The Gauhati High Court has cancelled the interim anticipatory bail granted to renowned innovator and Padma Shri awardee Uddhab Kumar Bharali for alleged sexual abuse of a minor girl he was fostering, noting his custodial interrogation was "essential".
Bharali, on the other hand, claimed he is a victim of a conspiracy, which he will fight legally. He said he will surrender before a local court in Lakhimpur district of on Friday.
Hearing the anticipatory bail petition by Bharali, Justice Hitesh Kumar Sarma on Thursday cancelled the interim anticipatory bail granted to the innovator on December 28 last year by a vacation bench.
"...the petitioner is found not entitled to the grant of privilege of pre-arrest bail. Accordingly, his prayer stands rejected. The interim protection granted to the petitioner, vide order dated 28.12.2021, stands vacated. The anticipatory bail application stands disposed of accordingly," the order said.
After hearing the arguments of the counsel for the petitioner and the state, Justice Sarma noted that custodial interrogation of Bharali is "essential" for the purpose of investigation of the case in view of the allegations made in the FIR as well as the statements by the victim and witnesses.
"This court would like to mention here that so far the statement of the victim and other witnesses are concerned, the statements recorded under Section 164 of the Code of Criminal Procedure weighed more in deciding this application, the same being recorded by a competent magistrate, on oath," he added.
The anticipatory bail plea was filed by Bharali, credited with nearly 150 innovations, on December 23 after an FIR was registered at North Lakhimpur police station under various sections of the Indian Penal Code and the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act.
A day after the order, the recipient of numerous national and international recognition on Friday said he will surrender before the Lakhimpur Chief Judicial Magistrate during the day.
"I am a victim of a conspiracy. As my bail plea was rejected, I have no other option but to surrender. I will go and present myself in front of the CJM today," Bharali told reporters at his North Lakhimpur residence.
Justice Sarma, while delivering the order, relied on the case diary and statements of the minor victim as well as two other minor witnesses, who "categorically stated that the petitioner had committed sexual intercourse not only with the victim girl but also with some others, who were also under foster care of the petitioner".
The high court said the victim has not only stated "commission of sexual intercourse" on her by Bharali, but also "very specifically and chronologically" narrated the sequence of events and the manner in which the offence was committed by the accused petitioner.
Bharali's counsel A M Bora, assisted by D K Baidya, claimed that Anil Kumar Bora, the Chairman of Child Welfare Committee (CWC) of Lakhimpur, had a grudge against the petitioner and he had manipulated the facts, leading to filing of the FIR.
Advocate Bora also stated that one of the girls in the foster care was operated upon for some ailments and Bharali had sought reimbursement of the medical expenses from the CWC which had "anguished the chairman of the C.W.C. Shri Anil K Bora".
The high court order said, "Learned senior counsel for the petitioner has also referred to various achievements of the petitioner to suggest that a person of his standing and repute would not commit an offence as alleged in the instant case.
"He has submitted that the petitioner is the recipient of 'Padma Shri' and also known for 142 inventions. The petitioner is a person with enviable fame across the globe for his inventions and innovations."
The petitioner's counsel also projected the "humanitarian approach" of Bharali and argued that he has been running a home for destitute women, 'Seneh', in Lakhimpur using his own personal resources in spite of not receiving any grant from the government.
"He has submitted that it is not at all believable that the petitioner is involved with the offence as alleged in this case. Mr. Bora has, therefore, submitted that considering the entire materials, as a whole, the petitioner be granted the privilege of pre-arrest bail," Justice Sarma said.
According to the FIR, the victim was given in the custody of the petitioner and his wife Iva Das Bharali under foster care for a period of one year from August 31, 2020 on the condition that on expiry of the said period, the foster care has to be renewed or the child was to be placed before the CWC.
"However, the petitioner 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.... before the CWC on or before 14.09.2021," the order said.
Ultimately, the petitioner had produced the victim and another girl before the CWC on October 28 last year, it added.
"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 in spite of initial objection by her.
"She remained silent on the assurance of her foster father, i.e. the petitioner that nothing will happen to her. She was asked to remain silent by the foster father, i.e. the petitioner," Justice Sarma wrote in his order.