New Delhi: Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi Monday got a clean chit from the Supreme Court’s In-House Inquiry Committee which “has found no substance” in the allegations of sexual harassment levelled against him by a former woman employee of the apex court.
The 3-member Committee, which completed its task in 14 days, proceeded ex-parte as the woman had opted out of the inquiry on 30 April after participating for three days.
Immediately after the office of apex court’s Secretary General came out with the findings of the committee, the woman issued a press statement saying that she was “highly disappointed and dejected”. She said “gross injustice” has been done to her as a woman citizen of India and “worst fears” have come true, and all hope of justice and redress from the highest Court of the land have been shattered. She said that she will consult her lawyer and decide on the next steps.
A notice by the office of Supreme Court Secretary General said the report of the Committee, headed by Justice S A Bobde, “is not liable to be made public”. The Committee, also comprising two woman judges of the apex court — Justices Indu Malhotra and Indira Banerjee — had on 1 May recorded the statement of the CJI who had appeared before it.
“The In-House Committee has found no substance in the allegations contained in the complaint dated 19 April, 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 and Anr (2003), it has been held that the report of a committee constituted as a part of the In-House Procedure is not liable to be made public,” the notice said.
It further said: “The In House Committee has submitted its report dated 5 May 2019 in accordance with the In House Procedure, to the next senior judge competent to receive the report and also sent a copy to the judge concerned, namely, the CJI.”
The Committee submitted its report to Justice Arun Mishra — number four in seniority. After the CJI, Justice Bobde is the next senior most judge, followed by Justices N V Ramana, Arun Mishra and R F Nariman. The findings of the panel were not submitted to Justice Ramana as he was part of the Committee when it was constituted but recused himself after the former woman employee, who is the complainant, expressed certain reservations over his inclusion.
After opting out of the Committee inquiry, she had issued a press statement describing as “very frightening” the atmosphere of the panel and raised various objections including denial of her lawyer’s presence. The panel was constituted on 23 April 2019. On 25 April, Justice Ramana recused himself after the complainant expressed her reservations over his inclusion on the ground that he is a close friend of the CJI and a regular visitor to his house.
In Justice Ramana’s place, Justice Bobde had inducted Justice Malhotra as she had also alleged that the Committee was not formed in accordance with the Vishaka guidelines laid by the top court. In a letter to Justice Bobde, the woman had said that as per the guidelines laid down by the Supreme Court in the Vishaka judgement, for holding inquiry into the allegations of sexual harassment at work place, the committee must have a majority of women.
Justice Bobde on 23 April had told PTI, “This is going to be an in-house procedure which does not contemplate representation of advocate on behalf of parties. It is not a formal judicial proceeding.”
Though there was no time frame to complete the inquiry, Justice Bobde had said the future course of action will depend on “what comes out of the inquiry” which will be “confidential”. The allegations against the CJI had become public on 20 April when some news web portals had come out with the stories.
The woman had sent her affidavit to 22 judges of the apex court about the alleged sexual harassment. Within hours of the allegations coming into public domain, an unprecedented hearing by a bench comprising CJI and Justices Mishra and Sanjiv Khanna had taken place on 20 April which was Saturday. Though the CJI had recused himself midway of the hearing, he had described the allegations against him as “unbelievable” and had said a larger conspiracy was behind it and he would not stoop so low even to deny these allegations.
Later, a fresh bench comprising Justices Mishra, R F Nariman and Deepak Gupta was set up to hear the matter which appointed retired apex court judge, Justice A K Patnaik to inquire into the allegations of larger conspiracy to frame CJI Gogi and fixing of benches in the top court. The allegation was made by a advocate Utsav Singh Bains who had filed an affidavit in this regard.
The top court said the inquiry by will not deal with the allegations of sexual harassment against the CJI and added the outcome of the inquiry will not affect the in-house committee which is dealing with the complaint against the CJI. Hours before the information on the submission of the report became public, the apex court agreed to hear a plea seeking direction to the CBI to lodge an FIR into the alleged conspiracy to “fix” Chief Justice of India.
The matter was mentioned for urgent listing before a bench comprising Justices S A Bobde and S A Nazeer by advocate M L Sharma, who claimed that there was a conspiracy to malign the CJI in a “concocted, false sexual harassment” case.
“What is the urgency? You have filed it and it will come up for hearing,” the bench said added, “It will be listed in due course,” it added.