Everything wrong with CJI Ranjan Gogoi sexual harassment case
The Supreme Court of India has become the center of controversy ever since a former employee of the apex court leveled allegations of sexual harassment against the Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi. Several senior judges have defended the CJI and with the claims of a conspiracy involving Dawood Ibrahim and Jet Airways, the case gets even murkier and digresses from the original narrative.
Complainant claims she was sexually harassed, fired and intimidated
According to her complaint, the woman worked in the CJI's office as a junior court assistant from October 2016 to October 2018. She claimed the CJI sexually harassed her and later initiated a disciplinary inquiry against her. She was dismissed from service on December 21. In March, she was booked under a "false" bribery case. Her family was also allegedly intimidated and victimized.
When the CJI had presided over his own case
On April 19, the complainant sent an affidavit to 22 SC judges claiming that the CJI had sexually harassed her and later used intimidation to silence her. After three news outlets broke the story, the CJI hastily convened a special bench - comprising himself, Justice Arun Mishra and Justice Sanjiv Khanna - without listing a cause, matter, or a petition.
Justice Gogoi misused CJI status to dismiss allegations
After the Secretary-General of the Supreme Court, Sanjeev S. Kalgaonkar, had already dismissed the allegations as "completely and absolutely false," CJI Gogoi spoke from the Bench in an official capacity, presiding over his own case, and labeled it an attempt to "deactivate the CJI." Instead of speaking as the CJI, Justice Gogoi could have approached the press, as he had done in the past.
Allegations against CJI seen as an attack on judiciary
Several senior Justices, the Bar Council of India, the Supreme Court Employees Welfare Association, and the Finance Minister Arun Jaitley condemned the allegations against the CJI as an attack on the judiciary without any investigation whatsoever. Four days after the allegations were made, the CJI appointed Justice SA Bobde to head a three-member in-house committee to investigate the claims of sexual harassment.
My character damaged without hearing me: Complainant
The complainant was left "frightened and helpless" after the special sitting held in suo moto proceedings, worried that she'd been "declared false by the Hon'ble Judges and senior law officers." She said, "My character was damaged without any reason and without hearing me."
In-house panel not in keeping with Vishakha guidelines, POSH Act
The in-house panel initially comprised Justices Bobde, NV Ramana and Indira Banerjee. Citing Vishakha guidelines and POSH Act, the complainant requested majority women members on the panel and an external member. Meanwhile, Justice Ramana recused himself from the panel but not before further trashing the complainant's claims before she even recorded a statement. He was replaced by Justice Indu Malhotra on April 25.
Complainant not allowed legal representation, statement recordings
The complainant had also reasonably requested for legal representation. She had also demanded a committee of senior retired judges to conduct the inquiry since one conducted by CJI's peers risks lack of objectivity. Both requests were denied. There was no external member on the committee, as mandated by law. Additionally, the request for a video/audio recording of her statements was also denied.
No pre-established in-house procedure for CJI as respondent
Advocate S. Devika explains that when the Supreme Court adopted the in-house procedure in December 1999 to take remedial action against judges, three sets of procedures were laid out: for judges of the high court, for chief justices of high courts, and for Supreme Court judges. Writing for The Wire, Devika states that no procedure was established when the CJI is the respondent.
Complainant backed-out of proceedings as justice 'unlikely'
After participating in the proceedings for three days, the complainant backed-out as she felt she wasn't "likely to get justice." "The committee seemed not to appreciate the fact that this was not an ordinary complaint but a complaint of sexual harassment against a sitting CJI," she stated. She also wasn't allowed an assistant for her hearing disability and found the "informal proceedings" intimidating.
Advocate Utsav Bains alleges larger conspiracy to remove CJI
Separately, on April 20, advocate Utsav Bains alleged a larger conspiracy involving underworld don Dawood Ibrahim and Jet Airways founder Naresh Goyal. Bains was allegedly offered Rs. 1.5cr to file a "false case of sexual harassment" against the CJI. Retired SC Justice AK Patnaik heads an inquiry into the alleged conspiracy, which has currently been stalled to avoid clashes with Bobde inquiry.
Indian judiciary is in peril, alright
The way this case has transpired, it's become evident that the complainant was prejudged, ironically so by Supreme Court judges, who have failed to look at the case objectively. Meanwhile, CJI Gogoi continues to preside over India's highest court giving him access to manipulate the very inquiry against him. In a way, whoever said the judiciary is in peril, was right.