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Assam Padma Shri awardee granted bail in POCSO case

Uddhab Kumar Bharali said the case was filed against him after a dispute with the chairperson of the local Child Welfare Committee.

The Gauhati High Court has called for the case diary on January 7 after granting anticipatory bail to innovator Uddhab Kumar Bharali, a Padma Shri awardee, accused of raping minor girls in his foster care.

The accused had claimed that the case was filed against him after he had a dispute with the chairperson of the Child Welfare Committee (CWC) in north-eastern Assam’s Lakhimpur. The chairperson had asked him to provide foster care to the alleged victims.

The Assam police had registered an FIR against Mr. Bharali under relevant Sections of the Indian Penal Code and the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act on December 18, 2021. This was based on a complaint from a chief judicial magistrate who was briefed by the District Legal Services Authority the previous day.

Mr. Bharali, who holds more than 400 patents for grassroots innovations, was conferred with the Padma Shri in 2019.

He sought pre-arrest bail from the High Court following the FIR. The court granted interim bail on December 28 and called for the case diary on January 7.

In his order, Justice Arun Dev Choudhury said the offence alleged was “serious in nature” but granted the bail taking into consideration the “antecedents of the petitioner, his allegation that the instant FIR has been lodged to humiliate and malign his reputation” besides a counter-petition against the district CWC.

The Lakhimpur CWC had requested Mr. Bharali and his wife to provide a foster home to two girls. A foster care agreement was signed after the couple agreed.

But a dispute arose between the CWC chairperson and Mr. Bharali, who was asked to return the foster care agreement and hand over the girls to the CWC’s custody. The CWC claimed the two girls did not want to go back to Mr. Bharali and his wife again.

The innovator said the agreement was cancelled only due to the dispute and the grounds for cancellation did not reflect sexual abuse. It was also contended that the FIR did not contain any specific statement by the victims.

The additional public prosecutor had opposed the bail application, arguing that social status was not a consideration in case of serious allegations surrounding the sexual abuse of minor victims placed under the care and custody of the petitioner.

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