By Anuradha Gandhi and Isha Sharma
A former Special Director General of Police in Tamil Nadu, Rajesh Das, was convicted and sentenced to three years of rigorous punishment for sexually harassing a female Superintendent of Police while they were on duty.
Facts of the case
In February 2021, the two officers were on duty as part of security for the then Chief Minister during the time of election campaigning. The incident took place late at night on February 21 on the Trichy-Chennai highway when Das had to return to Chennai. In spite of the late hours, the female officer was asked by Das to accompany him in his car. Given that he was her senior and they were working together, she complied. According to statements of the witnesses, when the car halted after 40 minutes, the female officer was seen rushing out.
The next day, the woman set out to Chennai to meet the then DGP so that she could make a complaint about the incident. Das tried to contact her but she did not respond. After this, he spoke to a senior IPS officer to communicate with her but she still did not respond. Das then continued to use his power to order officers to intercept her car before it could reach Chennai. Due to this, Chengalpattu Superintendent of Police (SP) D Kannan, was also found guilty of involvement in this incident.
Charges in the FIR
Once the woman complained to the Director General of Police, Chennai, an FIR was registered by the Crime-Branch Crime Investigation Department (CBCID) on February 27 against Special DGP Das and Superintendent of Police Kannan under the following Sections of the Indian Penal Code:
-354 which deals with assault or criminal force on a woman with the intent to outrage her modesty
-354A(2) which deals with sexual harassment and punishment for the same
-341 which deals with punishment for wrongful restrain
-506(1) which deals with criminal intimidation
-109 which deals with punishment of abetment if the act abetted is committed in consequence and where no express provision is made for its punishment
Additionally, there were also charges against Das under Section 4 of the Tamil Nadu Prohibition of Harassment of Woman Act, 1998 which deals with the penalty for harassment. For the purpose of inquiry, an Internal Committee was also constituted.
Role of the Madras High Court
By March 11, the Madras High Court took suo moto cognizance of the matter on, noting that the case was ‘monstrous’ and could negatively impact the female officers of the Tamil Nadu police force. On March 12, the Public Prosecutor informed the Court that an inquiry had already been initiated parallelly by the Internal Committee. Moreover, it was brought to the attention of the Court that Superintendent of Police D Kannan had been suspended due to causing an obstruction in the filing of the complaint.
Another critical observation that the Court made was that the investigation is being conducted by an officer inferior in rank to the main accused. This could affect the investigating officer psychologically as he may feel intimidated during the process of interrogation due to the power imbalance. The Madras High Court opined that there was a need for closely monitoring the case. As a result of this, the Tamil Nadu government took the action of suspending the accused Special DGP on March 18 in order to ensure that the inquiry can be conducted without any undue influence.
On June 15th, the report of the Internal Committee was submitted before the Madras High Court and it was informed that the same has been submitted to the Secretary, Home Department.
To ensure that there was a speedy resolution in this case, the Court on August 2 also directed the authorities to complete the proceedings by December 20 2021 and file a compliance report before it.
Eventually, the Court also directed the Chief Judicial Magistrate (CJM) to conduct the trial in alignment with the guidelines issued by the Supreme Court in the case of Vinod Kumar v. State of Punjab where it was noted that a trial needs to be done in a timely manner. In that case, the Court opined that “If adjournments are granted in this manner it would tantamount to violation of rule of law and eventually turn such trials to a farce.” Through this case, the Madras High Court reiterated that this particular trial must be taken to its conclusion within a reasonable timeframe.
Role of the Supreme Court
As a result of the suspension, the accused moved the Hon’ble Supreme Court on August 6 to seek a transfer of the trial out of the state of Tamil Nadu. At that point in time, the Madras High Court had issued various orders against him and he contended that this had the potential of interfering with his chance at a fair trial. Moreover, he requested that all previous orders against him be set aside. Additionally, he expressed concern about the fact that since the Madras High Court had ordered for the trial to be time-bound, the investigating machinery could possibly file the chargesheet quite hastily due being pressured.
The Senior Advocate appearing for the State, however, contended that the Madras High Court only monitored the investigation but did not guide it. Moreover, he clarified that the trial court was conducting the process based entirely on the materials placed before it and not on the directions of the High Court.
The Supreme Court looked into the matter and ordered the Madras High Court to close the suo moto case for monitoring of the investigation. In its order, the trial court was directed to consider the case on its own merits rather than getting influenced by any of the orders passed previously by the Madras High Court. It was also noted that Madras High Court in a previous order had observed that there was no interference by the accused and the Supreme Court reiterated the same.
The final ruling
After the conclusion of the trial on June 16, 2023, the Hon’ble Court ruled that charges under Sections 354A(2), 341, and 109 of the Indian Penal Code along with Section 4 of the Tamil Nadu Prohibition of Harassment of Woman Act, 2002 against the main accused had been proved through the course of the investigation. Additionally, Superintendent of Police Kannan was held guilty under Section 341.
Given the Sections that Das was convicted under, he was sentenced to three years of rigorous imprisonment along with payment of a fine of INR 10,000. Moreover, the Court also imposed a fine of INR 500 on SP Kannan since he had played an active part in trying to intercept the female police officer’s car and stop her from lodging a complaint.
This particular case has sent shockwaves in India because it lifts the veil on how vulnerable working women at their workplace can be, even if they are with the police force. Nonetheless, justice has been delivered with the perpetrator being sentenced.
Grace Bains, Assessment Intern at S.S. Rana & Co. has assisted in the research of this article.
 2015 SCC 3 220
 SPECIAL LEAVE PETITION (CRIMINAL) Diary No.18070/2021