NEW DELHI : An investigation of sexual harassment charges levelled by an intern against Justice Swatanter Kumar, now the National Green Tribunal chief, will be on hold for now, till the top court figures out a mechanism to deal with such complaints against judicial officers, whether sitting or retired.
At the outset, the court questioned the intern’s delay in filing the complaint. The alleged instances of harassment date back to May, 2011. Chief Justice P Sathasivam sought to know the reasons for the delay in filing the complaint in view of the fact that the “intern was a law graduate and reported the incidents to her parents and teachers the same day”. ”What is the explanation for the delay,” he asked the intern’s lawyer Harish N Salve. Responding, Salve pointed out that there was no “institutional mechanism” to deal with such complaints.
The CJI then raised a practical problem in dealing with belated complaints. “Our grievance is why she waited to file her complaint. There are so many retired judges. If you complain after 20 years can we call a judge at 80, 85 (years) and question him?”
Salve, however, defended the delay on the ground that there was no mechanism under which she could have complained. There could be a period within which a person could complain or forever hold her silence, he said
In the interest of the institution, Salve said, it would have to be a system based on “secrecy” which would make any breach of such secrecy “actionable”. The CJI, sitting alongside Justices Ranjan Gogoi and Shiva Kirti Singh, agreed to examine these issues and issued notices to Justice Kumar, the Centre and the Attorney General. He also appointed senior members of the bar, senior advocates Fali S Nariman and PP Rao, to help the court come up with a mechanism that would cover all judicial officers, whether holding such office or retired.
The court gave all parties to submit their formal views to the court on this aspect within four weeks. The case will now come up for further hearing on Feb 17, 2014.
The intern had alleged that Justice Kumar had harassed her prompting her to leave her internship within days. However, her complaint was rejected by the Chief Justice, citing a full court decision (all judges sting together) in the Justice A.K. Ganguly case not to deal with more complaints against retired judges.
But the renewed furore caused by the second intern’s allegations and her decision to challenge the Dec 5, 2013, full court decision, forced he court order, however, made it clear that it was not going into the merits of her complaint against Justice Swatanter Kumar, effectively giving him a breather of sorts till a complaint redressal mechanism was in place while deflecting any criticism of inaction on this front.
The NGT chief would also have an additional safeguard — his complaint might be heard in-camera, with no fear of any leaks, unless of course, the intern was unhappy with the action and decided to further challenge its findings.