Additional Principal Chief Conservator of Forests and Field Director of Melghat Tiger Reserve (MTR), MS Reddy has been suspended from the service for neglecting the complaints of continuous harassment from the deceased RFO Deepali Chavan.
The main accused in the case, Vinod Shivkumar Bala who was a deputy forest ranger of Gugamal Deputy Conservator of Forests (DyCF) was arrested in a dramatic manner at the railway station when he was about to flee. He was sent to three-day PCR. He was presented before the court and was sent to police custody till March 31.
Last week on Thursday, a 28-year old Range Forest Officer, popularly known as Maharashtra’s Lady Singham, Deepali Chavan-Mohite shot herself with her service revolver at her official quarters in the Harisal village near the tiger reserve.
In the post-mortem report, it was revealed that Deepali was five months pregnant at the time of her death.
The police has recovered a suicide note from the crime spot in which she mentioned the torture and sexual harassment she encountered on the hands of her senior Indian Forest Service officer, Vinod Shivkumar. She explained her ordeal in the letter and sought strict action against the culprits so that nobody else should suffer the same.
In the letter, she mentioned that she had lodged multiple complaints against Shivkumar with his senior MTR Field Director, MS Reddy (IFS) but he ignored them everytime and tried to shield Shivkumar.
Deepali also pointed out the alcoholic nature of Shivkumar, use of foul and abusive language in public as well as privately, sexual advances and hints for getting physical.
He used to harass her mentally as well as physically after she opposed him. Unable to bear the rejection, he used to torture her form of difficult assignments, punishing work schedules, abuses, and once even withholding her salary for a month. She was not allowed to visit her family even once in a month.
“She mentioned in the letter, “He asks me to meet him at late hours in the night and speaks to me in obscene 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.”
In the suicide note, she also pointed out that she was threatened many a times of being slapped with SC/ST Act. As per the letter, Deepali was once threatened by the residents of Mania village to slap SC/ST Act against her. When she reported the incident to Shivkumar. Instead of standing in support of her, he also threatened her.
“On March 7, 2020, when I was busy removing forest encroachments at Mangia village, some local people abused us and locked us up in a house. When I informed Shivkumar, he said that I was lying and staging a drama. When I told him that the villagers were threatening to register offence against me under the Atrocities Act, Shivkumar said I would myself call the SP and tell him to apply atrocity to you and will see how you feel spending four months in jail. My mobile has a recording of this conversation with him,” the letter said.
One of Deepali’s colleagues also narrated one incident of February 2020 where Shivkumar forced a slain forest officer to accompany him on a gruelling 3-day forest patrol, walking or driving hundreds of kilometres, even after knowing the fact that she is pregnant. She suffered a miscarriage and fell into deep depression.
Deepali had earned the title of “Lady Singham” because of her bold nature and commitment towards work. She was highly praised for her unsparing attitude against the local forest mafias and illegal encroachments.