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Court steers clear of follow-up

- Intern’s disclosure on ‘unwelcome behaviour’ by Ganguly made public, focus on cops

New Delhi, Dec. 5: Some are describing it as “operation successful but patient is dead” but others cautioned that the minutiae of law must not be overlooked.

The Supreme Court today declared that a panel has said the statement of a law intern “prima facie discloses an act of unwelcome behaviour” of sexual nature by former judge Asok Kumar Ganguly.

“No further follow-up action is required by this court” as the judge had already demitted office and the intern was not on the rolls of the apex court, a statement by Chief Justice P. Sathasivam said.

The decision was taken today after “the Full Court” (all the 30 sitting judges) met.

The court has made public only what it described as the “operative portion” of the report of a three-judge panel that scrutinised the statements of the intern and the affidavits of three witnesses.

The “operative portion” says that the statement of the intern “prima facie discloses the unwelcome behaviour (unwelcome verbal/non-verbal conduct of sexual nature)”. Although it was initially assumed that the panel had held Ganguly “prima facie” guilty, the specific sentence has confined itself to stating what the intern had “disclosed”.

PTI quoted senior advocate Harish Salve as saying: “The committee has very carefully not used language in which tomorrow somebody could say that ‘the three-judge committee of Supreme Court has found him guilty, so convict him’. The law may take its course.”

If the Supreme Court sticks to its decision not to “follow up”, the ball will be in police’s court. An officer said tonight Delhi police would start a case on their own because the Supreme Court statement mentioned an allegation against the former judge but the progress would depend on cooperation from the intern. Last Friday, the court had confined itself to saying that the statement of Ganguly was recorded.

The police are expected to approach the intern, who was said to be not keen on a parallel probe earlier, and try to persuade her to press charges now that the panel has finished its work.

Ganguly, now the West Bengal Human Rights Commission chairman, declined comment. Chief minister Mamata Banerjee disclosed tonight that she had written to the President seeking strong action for the “grave misconduct”, virtually setting the ball rolling for Ganguly’s removal from the rights body if he does not step down on his own.

Going strictly by the law, the court cannot act against retired judges. But Article 142 bestows on the Supreme Court powers for “doing complete justice in any cause or matter pending before it”.

The court could have on its own forwarded to the police the depositions of the intern before the panel.

Yesterday, Delhi police had contacted the registrar of the Supreme Court. “We asked him what steps we should take. He said he would let us know…” a police officer said. “We cannot register an FIR without a copy of the intern’s statement, which is with the court. We do not know what specific offence can be made out.”

The Supreme Court said copies of the panel’s report would be supplied to Ganguly and the intern.

The “operative portion” of the panel report said: “We have carefully scrutinized the statement (written as well as oral) of (the intern)… the affidavits of her three witnesses and the statement of Mr. Justice (Retd.) A.K. Ganguly. It appears to the Committee that in the evening on 24.12.2012, (the intern) had visited hotel Le Meridien where Mr. Justice (Retd.) A.K. Ganguly was staying to assist him in his work. This fact is not denied by Mr. Justice (Retd.) A.K. Ganguly in his statement.

“Further the Committee is of the considered view that the statement of (the intern), both written and oral, prima facie discloses an act of unwelcome behaviour (unwelcome verbal/non-verbal conduct of sexual nature) by Mr. Justice (Retd.) A.K. Ganguly with her in the room in hotel Le Meridien on 24.12.2012... between 8.00 P.M. and 10.30 P.M.”

The Supreme Court statement added: “Considering the fact that the said intern was not an intern on the roll of the Supreme Court and that the Judge had already demitted office on account of superannuation on the date of the incident, no further follow-up action is required by this Court.

“On account of the fact that report in the Media appeared that it was ‘Supreme Court Judge’, the Committee was constituted.... As decided by the Full Court in its Meeting dated 5th December, 2013, it is made clear that the representations made against former Judges of this Court are not entertainable by the administration of the Supreme Court.”

Additional-solicitor general Indira Jaising said the police “can act by lodging an FIR immediately on its own”.

But senior advocate K.T.S. Tulsi said: “We don’t know the full report. The girl is not under disability and if she does not support the prosecution, the police will look foolish.”

Senior advocate K.K. Venugopal added: “There has to be a complaint from the complainant. The police cannot register a case suo motu. The judge in question is also denying the allegations. The Supreme Court has rightly said that it has no jurisdiction over the matter.”

HANDS OFF

The Supreme Court said on Thursday that “representations made against former judges of this court are not entertainable by the administration” of the court. The statement, though correct by the letter of the law, raised several eyebrows, probably because of expectations heightened by what has come to be described as “judicial activism”. The following are some instances:

• Cancellation of telecom licences in 2G case and laying auction-based criteria, a case that was, incidentally, presided over by Justice Asok Kumar Ganguly

• Observations on providing free rice and wheat to the poor lMonitoring iron-ore mining in some states

• Observations on relief for Uttarakhand flood victims


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