Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi appeared Wednesday before the inquiry committee of three Supreme Court judges probing allegations of sexual harassment against him by a former employee of the apex court who was posted at his residence-office.
On Tuesday, the woman walked out of the inquiry saying she felt she was “not likely to get justice”.
Sources told The Indian Express that the committee, comprising Justices S A Bobde, Indu Malhotra and Indira Banerjee, extended a request to CJI Gogoi to appear before it. Responding to the request of the committee working under the in-house procedure, CJI Gogoi appeared to present his side of the case.
After it concludes its findings, sources said that the committee will submit its report to the Secretary General of the Supreme Court “in a sealed envelope.” Sources said the practice has been not to make findings of any in-house probe public and that precedent will be followed in this case as well.
Meanwhile, after the complainant declared that she was withdrawing from the probe, the committee decided to proceed “ex-parte” or carry on in her absence. This decision was taken by the three judges on Tuesday.
The Indian Express has learnt that the complainant, after two sittings, lasting about three hours each, chose to withdraw during the third sitting and told the committee about her decision to do so. The three judges are said to have told her they were left with no choice but to continue with the proceedings ex parte.
Sources said that the Secretary General of the Supreme Court also appeared with files, official records and internal reports pertaining to the matter of employment of the former employee and her harassment allegations.
The complainant, in a letter to the committee and in a press release on Tuesday, said that she found the committee intimidating. And that there was a need to adopt a “procedure that would ensure fairness and equality in the highly unequal circumstances” she said she was placed in. “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,” she added.
The former junior assistant said she was “compelled to walk out” because the judges who are part of it did not seem to appreciate the fact that “this was not an ordinary complaint but was a complaint of sexual harassment against a sitting CJI” and refused to allow a lawyer or support person to accompany her during her deposition.
Soon after the report on the allegations was first published, a bench led by CJI Gogoi put out an order signed by two other judges saying this was part of a “conspiracy”. Subsequently, on affidavit filed by advocate Utsav Bains, a bench last week appointed retired Justice A K Patnaik to go into the conspiracy assisted by the CBI Director, director of Intelligence Bureau and Commissioner of Police (Delhi). Justice Patnaik told The Indian Express that his inquiry would commence only after the in-house committee on the sexual harassment allegations concluded its findings
While the Justice Bobde committee has the approval of the full-court, the nature of the committee has raised eyebrows. Appointed as a member initially, the second most senior judge, Justice N V Ramana, has already recused after the complainant raised objections saying he was “like family” of the Chief Justice. He was replaced by Justice Malhotra. The complainant had also said that the committee, by virtue of not having a woman member as its head or an external member, was not following “the procedure under the Vishaka guidelines and the Prevention of Sexual Harassment Against Women at the Workplace Act 2013.”
In her 28-page original complaint, the woman alleged that on October 10 and October 11, 2018, the CJI made sexual advances in his home office where she was posted and touched her inappropriately. She said that after she resisted his “sexual advances,” she was fired and her husband and brother-in-law, both posted with the Delhi Police as head constables, were subsequently suspended.
CJI Gogoi called the allegations “unbelievable” and said he wouldn’t even dignify them with a denial.