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Arrested for ‘child sexual assault’, convicted for child porn: Behind IAS officer’s IT Act case

In 2015, Maharashtra IAS officer Maruti Hari Sawant was arrested for alleged sexual exploitation of 4 minor girls, but court said last week the charges didn’t hold as ‘victims turned hostile’.

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Mumbai: Seven years ago, Maharashtra IAS officer Maruti Hari Sawant was arrested and suspended for the alleged sexual exploitation of four minor girls, with police invoking the POCSO Act against him. Last week, he was convicted under the Information Technology (IT) Act.

This conviction stems from allegations that the officer published and transmitted material depicting children in a sexually explicit manner. Among the evidence cited in the judgment is a hard disk with 7,189 “obscene” images and 443 pornographic videos of children and adults recovered from Sawant’s residence. 

While the judgment, a copy of which is with ThePrint, quotes a doctor as confirming sexual exploitation, the court said the POCSO charge couldn’t hold because the alleged victims had “turned hostile”. 

“It is necessary to consider the fact that, unfortunately, the survivors turned hostile and did not state truth before the court and even not identified (sic) the accused,” the Pune sessions court observed while pronouncing its judgment on 6 August.

Sawant has been sentenced to five years’ imprisonment, to be adjusted against time served, and a fine of Rs 7 lakh.

During the trial, the defence team had denied all allegations, with Sawant telling the court that the victims had made their statements at the behest of a local corporator — described as a tenant who owed him 7 years’ rent, besides having other “grudges” — as well as police.

The corporator was the vice-president of a committee at the Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) school where the suspected victims studied. 

ThePrint reached Sawant’s lawyer K.V. Damle for a comment on his office landline number, but the call went unanswered. 


Also readRaped, bitten & beaten up — Bus conductor ‘with a record’ held for assault on Rajasthan 4-yr-old


The allegations against the officer

When he was arrested in March 2015, Maruti Hari Sawant was posted in the state agriculture department, serving as director general in the Maharashtra Council for Agriculture Education and Research. He was suspended from service immediately, investigating officer Milind Mohite told ThePrint.

The allegations were first flagged by a counsellor — Anuradha Amol Waghmare — at the PMC school at Hingane Khurd, according to the judgment. 

Waghmare is quoted as saying in the judgment that the four girls — then aged between 8 and 13 years — had told her that Sawant lured them to his house with chocolates and sweets before molesting them. 

The girls were also allegedly threatened that they would be killed if they were to disclose the incident to anyone, she said. 

While the parents of three of the minors are labourers, one allegedly told Waghmare that her mother worked as a domestic help at Sawant’s house, adding that she would often accompany her to his house.

Waghmare is quoted as saying in the judgment that the girls informed her about the incident when she was counselling them one day about “good touch” and “bad touch”.

She said she subsequently brought the matter to the attention of the class teachers, who approached the school headmistress and the students’ parents were called.

The parents, the judgment notes, were not immediately willing to file a police complaint, saying they wanted to talk to the girls first. However, it adds, they eventually agreed to do so.

In 2015, Sawant was arrested under sections 376 (rape), 354 (B) (assault or use of criminal force against any woman or abetment of such act with the intention of disrobing or compelling her to be naked), 506 (criminal intimidation) of the IPC, the POCSO Act (4 sections invoked pertained to child sexual assault), the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, and the IT Act.

Deposition in court began in 2019, but the judgment says that the minors “turned hostile”, refusing to even identify Sawant. The one who allegedly said her mother was a help at Sawant’s residence also denied it in court, according to the judgment.

The doctor who prepared the medical reports of the minors, the judgment adds, said they confirmed sexual assault, adding that they were based on medical examinations and conversations with the alleged victims.

However, the judgment notes, the minors claimed that they did not know about the contents of the medical report and that no police report was read out to them. They also alleged their thumb impressions were taken without reading out the statements, the judgment says.

On the basis of this, the court noted that medical evidence is just corroborative evidence, and that, in the absence of survivor testimony against the accused, the medical evidence on record cannot be connected and linked to the accused. 

(Edited by Poulomi Banerjee)


Also read‘Victim blaming’: Mamata slammed for ‘rape or love affair’ comment on minor’s killing in Nadia


 

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