CJI panel external option
The “full court” of the Supreme Court may soon decide whether the three-judge in-house panel that is probing the allegations of sexual harassment against Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi should be reconstituted and a former woman judge included as an external member.
Indications are that if the full court agrees, any one among Justices Ruma Pal, Sujata V. Manohar and Ranjana Prakash Desai — all of them retired judges of the top court — may be drafted in.
That would be in keeping with the Visakha guidelines of 1997 and the Sexual Harassment of Women at the Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013.
According to the guidelines, if the alleged perpetrator is the head of the organisation, the inquiry panel must have an external member to avoid apprehensions of bias or pressure.
Sources said a full court might consider the matter either on Monday or on Tuesday — if it meets — because of an overwhelming opinion in favour of inducting an external member.
Some judges of the top court apparently feel that the committee of Justices S.A. Bobde, Indu Malhotra and Indira Banerjee may not inspire confidence about “justice and fair play” as the complainant, a dismissed woman employee, has walked out of the probe.
The alleged victim, who had participated in hearings by the panel on April 23 and 26 before walking out of a meeting on April 30, has claimed that she was denied access to a lawyer and a copy of her recorded statements.
She also said she lacked confidence in the panel’s ability to render justice since her allegation was against no less a person than the Chief Justice of India.
Justice Bobde, who heads the in-house panel, could not be reached till late on Sunday evening despite repeated attempts. His office said the judge was busy with meetings and would get in touch with The Telegraph later.
According to the sources, Justice D.Y. Chandrachud, a future Chief Justice who is due to take over in 2022, had written a strongly worded letter
to the panel on Thursday for the inclusion of a former woman judge as an external member.
Justice Chandrachud, the sources said, had also suggested that a respectable senior woman member of the Bar could also be considered as amicus curiae (friend of the court) so that the top court’s image as the ultimate dispenser of justice was not “dented”.
Although Justice Chandrachud had written the letter in his personal capacity, it appears to have had the oral concurrence of 15 to 20 of the court’s 28 judges, the sources said.
Following the letter, the panel members are understood to have discussed the issue. But the full court needs to decide as the earlier decision to constitute the panel had also been taken with the full court’s approval.
The sources said a reconstituted committee with an external member would also be to the benefit of Chief Justice Gogoi to emerge untainted with his reputation intact as a judge of impeccable integrity, feared and respected for his judicial and administrative sagacity.
There have been reports that an organised group with corporate-underworld nexus is out to browbeat the judiciary through such vilification campaigns for obtaining favourable results in pending cases.
Justice Gogoi himself had said that the allegation against him has come at a time he was to take up several sensitive cases.
The judge did not name the cases but the hint was clear. Several such cases are pending, including the Rafale review petitions, a contempt petition against Congress chief Rahul Gandhi and the Ayodhya case.