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Harassment: Supreme Court orders reinstatement of woman judge

SC said the high court administrative wing’s handling of the matter and the transfer of additional district and sessions judge had been 'arbitrary', 'mala fide' and 'irrational'
Supreme Court.
Supreme Court.
File photo

R. Balaji   |   New Delhi   |   Published 11.02.22, 03:31 AM

The Supreme Court on Thursday directed the reinstatement of a woman judge who had resigned after being transferred following her sexual harassment allegations against a then sitting judge of Madhya Pradesh High Court.

The Supreme Court said the high court administrative wing’s handling of the matter and the transfer of the additional district and sessions judge had been “arbitrary”, “mala fide” and “irrational”.

There will be no break in her service and she will receive all benefits calculated from July 2014, when she quit, although the salary arrears will not be paid.

Justice B.R. Gavai, who authored the apex court judgment, said: “The resignation letter… appears to be on account of exasperation and frustration actuated by a thought that injustice was being meted out to her by the very institution of judiciary.”

The bench, which also had Justice L. Nageswara Rao, rejected the plea by the Madhya Pradesh High Court (administration) that the transfer of the woman judge on July 8, 2014, was on account of administrative exigencies. The bench noted that the material placed on record clearly showed that the then additional district and sessions judge in Gwalior had been transferred because of her complaint of sexual harassment.

“It is a different aspect that the JIC (judges’ inquiry committee) had come to a specific finding of fact that the evidence on record clearly shows that Justice ‘A’ (the then high court judge accused of sexual harassment) had a role to play in the transfer of the petitioner and the rejection of her two representations,” Justice Gavai wrote in the 78-page judgment.

“We are, therefore, of the considered view that the transfer order dated 8th July 2014, would squarely be covered by ‘malice in law’ inasmuch as it was passed without taking into consideration the guidelines provided in the transfer policy but on the basis of unverified allegations made in the complaint made by the then D & SJ, Gwalior.”

The woman judge had alleged sexual harassment by the then sitting high court judge and said that when she resisted his sexual overtures, she was transferred from Gwalior, a Category A city, to Sidhi, a Category C city.

The JIC, set up at the instance of Parliament and having as members a sitting judge of the Supreme Court, the then Karnataka High Court chief justice and a senior advocate of the apex court, had on December 15, 2017, exonerated the then sitting judge of Madhya Pradesh High Court of the sexual harassment allegations. But the JIC did record a finding that the transfer of the woman judge was abrupt, irregular and arbitrary.

However, Madhya Pradesh High Court on the administrative side refused to direct her reinstatement, which she had sought. Following this, the woman judge filed a petition in the apex court and was represented by senior advocate Indira Jaising.

Her two representations seeking reconsideration of the transfer and plea for alternative posting to any one of four cities — Sehore, Raisen, Dewas or Ujjain — so that her daughter could continue with her education unhindered were also rejected by the high court on the administrative side.

The woman judge’s plea that her sudden transfer to Sidhi, which is 540km from Gwalior, had made things extremely difficult for the family in the absence of her husband --- who was away on professional and personal duties -- had failed to convince the high court, the Supreme Court noted.

“An action which is arbitrary, irrational and unreasonable would be hit by Article 14 (right to equality) of the Constitution of India. We, therefore, find that the rejection of the representations of the petitioner dated 9th July 2014 and 11th July 2014 would also not stand the scrutiny of law,” the Supreme Court said.

“The petitioner was a judicial officer and a mother too. The judicial officer in her must have been battling with the mother in her. On one hand, was her career as a judicial officer; on the other hand, was the possibility of her daughter’s educational prospects and career coming into jeopardy if she shifted to the place of posting at Sidhi. A possibility of her mind engrossed with a feeling, that she was subjected to injustice by the very institution of judiciary cannot be ruled away,” the bench observed.

Justice Gavai asked: “What was she asking for? A retention at Gwalior for a period of eight months till her daughter completes her Class XII?”

The Supreme Court noted that the four alternative options requested by the woman judge were Category B cities where her daughter would have had better education facilities and where judicial vacancies existed.

“Denial of her legitimate expectation could have led to desperation, exasperation and frustration. The frustration of the petitioner is evident from the language used by her in her resignation letter. She stated that as she had been transferred to Sidhi in the mid­academic session of her daughter’s Class XII, it had mostly affected the crucial stage of the career of her daughter,” Justice Gavai observed.

The bench said she was left with no other option but to resign.

“It appears that in a gruesome battle between a mother and a judicial officer, the judicial officer lost the battle to the mother. We find that the respondent No. 1 (Madhya Pradesh High Court registrar-general) has utterly failed to discharge its burden,” the bench said.

“We further find that the breakneck speed at which the events have taken place in the present matter, gives rise to a suspicion that there is something more than which meets the eye.”

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