The Supreme Court Friday agreed to consider setting up a new probe panel to look into sexual harassment allegations by a former woman judge against a sitting judge of the Madhya Pradesh High Court (HC). The apex court also stayed the ongoing in-house inquiry ordered by the HC Chief Justice.
Issuing a notice to the HC judge, a bench led by Justice J S Khehar stayed the August 8 order by the HC Chief Justice, who had directed that a two-member inquiry committee be set up to probe allegations by the former district court judge of Gwalior.
The woman, in her petition, demanded that the panel be scrapped since she felt it would not provide her justice, and pleaded with the bench to constitute a new panel.
Her petition said that the Chief Justice of India should order a three-member panel, comprising two chief justices from other high courts and a third judge as a non-judicial member. She cited the in-house procedure adopted by a full court meeting of the Supreme Court in December 1999, as per the Vishaka guidelines on combating sexual harassment at the workplace.
In an interview to The Indian Express — her first after she resigned — the former judge had alleged that the HC judge had threatened her with dire consequences. She said: “After my transfer, he told me: Aap mere bungalow par ek baar bhi akeli nahin aayi ho. Aapne meri baat na maanne ka parinaam bhugta hai. Aage dekhiye main aapka career tabah kar doonga, chaupat kar doonga (He told me that I had never visited his bungalow alone. That my transfer was the price I paid for not doing as he wished. Wait and watch as I destroy your career).”
The woman judge had also said that she had not lodged a formal complaint against the HC judge as she wasn’t given an opportunity to do so. She had said that the inquiry being conducted currently was a “sham and an eyewash” aimed at “continuing her harassment and saving the accused”.
On Friday, after hearing her counsel, the bench also issued notices to the secretary general of the Supreme Court and the registrar general of the Madhya Pradesh HC.
The HC judge, who has been accused of harassment, will also need to explain why judicial and administrative work should not be withdrawn from him pending the outcome of the inquiry. In her petition, the woman has asked for an order to suspend assignment of work to the accused HC judge and also sought his removal if her accusations are found to be true.
She has also said that her resignation was a “constructive termination” and that she should be reinstated with all benefits.
She had earlier raised objections to the inclusion of a Madhya Pradesh HC judge in the committee set up to look into her complaint.
She had said that the judge, who allegedly harassed her, was still discharging judicial and administrative functions over the staff who worked with her and witnessed her alleged victimisation.
The former judge also objected to summons being sent to her husband and daughter to be present at the inquiry.