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Sexual harassment: SC agrees to hear plea of law intern, but questions delay

New Delhi, Jan 15 (PTI): The Supreme Court on Wednesday agreed to hear a former law intern’s petition that a permanent mechanism be formed to deal with sexual harassment cases at work place in judicial bodies.

The former law intern has accused Justice Swatanter Kumar, who heads the National Green Tribunal now, of having harassed her sexually when he was in the Supreme Court.

However, a three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice P Sathasivam, made it clear that at this moment it was not expressing any opinion on the allegations made by the intern against Justice Kumar, and issued notice to the Centre.

The bench also issued notice to Justice Kumar and the Secretary General of the Supreme Court, who were made parties by the intern in the petition.

The bench also appointed senior advocates Fali S Nariman and K K Venugopal as amicus curiae in the case and directed Attorney General G E Vahavati to assist it in the matter.

At the outset of the hearing, Justice Sathasivam raised question on why the intern came out so late regarding alleged harassment and expressed apprehension that complaint can be filed against a judge 20 years after his retirement.

“Why she waited so long. Our apprehension is that even after 20 years when the judge reaches the age of 90 years, complaint can be filed,” the bench observed.

Senior advocate Harish Salve, appearing for the intern, submitted that once a mechanism is set up to deal with such cases, then people will come within reasonable time to file the complaint.

He submitted that the court could fix the time frame within which a person can approach with complaints.

The bench said it is inclined to consider these aspects and asked the Centre to file response within four weeks. It posted the case for February 14.

The court said, “It is made clear at the moment we are not expressing any opinion on the averments made in the petition.”

The intern, in the petition, has also challenged the apex court's December 5, 2013, full court resolution in which it was decided that no complaint against its retired judges will be entertained.

She has submitted that Justice Kumar was a sitting judge at the time of the alleged incident and the apex court must look into the complaint under the Vishaka guidelines to deal with complaints of sexual harassment at work place.

Justice Kumar has described the allegations as ”incredulous and false” and “some kind of conspiracy”.

The law intern filed the petition after the administrative side of the Supreme Court refused to entertain her complaint against Justice Kumar citing its full court resolution passed on December 5.

The petitioner has sought quashing of the resolution and setting up of a mechanism or forum to look into such complaints.