In his letter written on May 2 to the three-judge inquiry panel headed by Justice S A Bobde looking into allegations of sexual harassment against Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi, Justice D Y Chandrachud has demanded a full court to consider the issues raised by him.
The Indian Express had first reported on Justice Chandrachud’s letter. As on Sunday evening, there has been no intimation to the judges of a full-court being held to discuss these issues. Sources confirmed to The Indian Express that Justice Chandrachud had met Justice Bobde on May 2 to discuss the contents of his letter.
The letter also argues for the inclusion of an external member to broadbase the committee and suggests names of three retired women Supreme Court judges to choose from. They are retired Justices Ruma Pal, Sujata Manohar and Ranjana Desai who are all “apolitical and above board,” Justice Chandrachud argued.
On Sunday, The Indian Express had first reported that Justice Chandrachud had written a letter asking the probe panel, comprising Justices Bobde, Indu Malhotra and Indira Banerjee, to not proceed with the probe ‘ex parte’ in the absence of the women complainant who had withdrawn from the proceedings on April 30.
Sources said that Justice Chandrachud’s letter was “not an individual’s view” but conveyed the sense of disquiet among judges of the apex court, as it was written after informal consultations with more than 17 judges. The court currently has 22 judges, excluding the CJI, the three judges in the probe panel and Justice N V Ramana who was originally part of the panel but had recused after a written objection by the woman complainant.
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Sources said that in his letter, Justice Chandrachud had raised fundamental questions about the probe which were very important for “the reputation of the Supreme Court”. The letter asks the probe panel to consider the fact that people “repose trust in us” as we are “fair-minded” and “even-handed”.
The letter asks the panel to remedy all the grievances which led the woman complainant to withdraw from the probe on April 30.
In a press statement, the complainant had given the reasons for her withdrawal: she wasn’t allowed to have her lawyer present; no video or audio recording of the Committee proceedings; not being given a copy of her statement; not being informed about the procedure.
“I was compelled to walk out of the committee proceedings today because the committee seemed not to appreciate the fact that this was not an ordinary complaint but was a complaint of sexual harassment against a sitting CJI and therefore it was required to adopt procedure that would ensure fairness and equality in the highly unequal circumstances that I am placed,” the complainant had said.
Calling the denial of lawyer to the woman complainant a “serious denial of fair process”, Justice Chandrachud’s letter argues that 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.
The letter also takes objection to the argument that the in-house probe is being conducted under the Memorandum of Procedure (MoP) which does allow the provision of a lawyer. Such a provision can always be made in any case by the probe panel, for entitlement of a lawyer can ensure fairness of the process.
It also asks for clarity on the ambiguous nature of the in-house probe, as to if it was established under the MoP as an enquiry against the CJI finds no mention in the MoP. The letter also states that a copy of the complainant’s statement cannot be denied to her by the probe panel.
While expressing confidence in the objectivity of the three judges in the probe panel, the letter asks for an amicus curiae. It suggests a senior woman advocate from the bar could guide the committee in the case.