Apex court stays trial against IAS officer accused of sexually assaulting two tribal minors

A reception held for IAS officer Reny Wilfred (second from left) as the first deputy commissioner of Nagaland’s Noklak district, on 6 August 2020.
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10 June, 2023

On 2 June 2023, the Supreme Court stayed a criminal trial against an Indian Administrative Service officer accused of sexually assaulting two sisters from a Scheduled Tribes community, at his official residence in Nagaland’s Noklak district. Reny Wilfred, the IAS officer, was the deputy commissioner of Noklak district at the time of the alleged assault, in February 2021. The sisters were minors at the time, aged 14 and 17 respectively. Wilfred is currently a joint secretary to the government of Nagaland.

An initial investigation, in July 2021 by the sub-divisional police officer of Noklak, had found the allegations to be true. A Special Investigation Team of the Nagaland Police had also filed a chargesheet in December 2021, finding Wilfred prima facie guilty of aggravated sexual assault, sexual harassment as well as multiple charges under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012. Yet, his trial continues to be delayed in court.

The primary cause for the delay was a counter-suit by Wilfred asking for his hearing in the Special POCSO court in the Tuensang district to be transferred to another court, claiming that there was a threat to his life. The stay was granted despite the Nagaland police establishing, earlier before the high court, that there is no threat to his life and even told the court that “perjury was deliberately and willfully committed by him” with regard to his claims of a threat. Soon after the high court lifted the stay, Wilfred challenged this before the Supreme Court. In 2019, the union law minister had asked all chief ministers and chief justices to ensure that any investigation under the POCSO Act is required to be completed within two months and a completion of the trial within six months. The POCSO Act itself requires all trials to be completed within a year. It has been two years since a criminal case was registered against Wilfred, but he has not faced an administrative enquiry, much less arrest, suspension or removal from service. As a result of his counter-suit, much of the discussion in court and in the press has been about the alleged threats rather than about the alleged sexual assault of the two Naga minor girls.

Wilfred took charge as deputy commissioner of Noklak in July 2020. In Nagaland, a deputy commissioner is the administrative head of the district, supervising general and revenue administration and also the implementation of general law and order. Noklak is a far eastern district of Nagaland, along the Myanmar border, and the majority of its population comprises members of the Khiamniungan tribe, one of the six backward tribes in eastern Nagaland. Both the survivors belong to the Khiamniungan community while Wilfred is a Christian from Kerala, from a community classified as an Other Backward Class.