The three-judge committee, probing allegations of sexual harassment levelled by a former additional district and sessions judge of Gwalior against Justice S K Gangele of the Madhya Pradesh High Court, has said that there was “insufficient” material to establish the charge of sexual harassment.
It has said that the case of the “complainant herself in regard to the three alleged incidents (of sexual harassment) is riddled with inconsistencies and contradictions”.
In its report dated July 2, the committee has also said that the High Court judge was “ambivalent and evasive about facts which are within his knowledge”. It has questioned the propriety of the judge holding a public event to celebrate his 25th marriage anniversary on December 11, 2013, which was attended by many government officers.
“The event on 11 December 2013 was a public event — perhaps unabashedly so, with sitting judges of the High Court, commissioners, collectors, senior police officials, judges both from the district judiciary and the High Court and officials from the registry in attendance. Whether such a public event to mark a wedding anniversary would at all fit in with the norms of propriety and dignity which a High Court judge is expected to follow is not a matter on which this committee needs to hazard an answer,” the committee report stated.
“Such events are best observed in a closely-knit group of family and friends. The High Court exercises power of judicial review over the acts and conduct of police officials, the district administration and the executive. A public association of a judge of the High Court at such a personal social event is liable to give rise to misgivings when the conduct of the officials is under scrutiny before the court,” it stated.
The three members of the in-house committee are Allahabad High Court Chief Justice Dhananjaya Chandrachud, Delhi High Court Chief Justice G Rohini and Rajasthan High Court judge Ajay Rastogi.
Sources in the Supreme Court told The Sunday Express that Chief Justice of India H L Dattu has “accepted” the report of the Justice Chandrachud committee.
A separate three-member panel, set up by Vice-President and Rajya Sabha Chairperson Hamid Ansari after 58 MPs submitted a petition seeking impeachment of the same judge, is also probing the allegations.
In her complaint, the lady judge, who resigned last year saying she had to do so to protect her “dignity, womanhood and self-esteem”, had accused Justice Gangele of sending her a message through the district court registrar to “perform dance on an item song” at a function at his residence. She said she avoided the function, but the next day, Justice Gangele allegedly told her that “he missed the opportunity of viewing a sexy and beautiful figure dancing on the floor”.
She had also claimed that three other judges abetted the alleged harassment by interfering with her day-to-day sitting in court.
In her eight-page complaint, she had alleged that her harassment increased after two judges were transferred to Gwalior district court in April 2014, and Gangele used them to torment her. The third judge in question was a district registrar.
While another sitting judge of the Madhya Pradesh High Court, Justice P K Jaiswal, to whom the lady judge had complained about the harassment, told the Justice Chandrachud committee that he brought the same to the notice of Justice Gangele, the latter claimed that nothing of this sort ever happened.
“We are not inclined to accept the rather bald statement of Justice A in his affidavit that he was never informed by Justice P K Jaiswal of the grievances which the complainant had in regard to the harassment which was being meted out to her… We are inclined to accept what has been stated before the committee by Justice P K Jaiswal who has emphatically stated that he had, indeed, apprised Justice A of the grievances of the complainant. Justice A’s denials of conversations or of the content of the conversations with Justice P K Jaiswal are vague and evasive. They do not inspire confidence,” the committee stated in its report.
“The version of Justice A that on 30 may 2014, the complainant did not inform him about any grievance in regard to the district judge and that she had only informed him about her problem relating to her peon, in paragraph 23 of his affidavit before the committee is palpably untrue.”
“… In his pleadings before the Supreme Court as well as before this committee, Justice A has completely glossed over the basic grievance of the complainant in regard to the harassment which was being meted out to her specifically by the district registrar. Justice A’s statement that he was apprised by the complainant on 30 May 2014 only in respect of her problem relating to the peon is belied by his own assertion in the letter dated 4 August 2014 to the Chief Justice of Madhya Pradesh High Court that the complainant had apprised him of her grievance in regard to the behaviour of the district registrar; that Justice A had called up the district judge and had enquired into the matter,” the committee stated in its report.
“Why a sitting judge of the High Court should prevaricate on this issue is a matter of serious concern. Evidently, no explanation has been forthcoming from Justice A. The manner in which he has dealt with the interaction which Justice P K Jaiswal had with him does not inspire confidence. As a sitting judge of the High Court whose conduct is being subjected to a deeper probe of charges of sexual harassment, Justice A ought to have made a clean breast of the situation. He has evidently not been forthcoming in his disclosure. There are things of which he is aware which he has not disclosed,” the report stated.
“An adverse inference must therefore be drawn that Justice A, who was duly apprised of the harassment which a probationary judicial officer was facing at the hands of the District Registrar, chose to adopt an ambivalent position and while making a specific deposition on oath before the Committee, has not placed a full and truthful version of facts,” the report stated.
Observing that the complainant too had not come forth before the committee with a completely honest disclosure in regard to the three incidents mentioned by her, the panel has concluded that there was “insufficient” material to establish the charge of sexual harassment.