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Wednesday, December 01, 2021

Partial redemption

SC decision to reinstate employee who charged ex-CJI with misconduct is welcome. Now set up institutional mechanisms.

By: Editorial |
Updated: January 23, 2020 8:12:38 am
Three capitals in Andhra Pradesh A three-member panel comprising Justices SA Bobde, Indira Banerjee and Indu Malhotra was set up to probe the charges against CJI Gogoi.

The Supreme Court has done well to reinstate in service the woman staffer who had, in April last year, raised allegations of sexual misconduct against the then Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi. The complainant, a junior assistant, had also claimed that she was victimised after making the accusations — her services were terminated and her husband and brother-in-law suspended from the Delhi Police. The suspension orders of the court staffer’s relatives were revoked in June last year. And on Wednesday, this paper reported that the SC has cleared the employee’s arrears and she has proceeded on leave, after joining duty. All these may signal an end to some of the complainant’s travails. The question, however, remains: Has the court done enough to bring satisfactory closure to the case that raised crucial issues of institutional propriety?

A three-member panel comprising Justices SA Bobde, Indira Banerjee and Indu Malhotra was set up to probe the charges against CJI Gogoi. Given that a junior official of the court was ranged against the institution’s highest functionary, the panel’s first task should have been to institute procedures to mitigate this power asymmetry. But the panel seemed insensitive to this calling. It wound up the investigation in four days, three of which were spent in questioning the complainant. On the fourth day, the complainant withdrew from the probe, accusing the committee of not informing her about its procedures, denying her legal help and not providing her with a copy of her depositions before it.

The SC does have a Gender Sensitisation and Internal Complaints Committee. But its mandate does not extend to “any female who is governed by the Supreme Court’s service regulations”. Women employees of the court can ask the CJI to invoke the “In-House Procedure” to address sexual harassment complaints. But this procedure, formulated in 1999 is, at best, a self-regulatory method to pull up sitting judges for “bad behaviour”. Moreover, it’s an arbitrary method which allows the panel to devise its own processes — that is what seems to have happened in CJI Gogoi’s case. After the complainant withdrew from the probe, the panel proceeded ex parte and did not reveal its report that exonerated Gogoi. In doing so, the panel not only went against the jurisprudence on gender justice encapsulated in several of the SC’s own verdicts, it also flouted the principles of natural justice. The Court’s decision to reinstate the complainant is a partial redemption. The Supreme Court remains poorer for the lack of an institutional mechanism to address any complaints of sexual misconduct against its highest functionaries.

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