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Wednesday, Oct 23, 2019

Woman who accused CJI of sexual misconduct pulls out of probe by SC’s panel

The employee said in a statement that Tuesday was the third day she had gone to participate before the three-member panel headed by Justice S A Bobde.

india Updated: May 01, 2019 07:58 IST
Ashok Bagriya and Bhadra Sinha
Ashok Bagriya and Bhadra Sinha
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Citing serious concerns, the complainant said she will no longer participate  in the in-house committee proceeding.
Citing serious concerns, the complainant said she will no longer participate in the in-house committee proceeding. (Sonu Mehta/HT PHOTO)

The former Supreme Court staffer who has alleged sexual harassment by Chief Justice of India (CJI) Ranjan Gogoi walked out of inquiry proceedings conducted by three sitting judges of the Supreme Court on Tuesday, saying she had “serious concerns and reservations” about receiving justice from the committee.

In a statement distributed to the media, the complainant said: “I was compelled to walk out of the committee proceedings today because the committee seemed not to appreciate the fact that this was not an ordinary complaint but was a complaint of sexual harassment against a sitting CJI and therefore it was required to adopt procedure that would ensure fairness and equality in the highly unequal circumstances that I am placed. I had hoped that the approach of the committee towards me would be sensitive and not one that would cause me further fear, anxiety and trauma.”

The complainant said the proceedings of the committee were informal in nature while she wanted a formal inquiry under the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013, and the inquiry panel, comprising justices SA Bobde, Indira Banerjee and Indu Malhotra, to follow the Vishaka guidelines in the matter.

The guidelines were framed in 1997 by the Supreme Court to be followed in cases of sexual harassment..

The statement was issued by a lawyer from advocate Vrinda Grover’s team. Grover is representing the complainant in the matter. She declined to comment after the statement was issued.

The members of the Supreme Court panel were not immediately available for comments. The court’s secretary-general declined to speak on the issue.

CJI Gogoi had responded to the charges by convening an urgent hearing of the matter in the Supreme Court on April 20 by a three-judge bench headed by him, and spoke for 18 minutes defending himself.

A visibly emotional Gogoi said the charges — unprecedented in so far as they have been levelled against the top judge of the highest court in the land — were an attempt by a bigger force to “deactivate the office of the Chief Justice of India because sensitive matters are being heard by the court next week”.

On Tuesday, the complainant said: “In the Committee hearing that took place on 26th April 2019, the Judges in the committee told me that this was neither an in-h ouse committee proceeding, nor a proceeding under the Vishaka Guidelines and that it was an informal proceeding.”

The complainant said she walked out of the in-house proceedings after participating in it on two occasions on April 26 and 29. On both days, the proceedings of the committee were held in camera and no person other than the complainant was allowed to participate in it.

According to the woman’s statement, she has not been allowed the presence of a lawyer during the hearings, and there is no video or audio recording of the committee’s proceedings and she has not been provided a copy of the statement recorded on April 26 and 29.

The former Supreme Court staffer said the atmosphere of the committee’s proceedings were intimidating. “I found the atmosphere of the committee very frightening and I was very nervous because of being confronted and questioned by three Supreme Court Judges and without even the presence of my lawyer/support person,” she said.

The complainant, in her statement, also said she feared for her safety as she was followed after she left the committee hearing on April 26. “After I left the first Committee hearing on the first day, I saw that the car I travelling by was being followed by two men on a motorcycle whose partial number I was able to note. I was again followed on 29th April at around 7.30pm by four men on two motorcycles and I was scared for my safety,” she said.

In her three-page statement, the former Supreme Court staffer also said: “I have not been informed if the committee has sought any response from the CJI to my complaint and I have been left guessing and anxious on all these matters.”

The former staffer had on April 19 written a letter, accompanied by an affidavit, to 22 judges of the top court seeking an inquiry into alleged incident of sexual harassment by the Chief Justice of India.

A three-member panel headed by justice Bobde, with justice NV Ramana and justice Banerjee as members, was constituted by the Supreme Court on April 23 after a full court resolution to the effect was passed.

Justice Ramana recused himself from the committee after a letter was written by the complainant to the members of the panel, expressing concern over his presence as a “close friend of the CJI”. Justice Ramana was replaced by justice Malhotra on the committee.

CJI Gogoi has distanced himself from the matter and all the decisions with regard to the committee and its proceedings are being taken by justice Bobde, who is the second senior most judge in the Supreme Court and is expected to take over as CJI after justice Gogoi’s retirement in November this year.

Reacting to the developments, senior advocate Sanjay Hegde said: “It’s unfortunate and does not augur well for the institution.”

Senior advocate at the Supreme Court Mahalaxmi Pavani said: “This was bound to happen, considering the way the proceedings were conducted by the committee. No lawyer was given to the complainant, she wasn’t even given a copy of her statements and even the fact that the proceedings conducted were informal in nature. This sends a bad message, all procedure for conducting fair inquiry have been thrown to the wind. The question that arises is what was the committee inquiring into? The basics of service jurisprudence in any institution have not been followed.”

First Published: Apr 30, 2019 19:31 IST

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