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IFS officer from Odisha detained in US

Source: PTI
July 27, 2012 01:41 IST
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A senior Indian Forest Service officer Surendra Prasad Mohapatra, who is in the US on a training course, has been detained by police in Pennsylvania following a woman staff's complaint of "sexual assault" at a hotel where he was staying.

The incident is reported to have happened on Tuesday night following which the officer was put under detention by the local police, sources said. Mohapatra is the regional chief conservator of Forests at Sambalpur in Odisha.

The Indian Consulate in New York has rushed an official for legal assistance and look for bail for the Odisha-cadre officer.

According to Odisha government, Mohapatra was taken into police custody but said it was not exactly aware of the charges against him.

The state government said it was in touch with the Centre and the Indian Embassy in the US but could not establish contact with Mohapatra.

Meanwhile, a Pennsylvania judge has set August 1 as the date for a court hearing in the case. The judge presiding over his case has set the bail conditions for his release.

Mohapatra, who is said to be a 1985-batch IFS officer, was part of a group of 30 Indian officers visiting the US for a mid-career training programme at the Syracuse University in New York.

Environment Minister Jayanti Natrajan has sought a detailed report on the incident, sources told PTI in New Delhi. The sources said the ministry is taking steps to extend all possible legal assistance to the official.

Odisha's Forest and Environment Minister Debi Prasad Mishra described the incident as unfortunate.

"This is an unfortunate incident. We have received information regarding police taking Surendra Prasad Mohapatra, an IFS officer of Odisha cadre, into custody. The state government has been in touch with the Ministry of Environment and Forest and Indian Embassy," Mishra told reporters in Bhubaneswar.

Quoting Bhargava, the Indian course coordinator for the US trip, Principal Chief Conservator of Forest (PCCF) P N Padhi said, "Mr Mahapatra had a problem with his internet connection and asked the reception for help. A woman came to his room but was unable to fix it and so left."

However, about two hours later, the police turned up and arrested him after the woman reportedly filed a complaint, Padhi added.

"We are unable to directly speak to Mohapatra because of restrictions put by Pennsylvania police," Padhi said.

With the improvement in the India-US relationship in the last few years there has been substantial jump in the number of Indian civil servants coming to the US on various mid-career training.

Those familiar with such exchange programmes observed that Indian officials before coming to the US are not given any orientation course in the cultural values of the countries they are travelling, as a result of which incidents like this are bound to happen.

Sources in New York told PTI that the case in now in court and the bail modalities are being worked out.

"The matter is sub-judice now. Mohapatra could be released on bail once the bond formalities are complete. The judge has set the next hearing in the case for August 1," a source said.

The source did not give further details saying the matter is now in court.

The source added that senior officials from the Indian Consulate in New York are in constant touch with Mohapatra and had met him in Pennsylvania.

They are also working out the formalities with the concerned Pennsylvania authorities. The consulate officials are "doing their best" and working with relevant authorities to handle the matter.

Meanwhile, Mohapatra's wife Seema said allegation against her husband was "false" and "baseless."

"My husband is a strict and disciplined officer. He, however, maintains a short temper. He had expressed his displeasure as the woman failed to repair his Internet connection. He has told me about the incident over phone. But, I am sure that he will never misbehave with any woman," Seema said.

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