The inquiry against the woman who complained that Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi sexually harassed her and which led to her firing was riddled with irregularities and violates the principles of natural justice, said the officer who
requested that he be allowed to defend her.
Speaking to The Indian Express on Tuesday, Laxman Singh Negi, a senior assistant with the Rajya Sabha Secretariat, said that his request was ignored and the woman, a 35-year old junior court assistant, was not “given an opportunity” to defend herself.
That’s not all. A key Supreme Court official who the woman allegedly approached — and this was part of the case against her — wasn’t even questioned in the matter. And on the day she was meant to present her evidence, she fell ill, was rushed to hospital but the inquiry went ahead and the adverse report was finalised within next 24 hours.
In her complaint detailing allegations of sexual harassment against CJI Gogoi, the woman cited two grounds mentioned by the inquiry officer (IO) that led to her dismissal: One, her approaching an SC official to get her seating changed in the office; and, two, being absent from duty for a day because she had to attend an exhibition in her daughter’s school.
The woman’s services were terminated on December 21, 2018.
The alleged sexual harassment by CJI Gogoi happened in his office on October 10 and 11, 2018, the complaint said.
In her affidavit, the woman has annexed a letter Negi wrote seeking permission to represent her as the defence assistant during the inquiry.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Negi said: “Her (the woman’s) husband is a college friend and I volunteered to defend her during the inquiry. At that time, I was unaware of any sexual harassment complaint. I gave my request through the complainant. And in such departmental inquiries, a government official, a lawyer, or a retired official can be a defence assistant. Unfortunately, the inquiry officer did not choose my candidature.”
The woman was told, Negi said, that she had to choose someone from the Supreme Court Registry to defend her.
“The first thing an inquiry officer asks a charged officer is whether she wants someone to represent her. The officer could have written to my parent organisation. And my organisation, checking availability, could have allowed me to represent her. In my opinion, they did not follow the principles of natural justice by giving her an opportunity to choose an officer to defend herself, “ Negi said.
Negi said he did not receive any formal communication from the inquiry officer rejecting his request to represent the woman.
Negi has raised doubts as to why the Supreme Court official, who the victim allegedly contacted to change her seat, was never examined during the proceedings.
The second charge for which she faced action was that she approached B A Rao, President of Supreme Court Employees Welfare Association, to get her a seating change in the office. However, Rao was never called as a witness. “He was also not cross-examined in the case. The allegation is that Rao made a call to influence her seating. But he was never questioned. How did they prove that charge,” Negi said.
Asked why the woman did not name Rao as a defence witness, Negi said: “The defence assistant is provided for this exact reason. Not everyone will have knowledge of procedures involved in departmental inquiry like listing witnesses in her defence. If there was a defence witness, we could have done a detailed cross examination of the other witnesses.”
Negi alleged that the woman did not know what was being recorded during the proceedings. “Whatever happened during the daily course of hearing is usually recorded. These are like daily orders. And, ordinarily, the inquiry officer and charged officers have to put their signatures. But no such document was given to her. Everything was done hush hush,” he alleged.
He red-flagged the pace of inquiry. “On December 17, when the ex-parte inquiry took place, she was present in the Supreme Court in the morning and had reported for the inquiry. But she fainted and SC officials themselves took her to RML hospital. The irony is that the inquiry officer, conducted proceedings ex parte. And on the same day, the inquiry report is finalised and sent to the vigilance. The same day, even the vigilance, applies itself, sends its report to the disciplinary authority. And in the evening itself, a memo is passed. In the government sector, it is very unusual that multiple authorities finalise the report in a single day. This is unheard of,” he alleged.
The office of Secretary General, Supreme Court, was not available for comment.
* Woman not allowed to choose her defence
* Key official named in charge not questioned
* Probe proceeds in her absence when she is ill
* Adverse report finalised within 24 hours