BHUBANESWAR: A day after Bidya Bharati Panda was formally named by Crime Branch as an accused in her husband Assistant Conservator of Forests (ACF) Soumya Rajan Mohapatra’s suspicious death in a fire mishap, legal experts say there are too many holes in the investigating agency’s charges against her. The charges will not be maintainable, they said.
In the 300-page chargesheet, Bidya Bharati has been named as the only accused. She has been charged under Sections 304A and 285 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) - both bailable offences.
The Section 285 deals with negligent conduct with respect to fire or combustible matter whereas Section 304A of IPC says that whoever causes the death of any person by doing any rash or negligent act not amounting to culpable homicide shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to two years, or fine, or both.
The Crime Branch said that the fire which led to the ACF’s death was accidental and relies on the deceased’s dying declaration for the same.
This is where legal experts say the discrepancies arise.
“Section 304A is clear about the negligent act. Here the act is fire which is not caused by the accused. Rather, it was accidental which is in the dying declaration too, according to the Crime Branch’s statement to the press. How can she be charged with negligence for an act she has not committed?” Orissa High Court lawyer Mohit Agarwal said.
CB charges not maintainable against Bidya, say legal experts
Going by the CB, the dying declaration was videographed in which the victim has stated that he was burning some papers when the mishap occurred.
If he mentioned his wife’s negligence is not known, but the probe agency maintained that investigation found no evidence of homicide or suicide.
Another loophole the experts pick is the negligence ascribed to the ACF’s wife for not doing enough to save Soumya Ranjan.
The Crime Branch claimed the investigation found that Bidya Bharati’s response was inadequate and she did not raise alarm immediately.
This, they said, is inconsistent because investigation says that she called the cook for help and even poured water.
“One, the fire was not caused by her as per the probe agency. Secondly, her action is being described as inaction which is inconsistent. If there were only two persons at the scene of occurrence and no eyewitnesses, who can prove whether she was negligent or trying to save,” said advocate Silabhadra Shastry. Is there any footage of CCTV available to endorse this, he asked.
Further, most of the cases in which Section 304A is applied pertain to motor vehicle accidents as well as medical negligence where the act of negligence or rashness is made out, the experts said.
Advocate Gokulananda Pattnaik said both charges are bailable offences and the case will be put to trial before a Judicial Magistrate First Class.
“But, the prosecution will have to prove beyond reasonable doubt that her husband’s death was direct result of her negligence for conviction in the case,” he pointed out.