Justice Indira Banerjee, who was part of the inquiry committee that looked into allegations of sexual harassment against former Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi, said that the panel’s report should have been made public, Bar and Bench reported on Wednesday.
“It would have cleared the air for him [Gogoi] and us,” she said in an interview to the website, days after her retirement on September 23.
A three-member committee of Banerjee and Justices SA Bobde and Indu Malhotra looked into allegations made by a woman who worked as a junior assistant at the Supreme Court. In April 2019, she had written to 22 Supreme Court judges, alleging that Gogoi had made sexual advances on her at his residence office in October 2018.
On May 6, 2019, the Supreme Court’s secretary general had said the inquiry panel had found “no substance” in her claims. The court had said that the contents of the report were not liable to be made public according to a 2003 judgement.
In the interview to Bar and Bench, Justice Banerjee said that the committee did not look into whether harassment took place or not, but whether Gogoi committed an act for which he could be removed from the post of chief justice.
She added that it was necessary to understand what harassment was.
“If somebody makes an advance with consent, can I say it is harassment?” Banerjee told Bar and Bench. “One needs to see what she said in her complaint very carefully since it is the judiciary involved.”
The judge added however, that she was not trying to suggest “that anything happened with consent”.
The retired judge also said that following the allegations, Gogoi should not have headed a Supreme Court bench that heard the case suo motu. “The sitting on Saturday headed by then CJI Gogoi should have been avoided,” she told Bar and Bench. “It was a big no.”
Gogoi had heard the case on April 20, 2019, a day after the woman made the allegations in a letter to 22 Supreme Court judges. On December 8, 2021, the former chief justice himself that in hindsight, he should not have been on the bench.
“But what do you do if your hard-earned reputation of over 45 years is sought to be destroyed overnight?” he had asked in an interview to India Today. “Are you expected to act with rationality? Is the CJI not human?”
In response to a separate question asked by Bar and Bench, Justice Banerjee said that Gogoi was stern with staff members, due to which he “got into trouble that we all know of”.
The judge also said that there was no need to respond to the media on the allegations of sexual harassment.
“If there was a little more consultation with other judges, which was absolutely lacking, I would have said it was not needed to respond to the press at all,” she said, according to Bar and Bench.
In the past, at least two former Supreme Court judges have questioned the process that was followed in dealing with the woman’s allegations. In May 2019, former Supreme Court Justice Jasti Chelameswar had said that the Supreme Court did not follow due process while hearing the charges, The Print reported.
“No one is above the law, at least not in my opinion, and hence I don’t see why the procedure for this case should be any different from the law of the land,” Chelameswar had said. “I wouldn’t want to comment on individuals at this stage since we don’t know whether the allegations are true or false.”
On May 22, 2019, former Supreme Court judge Madan S Lokur had also written in an article in The Indian Express that the complainant had not been treated fairly. He hinted at “institutional bias” in the manner the Supreme Court initially dealt with the allegations.
Gogoi had denied the allegations during the special hearing he called on April 20, 2019. The ex-chief justice had said he did not “deem it appropriate” to reply to the allegations but claimed they were part of a “bigger plot”, possibly one to “deactivate the office of the CJI”.