Uddhab Bharali, a leading innovator and Padma Shri recipient from Assam, was on Friday remanded in 14 days’ judicial custody for alleged sexual harassment of a minor girl under his foster care.
A special court in Lakhimpur district sent Bharali to judicial custody soon after the 62-year-old surrendered in connection with the North Lakhimpur Police Station Case No. 1332/2021 registered under sections 354, 376(i), 376(j), 376(k) of IPC read with Section 6 of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act. These sections deal with outraging modesty of a woman, rape and aggravated penetrative sexual assault.
Bharali surrendered following rejection of his pre-arrest bail plea by the Gauhati High Court on Thursday as his custodial interrogation was considered “essential” by the court which had on December 28 granted him interim bail.
Satyajit Dutta, counsel of Bharali, told The Telegraph on Friday that his client surrendered before the special court in Lakhimpur at 1pm and was sent to 14 days’ judicial custody.
“We will appeal for bail. My client has asserted he is innocent and is victim of conspiracy to defame him,” Dutta said.
The case against Bharali, who had received the Padma Shri in 2019, was registered on December 17 on the basis of a written information addressed to the chief judicial magistrate of Lakhimpur, by the secretary of District Legal Services Authority (DLSA), Lakhimpur, that on November 30 Anil Kr. Bora, chairman of Child Welfare Committee (CWC), Lakhimpur, along with CWC member Ajanta Sarmah Baruah came to her office and expressed their concern, over the “allegation of sexual harassment to a girl inmate” of a children home in Lakhimpur by her foster father while she was in his foster care.
The FIR also revealed that the CWC chairman discussed the matter with DLSA secretary, the informant, regarding the legal remedies available and the steps that can be taken by the CWC to address the issue. Chief judicial magistrate was also informed verbally on that day by Bora and Baruah also informed that they recorded the statement of the victim girl “containing the allegation of sexual harassment”, a copy of which was also provided to her on 17.12.2021 itself.The FIR stated that that the DLSA secretary had conducted a preliminary inquiry into the allegation of sexual harassment for placing the same before the appropriate forum for redressal, as per law.
In his eight-page order on Thursday, Justice Hitesh Kumar Sarma, after hearing both sides, said custodial interrogation of the petitioner (Bharali) “is essential” for investigation of the case.
According to the FIR, the CWC had handed over the victim to Bharali and Iva Das Bharali, his wife, under foster care for a period of one year with effect from 31.08.2020 to 31.08.2021, as per rules, on condition that on expiry of the said period, the foster care has to be renewed or alternately, the child was to be placed before the CWC. However, Bharali neither renewed the foster care nor produced the girl before the CWC even after expiry of the foster period, due to which, CWC issued letter requesting him to produce the child i.e. the victim and another girl, namely Mousumi Tanti before the CWC on or before 14.09.2021. The petitioner eventually produced the victim girl and other one before the CWC on 28.10.2021.
“It has further been alleged in the FIR that apart from engaging the victim in some household works, the petitioner had done some bad acts with her inspite of initial objection by her,” the court order said.