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Published On: Tue, May 7th, 2019

Activists, lawyers protesting against CJI Ranjan Gogoi

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119116-sobftibgcq-1557218775 (1)NEW DELHI :Over 50 lawyers, journalists, activists and students gathered outside the Supreme Court in New Delhi this morning to protest against the investigation of an inquiry panel that found “no substance” in the allegations of sexual harassment against Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi. But soon after, 55 protestors – 52 women, three men – were taken into police buses and detained at Mandir Marg police station.
The protest came in the wake of a sudden clean chit to Gogoi on May 6, following an investigation into sexual harassment allegations against him. On April 19, a 35-year-old complainant, who worked as a junior court assistant, alleged in an affidavit that Gogoi made sexual advances to her in October 2018.
An in-house inquiry committee was formed to look into the allegations. However, on April 30, the complainant decided to withdraw from the inquiry but the committee decided to carry it forward in her absence. Gogoi appeared before the panel on May 1.

The woman who had accused Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi of sexual harassment, today demanded a copy of the report of the Supreme Court’s in-house committee that cleared him of the charges.
The committee, which continued its proceedings even after the complainant withdrew from the case last week, had not given her a copy of their findings. The report has not been made public either.  Denying her a copy of the report, the woman said, “was a travesty of justice”.
The committee’s decision triggered protests outside the Supreme Court today. Women lawyers and members of non-profit groups who held the protest, alleged a lack of transparency in the matter.

Meanwhile, a note from the court’s Secretary General yesterday said the Committee has “found no substance in the allegations”. It had also cited a precedent – concerning lawyer Indira Jaising – and said “it has been held that the Report of a Committee constituted as a part of the In-House Procedure is not liable to be made public”.

A copy of the report was sent to the “next senior Judge competent to receive the Report” and the Chief Justice of India, it said. The woman, who expressed her disappointment with the panel’s decision, today said in-house proceeding rules were being “used to deny me and the public a right to the report”. She said under the current laws on sexual harassment at workplace, she was entitled to a copy of the report.
“Not providing a copy to the complainant while holding her complaint to be unfounded would be a violation of the principles of natural justice and a complete travesty of justice,” her statement today read.
She also said she was “shocked” that the “Committee has come to an adverse finding against me despite the fact that I was compelled to withdraw from the Committee since the committee did not observe even the most basic principles of natural justice”.
“From the beginning I have been treated as an outsider, I have not been informed of the procedure, I have not been informed of my basic rights and obligations with regard to the inquiry proceedings,” said the complainant, who withdrew from the inquiry after three hearings.
She had cited her concerns at the time, pointing out that under the panel’s rules, she was not allowed to have a lawyer during the in camera proceedings or discussed the proceedings with her, or be given a copy of her statement.
Soon after the allegation surfaced last month in a news report, Chief Justice Gogoi, at a special hearing of the top court, denied the woman’s claims and said he was being targeted as he was to hear several important cases.
Even when it was first announced, an internal Supreme Court committee examining the sexual harassment charges against Chief Justice of India (CJI) Ranjan Gogoi was always a bad idea since, at the end of the day, the judges reported to the CJI.

At the very least, the committee needed to have external members and its inquiry had to be conducted with certain rules designed to give the complainant as much of a chance to make her case; more so since, the CJI’s first reaction was to dismiss the charge as part of a larger conspiracy against him and a retired judge was asked to probe this with the help of the Delhi Police, the CBI and the IB implying that, even before the committee reached a view, the Supreme Court already had.
As it happened, the complainant walked out of the Supreme Court inquiry while saying she was not getting a fair shot; she was, for instance, not allowed to have her lawyer with her, she wasn’t even given a written copy of her statement to the committee, and there was no audio/video recording of the proceedings which is critical to ensure that all witnesses were interviewed and that their statements were taken into account by the committee.
As it happened, when the complainant walked out, the decision was ex parte, much like the one when a Supreme Court disciplinary committee dismissed her from her job after the alleged incident first came to light. Even under normal circumstances, the in-house inquiry was problematic, but what complicated things further were the other charges made.
The complainant had alleged, for instance, that she was transferred thrice in a matter of weeks after the incident, a Supreme Court disciplinary enquiry was initiated against her after this, her husband and brother-in-law were suspended from the Delhi police and she was even arrested based on a complaint that she had been paid Rs 50,000 to help someone get a job in the Supreme Court.

Given the committee report has not been made public or even given to the complainant, it is not clear if all the charges were probed; was the police, for instance, asked to explain how the suspensions took place after the complainant’s fallout with the CJI, or why the alleged bribe-giver was not also being prosecuted.
With the in-house committee giving the CJI a clean chit, judges have become even more powerful than ever before, and the institution even more opaque.
In this instance, CJI Gogoi presided over a 3-judge bench that discussed the sexual harassment charge against him; ironically, when the four judges went public against then CJI Misra, one of the charges they had made was that he was presiding over benches dealing with cases that concerned him.
While CJI Gogoi presided over the three-judge bench that passed an order suggesting that the media refrain from publishing the detailed affidavit of the complainant, the order was, interestingly, given in the name of the two other judges.(With Agency Inputs ).

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