Clean chit to CJI in sexual harassment case ups eyebrows

Clean chit given to Chief Justice of India, Ranjan Gogoi in sexual harassment case by an in-house committee of Justices SA Bobde, Indu Malhotra and Indira Banerjee has raised eyebrows. The committee has found “no substance” in the complaint of the former court staffer, who citing “principles of natural justice” had withdrawn from the probe after being denied her lawyer’s presence during deposition. 

First, the committee went ahead with the probe though the complainant had opted out of the proceedings. Secondly, the in-house committee brushed aside the complainant’s demand to be accompanied by a lawyer and video recording of the closed-door hearings. Thirdly, the committee failed to make its findings public and lastly, the Committee refused to provide a copy of the findings to the complainant. The 36-year-old woman who was posted in Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi’s home office had listed charges of sexual harassment and persecution in an affidavit that was sent to 22 judges of the apex court on April 19.

In her affidavit, the former employee claimed that after she rebuffed CJI’s advances, she and her family faced consistent harassment that including her termination. The Court set up a three-member inquiry panel, which cleared CJI of all allegations in its report on May 6.  The moot question is doesn’t the complainant enjoy the right to know the details of the proceedings of the committee, which had been found on her complaint but found that there was ‘no substance’ in her charges?  Even if in-house committee findings were in keeping with legal tenets, the decision not to share the findings with complainant has only made it vulnerable to criticism. Ironically, there is no Vishakha Committee in Supreme Court that applies to Judges and the in-house the committee has followed the procedure set up way back in 1999. No doubt, the Apex Court Judges are vulnerable because they defend the Constitution and interpret laws and there is a need to have an inquiry into the alleged conspiracy to frame the CJI.  But the old hackneyed procedure is in need of an upgrade following the #MeToo movement and cases of sexual harassment received against Judges from time to time. Earlier the CJI’s own presence in the Bench hearing the complaint and his oral observations had raised questions over the methodology adopted. The adage is that not only must justice be done it must also be seen to be done. Little doubt that women activists have started protests against the clean chit given to the CJI while Bar Council leaders are divided on the issue. These are testing times for the Supreme Court because the credibility of the institution and its head is in question.  It is time the Supreme Court judges who are eminently qualified set their house in order.