The Supreme Court has instituted an in-house inquiry committee of three sitting judges to look into the allegations of sexual harassment made against Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi by a former employee of the court who also worked in his home office.
Justices S A Bobde, N V Ramana and Indira Banerjee will be on the committee that was approved by a full court on the administrative side. This inquiry will be in the nature of a departmental inquiry and not a judicial inquiry. It will start on Friday afternoon.
“The CJI wanted an inquiry. I was asked to do it. I then asked Justice Ramana and Justice Indira Banerjee to be on the inquiry with me. This has been approved by the full Court when we put it to them,” Justice Bobde told The Indian Express.
Justice Bobde is the most senior judge in the apex court after CJI Gogoi who is slated to succeed him in November. Justice Ramana is the second senior after Justice Bobde and shall follow him as CJI. Justice Banerjee is one of the three women judges in the Supreme Court.
“It is an in-house inquiry, the notice has been sent to the complainant and will go out to the Secretary-General of the Supreme Court too whom we want to be present. It will start on Friday afternoon,” added Justice Bobde.
The Indian Express had reported yesterday that CJI Gogoi had asked Justice Bobde to decide on the next steps.
The allegations by the woman date to October last year. She alleged that after she resisted his “sexual advances,” she was fired and her husband and brother-in-law, both posted with the Delhi Police as head constables, were subsequently suspended.
The in-house committee came through a decision of the full court as the Supreme Court rules for “in-house procedure” have no explicit provisions for any inquiry into allegations made against the CJI. Instead of dealing with the matter on the judicial side, the court decided to deal with the allegations on the administrative side.
As reported by The Indian Express, there has a been a sense of disquiet among judges of the Supreme Court since Friday when allegations of sexual harassment were made against the CJI by a former employee. A cross-section of judges contacted by The Indian Express were worried that there was a danger of such charges — false and malafide — being levelled against anyone. But they were equally conscious of the reputational challenge posed to the institution by the serious nature of allegations which needed to be tackled.
Earlier on Tuesday, the Supreme Court issued notice to a lawyer who approached it claiming that there was a “conspiracy to make the Chief Justice of India resign by framing him in a false case of sexual harassment.” Bains claimed that he was offered money to take up the case of the former woman employee and to organise a press conference to make the matter public.
A bench of Justices Arun Mishra, R F Nariman and Deepak Gupta which took up the affidavit filed by advocate Utsav Bains asked him to appear before it in person and “to produce…material” to back some of his claims.
The bench, which assembled at 10.30 am, noticed that Bains was not present in court and went on to dictate the order.
“Issue notice for personal presence of Utsav Singh Bains,Advocate. We also direct him to produce in this Court the material in support of the averments made in Paragraph Nos. 17 and 20 of the affidavit.”
Noting that the advocate “has expressed apprehension of threat to his safety”, the court directed “the Commissioner of Police, Delhi, to provide adequate police protection and also to ensure his presence in Court tomorrow” when it will consider the matter again.
On April 20, Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi had convened an “extraordinary” sitting of the court following reports about sexual harassment allegations levelled by a former woman staffer against him. He had then termed the charges as “unbelievable” and an attempt by a “bigger force to undermine the independence of the judiciary and deactivate the office of the CJI”.