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Key charges off, bail granted

Principal Helen Sircar after the court granted her bail on Monday. Picture by Sanjoy Chattopadhyaya

Calcutta, Sept. 16: The Barrackpore court today granted bail to the principal of Christ Church Girls’ High School after the prosecution admitted that the two strongest charges — abetting suicide and extortion — did not apply to Helen Sircar.

Sircar stepped out of the latticed lock-up inside the courtroom, still held by two policewomen. She waved at her relatives and was locked in a hug by the school’s secretary around 2.30pm.

Between Friday, when Sircar was first produced in court, and Monday, the prosecution’s submissions underwent a pronounced change.

On Friday, public prosecutor Sankar Das Bandyopadhyay had participated in a 30-minute argument to explain why Sircar should not be granted bail and should be sent to police custody. He had said the police had evidence that could prove the extortion charge.

On Monday, he wrapped up his submission in three minutes. “The two IPC charges, abetment to suicide (Section 306) and extortion (Section 384), are not applicable to the accused. Detention only for the sake of detention is not required,” Bandyopadhyay said.

He did submit a petition seeking Sircar’s judicial custody but police officers described it as a token plea. “This is typical of the police when they don’t want to oppose a bail petition,” a veteran officer said.

A senior officer conceded that the investigators had not come across evidence that could establish the charges of abetment and extortion.

Debasis Bej, the deputy commissioner, detective department, the Barrackpore commissionerate, said in response to a question: “We had drawn up the charges on the basis of the complaint lodged by the girl’s grandfather and the charges were applied on the basis of the preliminary investigation on Thursday.”

The FIR, however, had not blamed the principal for the death of 10-year-old Oindrilla Das, a Class V student of the school. The abetment to suicide charge was slapped even though the cause of death is yet to be established.

An officer from another police district said the charges smacked of an attempt to “find ways to justify” the principal’s arrest, executed under duress. “On Friday, Sircar was not granted bail primarily because of these two charges. Now, after three days, they are saying there was no evidence against Sircar,” he added.

An officer in the Barrackpore commissionerate almost confirmed what his colleague had recounted from experience.

Police officers claimed they had to prepare the charges against Sircar hurriedly. “When the vandalism took place, we could not conduct any investigation. The decision to arrest the principal and frame strong charges against her was a rash decision, aimed primarily at controlling the crowd at that point of time,” said the officer from the commissionerate.

Sircar had also been charged with causing death by negligence (Section 304A), wrongful confinement (Section 342), voluntarily causing hurt (Section 323), criminal intimidation (Section 506) and common intent (Section 34).

“We are now investigating the charge that deals with death due to negligence,” said Bej, the deputy commissioner.

The additional chief judicial magistrate, Parag Neogi, said in his order that the charges of extortion and abetment were not applicable to Sircar and there had been no progress in the investigation in the past three days when the accused was in police custody.

The (interim) bail was granted because there were “minimum chances of Sircar fleeing” or repeating any of the alleged offences as “she is not a hardcore criminal”.

The court directed Sircar to stay in regular contact with the investigating officer and appear before the court on the days of hearings. She will again have to be in court on September 30.

The magistrate said in his order that Sircar should not do anything that amounts to tampering with evidence.

According to sources in the Barrackpore commissionerate, the decision not to oppose Sircar’s bail was conveyed to the public prosecutor last night. “We have been directed to focus more on those fugitive guardians and outsiders who were involved in the vandalism. Now we are busy conducting raids,” said an officer from Dum Dum police station.