The Ministry of Environment and Forest (MoEF) has informed the Supreme Court that no inquiry can be initiated or any other action taken by them in a case of sexual harassment charges against National Green Tribunal (NGT) chairperson Justice Swatanter Kumar since the alleged misdemeanour took place during his stint as an apex court judge. The charges have been levelled by a woman lawyer.
The ministry said although there was a procedure prescribed to remove chairperson or any other member in the NGT Act, in the instant case, “the alleged misconduct of the present chairperson does not pertain to nor is any way relatable to the period during which he has been holding the office of chairperson of the NGT”.
Responding to a petition filed by the woman lawyer in the Supreme Court, the ministry relied upon the precedent set in case of charges levelled against National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) chairman Justice K G Balakrishnan.
Common Cause, an NGO, had filed a petition seeking action against former CJI Balakrishnan and his relatives for allegedly amassing wealth far exceeding their legal income during his tenure as an apex court judge.
In its affidavit, the MoEF relied upon the Law Ministry’s stand in case of Justice Balakrishnan wherein the government had declined to make a Presidential reference to the SC for conducting an inquiry against him for alleged misconduct since all the alleged misdemeanours pertained to his tenure as the CJI.
The MoEF has said, “Opinion was tendered to the Law Ministry that the office of chairperson, NHRC, cannot in any manner be relatable to the office which he was discharging in the Supreme Court as the CJI and, therefore, no reference was maintainable and the said opinion was accepted by the government and accordingly the said view was also accepted by the ministry. Accordingly, this ministry (MoEF) was also advised to follow the said opinion.”
The ministry also sought deletion of its name as a party in the case, contending they had no role in the matter in view of their stand.
Kumar had in February described the allegations by the lawyer, who was interning with him in 2011, as a “result of planned conspiracy while also assuring the apex court, through an affidavit, of rendering all help in establishing a “permanent mechanism to enquire” into such complaints against judges.
He had termed the allegations as “not only malicious but intended to malign his image” and brought out as “the result of planned conspiracy” against him.