HIS inquiry into the alleged conspiracy in the sexual harassment charge against Chief Justice of India (CJI) Ranjan Gogoi will begin only after the in-house administrative inquiry into the woman’s allegations is concluded by three sitting judges, former Supreme Court judge, Justice (retd) A K Patnaik, has told The Indian Express.
“No time limit has been set for when (my) inquiry report is to be submitted to the Supreme Court,” Justice Patnaik said. “The inquiry will start after the in-house committee on the charges the lady complainant has levelled is completed.”
Justice Patnaik, who retired from the Supreme Court in 2014, was nominated Thursday by a three-judge bench of the apex court headed by Justice Arun Mishra, to inquire into allegations of a conspiracy levelled by advocate Utsav Bains in his two affidavits. Bains claimed that this “conspiracy” was behind the sexual harassment charge being levelled against CJI Gogoi by a former employee of the Supreme Court who worked in CJI’s home office.
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The woman alleged that when she resisted CJI Gogoi’s sexual advances in October last year, she was fired and her husband and brother-in-law, both posted with the Delhi Police as head constables, were subsequently suspended. The CJI has dismissed the allegations calling them “unbelievable” and an attempt by a “bigger force to undermine the independence of the judiciary and deactivate the office of the CJI.”
Justice Mishra has said that the inquiry in the “conspiracy” was separate from the in-house inquiry into the woman’s complaint. The in-house panel is headed by Justice S A Bobde, the most senior judge after CJI Gogoi, who was authorised by a full-court to constitute an “in-house panel” to inquire into the allegations levelled by the woman employee.
On Thursday, the complainant protested against Justice N V Ramana’s presence in the committee — Justice Ramana is the second senior after Justice Bobde. This led to his recusal from the panel. The freshly constituted panel now has Justices Bobde, Indu Malhotra and Indira Banerjee and it started its hearings Friday.
The significance of Justice Patnaik’s remarks is far-reaching. There have been competing forces at play in this case as the charge of sexual harassment levelled by an employee of the Supreme Court set off an avalanche of events in India’s topmost Court. While one section is keen on emphasising the “conspiracy,” the other is stressing the need to get to the bottom of the substance of the charges themselves.
Justice Mishra stressed during the hearing that the inquiry into the “conspiracy” has nothing to do with the in-house inquiry into harassment charges but Justice Patnaik appears to have drawn the line under it.
It also negates the efforts of those portraying the entire affair as being a “conspiracy.” Justice Patnaik’s decision will also keep the attention focused on the allegation of sexual harassment without the distraction of the conspiracy charge while putting pressure on the in-house panel to expeditiously complete the enquiry.
There has been wide criticism of the way in which, within hours of the publication of the charges against the CJI, a three-judge bench, headed by CJI Gogoi himself, held a special session in which the complainant was criticised and her allegations denied. While there was no judicial order, an order was passed nevertheless, with Justice Gogoi not signing off on it.
Later, a bench on Monday and Tuesday, headed by Justice Arun Mishra heard the matter of “grave public importance touching upon the independence of the judiciary.” Advocate Bains alleged that the sexual harassment complaint was part of a conspiracy and he submitted information to the Bench in a sealed cover. Following this, an order was pronounced by this Bench of Justices Arun Mishra, Rohinton Nariman, and Deepak Gupta calling upon Justice Patnaik to be assisted by the Director, Central Bureau of Investigation; Director, Intelligence Bureau and Commissioner, Delhi Police to conduct an inquiry.