Panel clears CJI of harassment
A three-judge, in-house Supreme Court panel has cleared Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi of the sexual harassment charges levelled by a sacked apex court employee, saying it has found “no substance” in her allegations.
The panel has sent a copy of its report to a senior judge, Justice Arun Mishra, and another to Justice Gogoi himself. The apex court has cited a 2003 judgment to assert that the report cannot be made public. Justice Mishra has to decide whether to place the report before the full court.
The complainant said she was “highly disappointed” and “terrified” at the clean chit, and would consult her lawyer “and decide on the next steps”.
The clean chit scotches speculation of a possible full-court meeting to decide whether to induct a former woman Supreme Court judge into the panel as an external member, besides appointing a senior woman advocate as amicus curiae to assist the panel.
Such a full-court meeting had been suggested in a letter by an apex court judge, Justice D.Y. Chandrachud, on May 2 after the complainant had pulled out of the panel hearings, saying she found the atmosphere “very frightening”.
The complainant had attended proceedings on April 23 and 26 but walked out midway on April 30, complaining about aspects of the hearing such as the absence of an external member on the panel and the denial of her lawyer’s presence.
In terms of the Visakha guidelines of 1997 and a 2013 law against sexual harassment at the workplace, no lawyer can attend in-house panel hearings.
The in-house panel was headed by Justice S.A. Bobde, the second senior-most judge, and included two women judges, Justices Indu Malhotra and Indira Banerjee. Justice Mishra, who received its report, is the fourth senior-most.
Justice N.V. Ramana, third in seniority, had earlier withdrawn from the panel after the complainant claimed he was close to the Chief Justice.
Sources said the panel did not go into the merits of the disciplinary action against the complainant, deciding that if she challenged her sacking, the appropriate forum would examine it.
On her allegation of victimisation by police, the panel apparently concluded that she and her husband were already facing criminal cases before the purported harassment.
The panel possessed some material against the woman but did not rely on it since it was provided after she had walked out of the proceedings and could not be confronted with it, the sources said.
A panel headed by a retired Supreme Court judge, Justice A.K. Patnaik, is now expected to start its probe into an alleged corporate-underworld conspiracy to frame Justice Gogoi in the sexual harassment case.
A three-judge bench had appointed the one-member panel after an advocate, Utsav Bains, alleged the conspiracy, adding that some disgruntled Supreme Court staffers too were part of it.
On Monday, a bench headed by Justice Bobde agreed to take up this week a public interest plea from another advocate, M.L. Sharma, seeking a CBI probe into an alleged conspiracy by activist-advocates including Prashant Bhushan, Vrinda Grover and Indira Jaising to frame the Chief Justice in the harassment case.
Sharma has cited Bhushan’s interview to the news portal The Wire, which quotes him as saying that he and some other lawyers had drafted the complainant’s allegation, which was sent to all the Supreme Court judges on April 19.
“The in-house committee has submitted its report dated 5.5.2019 in accordance with in-house procedure to the next senior judge competent to receive the report and also sent a copy to the judge concerned, namely the Chief Justice of India,” a terse statement issued by apex court secretary-general Sanjeev Kalgaonkar said.
“The in-house committee has found no substance in the allegations contained in the complaint dated 19.04.2019, of a former employee of the Supreme Court of India. Please take note that in case of Indira Jaising vs Supreme Court of India & Another (2003) it has been held that the report of committee constituted as a part of the in-house procedure is not liable to be made public.”