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.
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 — gave the report ex-parte as the woman had opted out of the inquiry on April 30 after participating for three days.
She issued a press statement in which she described as “very frightening” the atmosphere of the Committee and walked out raising various objections including denial of her lawyer’s presence.
Justice Gogoi appeared on May 1 before the Committee and recorded his statements.
The notice said: “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 others, 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.”
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.”
An official source said that though Justice NV Ramana was the judge next in seniority after Justice Bobde, the report was not submitted to him as he was originally the member of the panel but had to recuse himself after the woman had expressed some reservations over his presence in the panel.
The source said Justice Arun Mishra, who is number four in seniority, is competent to receive the report.
After CJI Ranjan Gogoi, Justice Bobde is the senior-most judge followed by Justices Ramana, Mishra and R F Nariman.
The three-member panel was constituted on 23 April 2019, in which the original members were Justices Bobde, Ramana and Banerjee.
However, on April 25, Justice Ramana had to recuse himself after the woman 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 the former woman employee had also alleged that the Committee was not formed in accordance with the Vishaka guidelines laid by the top court.
Justice Bobde on April 23 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.”
He had clarified that there is no time frame to complete the inquiry and 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 the 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 taken the opportunity to describe the allegations of sexual harassment 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.
But the alleged victim of the CJI’s advances is disappointed with this judgment. In a press release, she said:
“I, the woman complainant, a former SC employee, am highly disappointed and dejected to learn that the In-House Committee “has found no substance” in my complaint and feel that gross injustice has been done to me as a woman citizen of India. I am now extremely scared and terrified because the In- House Committee, despite having all material placed before them, appears to have given me no justice or protection and said nothing about the absolutely mala fide dismissals and suspensions, indignities and humiliations suffered by me and my family. I and my family members remain vulnerable to the ongoing reprisals and attack.
As is known this complaint in the form of an Affidavit was sent by me to the Justices of the Hon’ble Supreme Court on 19.04.2019. I am alarmed at the conclusion arrived at by the In House Committee, as my accusation of sexual harassment at the workplace and the consequent relentless victimization and reprisals against me and my family, are substantiated by documents and are verifiable.
On 26.04.2019, I had joined proceedings of the In-House Committee and from the very beginning expressed serious concerns and reservations that the manner in which the proceedings were being conducted would not mitigate the stark asymmetry of power between me and the CJI.
I had pointed out in my communication to the house committee that I needed to have my lawyer or support person present with me in the proceedings. I had also asked the committee to lay down the procedure that it would be following and also asked for the proceedings to be recorded so that there is no dispute about what transpired. However, none of this was done and I was not even supplied a copy of my statement as recorded by the committee until after I was forced to walk out from the proceedings on the 30th of April 2019.
From the media, I have learnt that the CJI was perhaps called by the committee for his version. However, I am not aware whether any of the other persons named in my complaint who would have knowledge of matters mentioned in the complaint, especially my victimisation, were called by the committee for their evidence. I do not even know whether the SHO who took me to the CJIs residence to make me apologise to the CJIs wife in a humiliating manner, was called by the committee even though I had submitted a video recording of my interaction with him on that day. I do not even know whether the call records of the CJI or the Secretary-General were called for by the committee which would substantiate some of the facts mentioned in my complaint.
Today, my worst fears have come true, and all hope of justice and redress from the committee have been shattered. In fact, the Committee has announced that I will not even be provided with a copy of the Report, and so I have no way of comprehending the reasons and basis for the summary dismissal of my Complaint of sexual harassment and victimisation. I was already condemned by the CJI and his senior colleague in an extraordinary suo moto “hearing” which took place on the 20th of April 2019, where accusations were made upon my character and my truthfulness in my absence.
I have already placed my earlier communications with the Hon’ble Committee in the public domain through my press note dated 30.04.2019 when I was compelled to walk out of the Committee proceedings as the Committee had refused to accept even my most basic requests for a fair hearing.
On 4th May 2019, at about 8 pm I received a hard copy of my statements recorded before the In House Committee on 26th, 29th and 30th April 2019. On 6th May 2019, at around 10.30 am, I submitted Corrections of some inaccuracies in my recorded statements, to the concerned Registrar at the Supreme Court.
I will consult my lawyer and decide on the next steps. Today, I am on the verge of losing faith in the capacity of our system to deliver justice to the weak and vulnerable who are pitted against the powerful within the system itself.”