CJI in the dock as allegations of sexual harassment surface

With the Delhi High Court dismissing on April 29 a PIL filed by an NGO, media is free to report developments in the sexual harassment allegations against Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi. The allegations of sexual harassment by a former woman employee of the Supreme Court against the CJI that are being heard by a Special Bench comprising Justices Arun Mishra, Rohintan Fali Nariman, and Deepak Gupta, have stunned the nation. The allegations are grave because these involve the credibility of the CJI, the highest constitutional functionary and head of the country’s Apex Court. Since these charges are obnoxious and involve the CJI, these call for a thorough probe to clear the air.

The reputation of CJI, earned through years of exemplary work should not be allowed to be maligned by the accusations. It calls for upholding the highest principles of probity and due process of law to find out whether it was a conspiracy and a nexus to tarnish the CJI. Citing, his poor bank balance and his impeccable career as a Judge, the CJI has said that the independence of the judiciary was under a “serious threat because some forces wanted to deactivate the office of the CJI”.

In the meanwhile, Utsav Singh Bains, an advocate, also alleged in an affidavit, a larger conspiracy against the CJI involving disgruntled court employees and other ‘fixers’. He alleged that he was offered crores by someone to file a false complaint against the CJI. The complainant has raised the issue of alleged proximity of one of the in-house committee members with Gogoi. The said Judge has now recused himself to make way for a woman judge.

There are certain lacunas. Firstly, there has been no provision to deal with a situation where the CJI himself is the subject of a complaint and that in-house inquiry is not in keeping with the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013. The committee formed under the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace Act, 2013 in the Supreme Court can probe only court employees, not judges. There is a grey area in probing the CJI. Already, the CJI Gogoi has got flak for presiding over an extraordinary judicial hearing in a matter concerning him showing lack of a mechanism to handle such cases.

The case of Chief Justice of India, Ranjan Gogoi is not the first case of this kind, a former Judge of the Supreme Court AK Ganguly had to quit after a law intern levelled allegations of sexual harassment against him. A lady judicial officer of Madhya Pradesh accused the High Court judge SK Gangele of sexual harassment. However, a three-member inquiry committee constituted by Rajya Sabha found the charges ‘not proved’.