Explained: Here’s Everything You Need To Know About Young Range Forest Officer Deepali Chavan’s Suicide Case
Thirty-three year-old Chavan accused her superior Vinod Shivkumar Bala of harassment, including threatening with a fake case under the SC ST Act
The state of Maharashtra has been rocked by the suicide of a young Range Forest Officer (RFO) Deepali Chavan.
Thirty-three year-old Chavan reportedly shot herself with her service revolver at her government quarter in Harisal on 25 March (Thursday). She was five months pregnant at the time.
In her four-page suicide letter addressed to M S Reddy, Additional Principal Chief Conservator of Forest (APCCF) and Field Director, Melghat Tiger Project, Chavan accuses Vinod Shivkumar Bala, deputy conservator of forests (DyCF) of the Gugamal Wildlife Department, of harassment.
Shivkumar, who was serving his first posting as DyCF, was her supervising officer.
The suicide note listed a series of acts of verbal abuse, including being verbally abused in front of her staff; being given torturous assignments; no recognition of her work; withholding salary; no holidays for going to meet the family; as well as sexually coloured remarks.
Chavan said that on one assignment, she was forced to patrol for three days in harsh terrain despite already informing her superiors that she was pregnant. She said that as a result, she suffered a miscarriage.
In her suicide note, Chavan solely held Shivkumar responsible for her death, committing mental, physical, and financial harassment. The note also appealed Reddy to release her stalled salary and all other monetary service benefits to her mother who will be all alone after her death.
Chavan wrote that she was called at any time to meet anywhere at night, and was repeatedly spoken in obscene language. “Despite doing all the work in my range, I still haven’t gotten paid for it,” she wrote in the letter.
“They insult me in front of my staff, villagers and laborers.. They call me at night and try to take advantage of me because of me being alone here,” she wrote in the letter. The letter also indicates that she had complained several times before to Reddy, but to no avail.
She tells him in the letter, “you will not be able to do anything about him because you yourself are firmly behind him.”
“He often comes to Harisal and hurls abuses. This can be proved if you check the CCTV footages. All the staffers at Harisal also know about this,” she said.
Not only Shivakumar used insulting and filthy language while talking to Chavan in the presence of junior staff and villagers, as per her claim, but also, “used to threaten me with suspension and issued show-cause notices for petty things.”
Shivkumar tried to take advantage of Chavan. “He asks me to meet him at late hours in the night and speaks to me in vulgar language. Many times he called me to the tourist complex and even at the Akot diversion and tried to take undue advantage of my being alone with him. He is punishing me for not submitting to his whims,” she has said.
“When I didn’t bow to his demands, he started harassing me even more,” Chavan stated.
Another letter has come to the light which Chavan reportedly wrote to her husband before taking the extreme step. She says in the letter that she is completely fed up of the harassment and can’t take any more, adding that she has never been humiliated as much in life as Shivakumar has humiliated her.
An audio clip of alleged telephonic conversation between Shivakumar and Chavan also went viral on social media. In the conversation, Shivakumar can be heard talking rudely to Chavan. He also threatens her with “atrocities case” (purportedly referring to SC ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act), saying he himself will make sure that the case is filed against her.
Part of Chavan’s job was to remove encroachment of the forest areas. This often resulted in anger from the villagers. She mentions one such incident in her suicide note:
“In March 2020, he called me about the encroachment at Mangia. ‘You should arrest the accused now and remove the encroachment’, he said. After that I took the staff to the scene. At that time, the people there were abusive. Even after we informed him on the phone, he told us that you are lying, pretending,” she wrote.
“When the villagers were about to file an Atrocities Case against me, when I informed him, he said that he himself will speak to the SP to file a case against me. Let us see how an RFO looks after four months in jail, he said. The recording is in my mobile.”
“Earlier, MP Navneet Rana has also listened to the recording. I went on vacation because there is no provision of bail in the Atrocities Act. I was then informed of the court's decision. But Shivkumar refused to accept me, and also recommended denying me leave during my vacation period. At the time, you also denied me leave. I was not paid my salary,” read the suicide note.
“She had complained to MS Reddy about harassment by him (IFoS officer B. Vinod Shivkumar). But Reddy didn't take any action. He (Shivkumar) should be hanged till death," Deepali Chavan's mother was quoted as saying on 26 March.
Reddy has now been suspended by the Maharashtra government. He was previously shunted out as field director & APCCF of Melghat Tiger Reserve with immediate effect. The accused in the letter, Shivkumar, was arrested from Nagpur Railway Station while trying to flee. He was already suspended.
The opposition has upped the ante against the Maharashtra government to punish the accused for the death of a young female officer.
“The incident should be probed by special investigation team under a senior IPS officer. It is a big blot on the forest department that a pregnant officer had to suffer due to the highhandedness of forest officers. No steps were taken by the seniors to stop this harassment,” said leader of opposition in council Pravin Darekar.
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