Can’t reinstate judge who complained of harassment: Madhya Pradesh HC

Following an inquiry in 2017, the high court judge was given a clean chit in the sexual harassment case but the woman judicial officer’s sudden transfer was held to be unjustified, prompting her to seek her job back through a petition in the top court.
Gavel and law books (Getty Images/iStockphoto)
Gavel and law books (Getty Images/iStockphoto)
Updated on Jan 22, 2022 04:03 AM IST
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By, Hindustan Times, New Delhi

The Madhya Pradesh high court has declined to reinstate a former woman judicial officer who quit in 2014 alleging sexual harassment by a high court judge in the state, and has told the Supreme Court that an “amicable solution of the matter is not possible”.

Following an inquiry in 2017, the high court judge was given a clean chit in the sexual harassment case but the woman judicial officer’s sudden transfer was held to be unjustified, prompting her to seek her job back through a petition in the top court.

Submitting its affidavit, the high court administration has maintained that the full court (comprising all judges of the high court on the administrative side) considered the possibility of her reinstatement four times since January 2018, and reached the same decision each time that she cannot be reinstated after resigning from her job voluntarily.

The affidavit also said that the woman’s request for transferring her to Rajasthan or Haryana from Madhya Pradesh cannot be accepted since the high court is not agreeable to reinstating her at all.

“The proposals and suggestions of the petitioner were not acceptable to the high court and amicable solution of the matter has not been possible. It is submitted that any amicable settlement or solution has not been in the writ petition, and it is prayed that the petition may kindly be finally heard/adjudicated,” stated the response from the high court administration.

The reply was filed earlier this week, following the Supreme Court’s appeal last yearto the chief justice and other judges of the high court to consider reinstating the former woman judge on humanitarian grounds, and to also consider her plea to transfer her to Haryana or Rajasthan if it was not possible to give her job back with seniority in Madhya Pradesh.

The Supreme Court’s February 2020order came on the former judicial officer’s petition filed in 2018. Her petition cited the report submitted by the inquiry panel constituted by the Rajya Sabha into her accusations of sexual harassment against a high court judge, who has since retired.

The inquiry panel was set up in 2015 after 58 members of the Rajya Sabha gave a notice to move a motion to impeach the high court judge.

The report by the committee, comprising Supreme Court judge justice R Banumathi (now retired), the then chief justice of the Bombay high court Manjula Chellur, and senior advocate KK Venugopal (now Attorney General), was tabled in the Rajya Sabha in December 2017.

The report concluded that the allegations of sexual harassment could not be “proved beyond reasonable doubt”. The panel, however, added that the decision to transfer the woman judge “mid-session” was “not justified’.

“Under these circumstances, the complainant probably had no option than to submit her resignation since her elder daughter was pursuing Board XII exam. In these circumstances, we find that the transfer of the complainant to Sidhi has become unbearable for her to continue in service, resulting in her resignation,” the report said.

On two or three occasions in the past, the Supreme Court urged the Madhya Pradesh high court to consider her case on humanitarian ground, but all the judges in the high court decided unanimously against reinstating her through full court decisions.

On Friday, advocate Arjun Garg appeared for the high court administration and informed a Supreme Court bench, headed by justice L Nageswara Rao, of the latest affidavit. He conveyed the final decision of the high court against reinstating her and pleaded that the bench should hear the case on merits.

Senior advocate Indira Jaising represented the former woman judge before the bench, which also included justice BR Gavai.

The court, after noting the high court’s stand, fixed the matter for final hearing on January 27.

The Supreme Court does not have any administrative control over the high courts, which are also the constitutional courts with exclusive control over services of judicial officers in their respective jurisdiction.

Given this limitation, the top court has been requesting the high court judges to consider her case on humanitarian ground. However, with the full court’s indisposition to reinstate the former woman judge, the Supreme Court will have to now examine the petition on its own merit, striking a balance between the limitations of a service matter with the peculiar circumstances that compelled the former woman judge to quit her job.

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Wednesday, May 18, 2022