As many as 58 members of the Rajya Sabha have submitted a petition to the Rajya Sabha Chairperson Hamid Ansari for initiating the impeachment process of Justice S K Gangele of the Madhya Pradesh High Court for alleged sexual harassment of a former Additional District and Sessions Judge, Gwalior. The judge, earlier posted at the Gwalior bench, is now serving in Jabalpur.
Sources in the Rajya Sabha Secretariat told The Indian Express that Ansari would “soon” initiate the impeachment process, beginning with verification of the MPs’ signatures.
“We collected far more than the required 50 signatures from Rajya Sabha,” said JD(U) president Sharad Yadav, who initiated the campaign. The signatories include Digvijaya Singh (Congress), Sitaram Yechury (CPI-M), Derek O’Brien (Trinamool Congress), Ram Gopal Yadav (Samajwadi Party), Satish Mishra (BSP), Jaya Bachchan, Anu Aga and H K Dua.
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The “motion for the removal” of Justice Gangele, under Article 217 read with Article 124 of the Constitution, lists three grounds for impeachment: “sexual harassment of a woman Additional District and Sessions Judge of Gwalior while being a sitting judge of the Gwalior Bench of the High Court of Madhya Pradesh”; “victimisation of the said Additional District and Sessions Judge for not submitting to his illegal and immoral demands, including, but not limited to, transferring her from Gwalior to Sidhi”; and “misusing his position as the Administrative Judge of the High Court of Madhya Pradesh to use the subordinate judiciary to victimise the said Additional District and Sessions Judge.”
The woman judge resigned last year, saying she had to do so to protect her “dignity, womanhood and self-esteem”.
In her complaint sent in August last year to the then CJI and several Supreme Court Judges, the woman judge had alleged that Justice Gangele had sent her a message through the district court registrar to “perform dance on an item song” at a function in his residence. She said she avoided the function, but the next day, Justice Gangele reportedly told her that “he missed the opportunity of viewing a sexy and beautiful figure dancing on the floor and that he is desperate to see the same”.
The Madhya Pradesh High Court Chief Justice had constituted an inquiry committee to probe the allegations, but the woman approached the Supreme Court questioning the fairness of the inquiry. The Supeme Court quashed the inquiry and requested the CJI to set up a fresh preliminary probe by the Chief Justice of another high court. The CJI assigned the task to the Chief Justice of the Karnataka High Court, who recently gave his report and felt that the allegations warranted a deeper inquiry.
Chief Justice of India H L Dattu has set up a three-judge committee — two Chief Justices of High Courts and a High Court Judge — for a “deeper” inquiry. This will be a sort of fact-finding team, but the judge will be entitled to appear before it and put forth his version, although there will be no examination or cross-examination of witnesses.
If the committee finds that sexual harassment charges stand proved and warrant the removal of the judge, the CJI would first advise the judge to resign, failing which he would direct the Chief Justice of the HC not to allocate any judicial work to him and write to the President and the Prime Minister for the initiation of proceedings for his removal.
Meanwhile, commenting on the impeachment motion, senior Supreme Court lawyer Indira Jaising, advocate for the former judge, said, “It is a welcome step. I am very hopeful that justice will finally be done to the lady who had to resign, while the HC Judge, who stands acused of such a serious offence, continues in office.