Concluding it “found no substance” in a former Supreme Court woman employee’s allegations of sexual harassment against Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi, the In-House Inquiry Committee gave him a clean chit Monday in an ex parte report which will not be made public.
In first remarks, the complainant, in a statement, said “my worst fears have come true” and “am highly disappointed and dejected to learn that the In-House Committee ‘has found no substance’ in my complaint and feel that gross injustice has been done to me as a woman citizen of India. I am now extremely scared and terrified because the In-House Committee, despite having all material placed before them, appears to have given me no justice or protection and said nothing about the absolutely malafide dismissals and suspensions, indignities and humiliations suffered by me and my family. I and my family members remain vulnerable to the ongoing reprisals and attack”.
The committee, comprising Justices S A Bobde, Indira Banerjee and Indu Malhotra, wrapped up the inquiry in sittings over four days — three days were devoted to the questioning and recording the statement of the woman complainant who withdrew from the proceedings on the third day, April 30, saying she was being denied access to a lawyer and was “not likely to get justice from this committee”, and the fourth day had the CJI appearing before the panel.
A notice by the office of the Supreme Court Secretary General said: “The In-House Committee has submitted its Report dated 5.5.2019, in accordance with the In-House Procedure, to the next senior Judge competent to receive the Report and also sent a copy to the Judge concerned, namely, the Chief Justice of India.”
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“The In-House Committee has found no substance in the allegations contained in the Complaint dated 19.4.2019 of a former employee of the Supreme Court of India. Please take note that in case of Indira Jaising vs Supreme Court of India & Anr. (2003) 5 SCC 494, it has been held that the Report of a Committee constituted as a part of the In-House Procedure is not liable to be made public.”
The committee report was submitted to Justice Arun Mishra who is No. 4 in seniority after CJI Gogoi, Justice Bobde and Justice N V Ramana. The report was not submitted to Justice Ramana who, after being named to the committee, recused himself once the complainant raised reservations over his inclusion.
The clean chit to the CJI came on the day The Indian Express reported that Justice D Y Chandrachud, in a May 2 letter to the inquiry panel headed by Justice Bobde, demanded a full court to consider the issues raised by him. Calling the denial of a lawyer to the woman complainant a “serious denial of fair process”, Justice Chandrachud’s letter said it is a question of “her dignity” which needs to be protected. Moreover, provision of a lawyer is not a privilege but “a matter of right” for the complainant.
Justice Chandrachud, who also met Justice Bobde, argued for inclusion of an external member to broadbase the committee, and suggested names of three retired women Supreme Court judges to choose from — retired Justices Ruma Pal, Sujata Manohar and Ranjana Desai who, he said, are all “apolitical and above board”.
On April 22, CJI Gogoi had left it to Justice Bobde to decide the next steps in the matter. Justice Bobde in turn set up a three-member panel comprising himself and Justices Ramana and Indira Banerjee to go into the allegations.
In a letter to the panel, the woman staffer, however, expressed concern on the presence of Justice Ramana in the panel, saying he “is a close friend of the CJI and like a family friend to him” because of which she “fears” that her “affidavit and evidence will not receive an objective and fair hearing”.
On April 25, Justice Ramana opted out of the committee saying his “decision to recuse is only based on an intent to avoid any suspicion that this institution will not conduct itself in keeping with the highest standards of judicial propriety and wisdom” and that he “categorically reject these baseless and unfounded aspersions on my capacity to render impartial judgment in this matter”.
He was replaced by Justice Indu Malhotra, who also heads the Gender Sensitisation and Internal Complaints Committee (GSICC) of the Supreme Court.
Following the clean chit to the CJI, the woman complainant, in a statement, said: “As is known, this complaint in the form of an Affidavit was sent by me to the Justices of the Hon’ble Supreme Court on 19.04.2019. I am alarmed at the conclusion arrived at by the In-House Committee, as my accusation of sexual harassment at the workplace and the consequent relentless victimization and reprisals against me and my family, are substantiated by documents and are verifiable.”
“On 26.04.2019, I had joined proceedings of the In-House Committee and from the very beginning expressed serious concerns and reservations that the manner in which the proceedings were being conducted would not mitigate the stark asymmetry of power between me and the CJI.”
“I had pointed out in my communication to the in-house committee that I needed to have my lawyer or support person present with me in the proceedings. I had also asked the committee to lay down the procedure that it would be following and also asked for the proceedings to be recorded so that there is no dispute about what transpired. However none of this was done and I was not even supplied a copy of my statement as recorded by the committee until after I was forced to walk out from the proceedings on the 30th of April 2019.”
“From the media I have learnt that the CJI was perhaps called by the committee for his version. However, I am not aware whether any of the other persons named in my complaint who would have knowledge of matters mentioned in the complaint, especially my victimisation, were called by the committee for their evidence.”
“I do not even know whether the SHO, who took me to the CJI’s residence to make me apologise to the CJI’s wife in a humiliating manner, was called by the committee even though I had submitted a video recording of my interaction with him on that day. I do not even know whether the call records of the CJI or the Secretary General were called for by the committee which would substantiate some of the facts mentioned in my complaint.”
“Today, my worst fears have come true, and all hope of justice and redress from the committee have been shattered. In fact the Committee has announced that I will not even be provided a copy of the Report, and so I have no way of comprehending the reasons and basis for the summary dismissal of my Complaint of sexual harassment and victimisation. I was already condemned by the CJI and his senior colleague in an extraordinary suo motu ‘hearing’ which took place on the 20th of April 2019, where accusations were made upon my character and my truthfulness in my absence.”
“I have already placed my earlier communications with the Hon’ble Committee in the public domain through my press note dt. 30.04.2019, when I was compelled to walk out of the Committee proceedings as the Committee had refused to accept even my most basic requests for a fair hearing.”
“On 4th May 2019, at about 8 pm, I received a hard copy of my statements recorded before the In-House Committee on 26th, 29th and 30th April, 2019. On 6th May 2019, at around 10.30 am, I submitted Corrections of some inaccuracies in my recorded statements, to the concerned Registrar at the Supreme Court. I will consult my lawyer and decide on the next steps. Today, I am at the verge of losing faith in the capacity of our system to deliver justice to the weak and vulnerable who are pitted against the powerful within the system itself,” she said.
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