SC reserves order on reinstating ex-district judge who alleged sexual harassment

Published on Feb 02, 2022 02:39 AM IST
A former judicial officer in Madhya Pradesh who levelled allegations of sexual harassment by a MP high court judge asked the Supreme Court to reinstate her, arguing that she was forced to resign
The Supreme Court has reserved orders on a petition for reinstatement by a former judicial officer in Madhya Pradesh. (Amal KS/HT Photo)
The Supreme Court has reserved orders on a petition for reinstatement by a former judicial officer in Madhya Pradesh. (Amal KS/HT Photo)
ByAbraham Thomas

NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court on Tuesday reserved orders on a petition filed by a former judicial officer who resigned in July 2014 and sought reinstatement on the ground that she was forced to resign following alleged sexual harassment by a high court judge in Madhya Pradesh.

The officer who was employed with the Madhya Pradesh judicial service prior to her resignation on July 15, 2014, filed a petition before the top court in 2018 for reinstatement. It was her claim that when she refused to yield to the sexual advances by the high court judge, she was transferred from Gwalior to Sidhi.

Since her daughter was studying in Class 12 that year, she requested to be continued at Gwalior or be transferred to another city where the education of her daughter will not be affected. When her request was turned down, she resigned. The petitioner told the top court that such resignation was a “constructive dismissal” and violated her fundamental rights.

The matter related to her sexual harassment complaint was gone into by Parliament which constituted a three-member panel under the Judges Inquiry Act to probe the charges against the high court judge. This committee, comprising Supreme Court justice R Banumathi (now retired), the then chief justice of the Bombay high court Manjula Chellur and senior advocate KK Venugopal (now attorney general) submitted its findings in December 2017 stating that the allegations of sexual harassment were “not proven”.

The former judicial officer relied on certain findings of the judges’ inquiry committee (JIC) to show that the panel did conclude that her transfer was “irregular” and suspected the role of the high court judge in question in influencing this decision.

The full court of the Madhya Pradesh high court has, on two occasions, rejected the request to reinstate the judicial officer.

On Tuesday, appearing for the MP high court, solicitor general Tushar Mehta said, “The findings of the JIC are not challenged and in any case cannot be questioned or assailed in ancillary proceedings like the present petition.”

After hearing the two sides, a bench of justices L Nageswara Rao and BR Gavai reserved orders on the petition.

Responding to the petitioner’s argument that she resigned under “coercion”, Mehta said, “Judicial officers are expected to be and are trained to be independent, fearless, non-impulsive and acting in accordance with law…The decision to resign in the present case, admittedly, is based only on her mid-term transfer.”

According to the high court, if a mid-term transfer of any officer with inconvenient family circumstances is held to be sufficient to constitute “intolerable pressure” and “coercion”, no administrative decision could be taken by any organization and the same will serve as a precedent for other similarly situated officers to follow suit.

“Finding of “coercion” and building of “intolerable pressure” necessarily stigmatize the entire institution and individuals who are part of it. Such findings, therefore, need a higher threshold of proof and it cannot be tested from the point of view of an oversensitive or egoistic individual who feels offended by certain acts easily.”

Senior advocate Indira Jaising who represented the petitioner objected to the use of the remark “oversensitive” by the solicitor general and said this amounted to stereotyping a woman. She pointed out that it was wrong for the high court to object to her reinstatement when the Supreme Court had two years ago reinstated a female Supreme Court staff who alleged sexual harassment against a former chief justice of India (CJI).

Jaising said the petitioner was a victim of harassment and was only seeking to balance her family interests with professional interests. Under the rules governing MP judicial officers, the petitioner claimed that officers having daughters studying in Class 12 are exempt from the transfer.

The petitioner presented two options to the Court – to be reinstated in Madhya Pradesh and thereafter be deputed outside the state or to be reinstated in the judicial services of Rajasthan or Himachal Pradesh where she can maintain her seniority of additional district judge by foregoing her salary for the period she was not in service.

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