Attorney Gen asked for special panel to probe harassment charge against CJI
Attorney general KK Venugopal, the Centre’s top legal officer, said on Friday that he wrote to the top five Supreme Court (SC) judges, including Chief Justice of India (CJI) Ranjan Gogoi, seeking the constitution of a special panel comprising former judges of the top court, to examine allegations of sexual harassment against the CJI by a former SC employee.
His admission comes after media reports said that he wrote a letter last week suggesting that external members be added to an in-house committee set up by the top court to look into the issue. The reports added that the government wasn’t happy with his letter.
Venugopal clarified that his letter was sent to the judges on April 22, two days after the allegations surfaced in the media. “I wrote asking them to have a high-powered panel to look into the allegations. This was done before justice SA Bobde announced the members of the in-house committee. I suggested nomination of retired Supreme Court judges as the panel members,” Venugopal said on Friday.
The panel was formed on April 23. Its members were named by justice Bobde, who was entrusted by the CJI to look into the matter and take action. The CJI did so after he came under severe criticism for holding an urgent hearing on April 20, countering the charges made against him. He headed the special bench on a Saturday morning but refrained from signing the order that bore signatures of the other two judges, justices Arun Mishra and Sanjiv Khanna. Venugopal was also present at the hearing, representing the Centre, and supported the CJI.
Justices NV Ramana and Indira Banerjee were inducted as members of the committee. After the complainant voiced an objection to justice Ramana’s inclusion, the judge recused himself from the proceedings and was replaced by justice Indu Malhotra.
“It’s too little and too late,” said senior advocate Vikas Singh, commenting on Venugopal’s letter. “If he had to write this, he should have done on the same day when the chief justice had assembled to speak on the allegations. There he supported the CJI and so the letters are just an afterthought.”
Venugopal wrote another letter on April 23, clarifying that his suggestion to the judges on the panel’s composition was in his personal capacity and not as a government law officer. He denied the media reports that “serious differences” had arisen between the government and him after the first letter, and termed them “untrue”.
The justice Bobde committee on May 6 gave a clean chit to the CJI. The panel had proceeded ex-parte after the complainant withdrew from its proceedings on April 30.
The panel refused her legal assistance and has also not shared its final report with her. The panel found no substance in her allegation. It brushed aside concerns raised by justice DY Chandrachud over the constitution of the panel. Justice Chandrachud had said that a former woman judge of the Supreme Court should have been a member and that the complainant ought to have been represented by a lawyer.