|(Fom top) Ganguly, Sibal and Jaitley
New Delhi, Dec. 6: Justice Asok Kumar Ganguly had declined an offer from the three-judge panel to put forward his version in front of the intern who alleged sexual harassment, after which the committee drew up its report, sources in Delhi said.
Ganguly declined to comment when this reporter contacted him. However, a source close to the former judge said no such opportunity was given. “There was no way he was given any opportunity for coming face to face with the girl to rebut her allegations,” the source said.
The Supreme Court had yesterday made public the “operative part” of the panel’s report which said the intern’s statement prima facie discloses “unwelcome behaviour” of a sexual nature by the judge. But the court has expressed its inability to take any follow-up action.
Since the former judge did not reportedly agree to a direct rebuttal, Ganguly and the intern were heard separately by the panel that pieced together their respective statements and the affidavit of her three friends in support of the allegations.
The three friends had echoed the intern’s allegations, which she had reportedly confided in them, according to the sources in Delhi.
Contrary to the earlier impression that Ganguly’s statement was recorded on phone from his Calcutta residence, it is learnt that the former judge had appeared in person before the panel of Justices R.M. Lodha, H.L. Dattu and Ranjana Prakash Desai.
Ganguly reportedly felt hurt that his “bona fides” were being questioned despite his credentials as a fair judge. He had also questioned the jurisdiction of the panel to entertain such complaints, the sources said.
Union law minister Kapil Sibal and senior BJP leader Arun Jaitley minced no words in expressing their displeasure at the decision of the court.
“When they have given some kind of prima facie observation that sexual overtures were made, in that case, why did they wash their hands of the matter?” Sibal asked at a news conference here today.
The Union law minister said he was disappointed with the apex court for failing to proceed against Ganguly and felt that the top court of the country had failed in its duty of protecting a woman’s dignity.
“We all know that ultimately the infallible are also ordinary mortals. This is a case where the dignity of a woman is involved. I am only concerned with the institution and the manner in which the matter has been dealt with,” Sibal said.
Jaitley, a lawyer and a former law minister, said the country’s highest court could not adopt an “escapist” approach. It must refer the findings of the panel to a two-judge bench which should monitor all future investigations in the matter, he said.
The BJP leader said in a statement that the apex court which adopted a proactive role in the 2G spectrum case must adopt a similar yardstick and should not be overawed by the personality of the accused.
“When it is brought to the notice of the court that persons in high position have either abused their office, indulged in conduct unbecoming of the office and the law enforcement agencies are likely to be overawed by the personality of the accused, the Supreme Court devised a concept of a ‘continuing mandamus’ (directive). The court nudges the investigation into action, and oversees the fact that the holder of the public office is to be dealt with in a manner mandated by law.
“This is precisely what the bench of Justice G.S. Singhvi and Justice A.K. Ganguly did in the 2G spectrum case. The standard that the Supreme Court follows for every holder of high office must apply even more sternly to a sitting or former judge of the court. Nobody should harass a lady, certainly not holders of high judicial offices,” he said.
Jaitley said that if judges act in a manner unbecoming of the office they hold, the dignity of the institution and the popular faith in the judgments of the judicial institutions would be eroded.
“It is now incumbent on the Supreme Court of India to ensure that the law must take its own course. ‘Be you ever so high, as the law is above you,’ the Supreme Court has repeatedly told us. It must apply the same yardstick to itself. If it has found a former judge of the Supreme Court prima facie committed an offence, it cannot follow an escapist route and hold that on the administrative side it has no jurisdiction. The Supreme Court is fully empowered on the judicial side to ensure that the law takes its own course. It cannot escape from its judicial responsibility.
“It must place the case before a bench of the court on the judicial side which must monitor the investigations in order to ensure justice and fairness. Justice Ganguly must face the investigations as an ordinary citizen, stepping down from the office he holds,” Jaitley added.