajesh Inamdar
[Case Title: BV Srinivas v. State of Assam SLP(Crl) No. 6210/2023]
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