SC hears submission by IPS officer suspended in sexual harassment case

Rajesh Das says series of orders passed by the Madras HC against him had prejudiced his chances for a fair trial

The Supreme Court on Friday heard submissions by suspended Indian Police Service (IPS) officer Rajesh Das, who said a series of orders passed by the Madras High Court in a sexual harassment case against him had prejudiced his chances for a fair trial.

A Bench led by Justice U.U. Lalit also heard a plea by Mr. Das, who was Special Director General of Police in Tamil Nadu, to transfer his case to a Special Magistrate Court at Nellore in Andhra Pradesh or any other competent court outside Tamil Nadu.

Tamil Nadu government lawyers however sought time to take instructions. The court scheduled the case for Wednesday.

Mr. Das is accused of sexually harassing a Superintendent of Police in February. The incident allegedly happened when he and the woman officer were part of a security detail for the then Chief Minister Edappadi K. Palaniswami during an election campaign.

The High Court had taken suo motu cognisance of the case on March 1 to ensure a fair probe.

However, Mr. Das submitted in the Supreme Court that the High Court’s intervention was “biased” and a source of prejudice which destroyed the presumption that a person was innocent until proven guilty.

Mr. Das, represented by senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi and advocates Balaji Srinivasan, S. Elambharthi and Abdul Saleem, said the Crime Branch-Criminal Investigation Department (CB-CID) probe in the case is led by a Superintendent of Police. It is supervised by the Inspector General of Police, CB-CID and monitored by Deputy General of Police, CB-CID.

“The High Court commenced monitoring of the investigation without disclosing any default in the progress of the investigation and further, continued to monitor the case even after filing of the chargesheet before the competent trial court,” the appeal by Mr. Das read.

The petition said the continued monitoring of the case even after the filing of the charge-sheet in a competent court was in “blatant ignorance” of the apex court’s judgment in the Sushila Devi case.

A Constitutional court need not monitor the case once the probe is complete and charge-sheet has been filed in a trial court.

The petition said the repeated orders of the High Court from March till August 2 had attached “stigma” on Mr. Das and amount to a punishment in itself.

“Moreover, the High Court lost sight of the most basic golden rule of natural justice — audi alteram partem (hear the other side) — while passing grave prejudicial orders against the petitioner even to the extent of sternly directing his immediate suspension from the rank of Special Director General of Police (Law & Order), Tamil Nadu,” the petition said.

Mr. Das raised his apprehension that the High Court’s orders seem to leave the outcome of the trial to be a foregone conclusion.

In August, the High Court had ordered the expeditious conduct of the trial. It said the trial should be held on a day-to-day basis. The Chief Judicial Magistrate was directed to frame charges against the accused and hold the proceedings without granting unnecessary adjournments.

Also Read: Sexual harassment case: Charge sheet served to Special DGP, SP

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