For Animesh Sengupta, it’s light at the end of an 18-year tunnel of dark despair.
Suspended from his government hospital job and thrown into lock-up in 1986 for 40 days on charges of misappropriating Rs 8,000, he finally won a not-guilty verdict from Calcutta High Court on Thursday. The special court in Hooghly had not found the time to hear the case in a dozen years.
But for Sengupta, the verdict might have come a little too late in the day. Without any regular income, he — with his wife and son — moved from a middle-class locality in Chinsurah to a slum some distance away. Then came a bigger blow — his only son, unable to bear the taunts of neighbours branding his father a thief, left home for Delhi some years ago and has hardly kept in touch with his parents ever since.
Sengupta started out as a clerk-storekeeper-accountant at Islamia Sadar Hospital, in Chinsurah, on January 12, 1971.
There were no signs of the tragedy lurking for the man, who got married and became the father of a son. Till one day in April 1986.
On April 24 that year, Sengupta found the withdrawals from the hospital’s bank (the Chinsurah branch of the State Bank of India) were just not tallying with the cash at his disposal. The shortfall was all of Rs 8,000.
According to the rules, all withdrawals were made by cheque and they carried the initials of Sengupta and a counter-signature from the superintendent of the district hospital. Sengupta alerted the hospital officials.
Five days later, however, he learnt that the authorities had filed a first information report (FIR) against him with the police. He was arrested on the same day, April 29, for alleged misappropriation of funds and remanded in police custody for 40 days.
Sengupta was granted bail after that but, by then, his life had changed forever. He had been suspended and, in gross violation of rules that stated he be paid 75 per cent of his salary during the term of suspension, he found that his pay had been stopped.
It’s been all downhill since then. Without an income, he was forced to shift home and take up shelter in a bustee. As the family struggled to stay afloat, police took a full five years since the incident to file a chargesheet against Sengupta.
The chargesheet, filed on January 9, 1991, said no hand-writing expert was available and so it could not be verified whether the initials on the cheques of contention were actually Sengupta’s.
Then began the wait for a hearing. None of the judges of the district special court managed to hear the case in 12 years.
The Senguptas, meanwhile, reached Calcutta High Court and finally found a lawyer, Tapas Kumar Ghosh, to take up their case for free. Justice P.N. Sinha took just two hearings to pronounce Sengupta not guilty.
“He may have lost everything but at least he has been able to redeem his honour,” said Ghosh.