Supreme Court judge NV Ramana has recused himself from an in-house inquiry panel set up to look into the allegations of sexual harassment against Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi, Bar and Bench reported on Thursday. The former court employee who has accused Gogoi had on Wednesday claimed that Ramana was close to Gogoi.
Unidentified officials told The Times of India that Ramana made the decision as he feels strongly that baseless allegations are being made to prejudice the inquiry and its outcome. The panel will now be reconstituted.
The three-member committee constituted to investigate the allegations is headed by Justice SA Bobde, and also has Justice Indira Banerjee in it. Bobde is the most senior judge in the Supreme Court after the chief justice.
Bobde had earlier told PTI that he had decided to have Ramana in the panel as he is next to him in seniority.
On Wednesday, the woman who complained of sexual harassment by Gogoi wrote to the inquiry committee expressing concerns over its composition. This was in response to a notice she was reportedly sent, asking her to be present before the committee on Friday, according to The Wire.
In her reply addressed to the three judges, the complainant said she was not aware of the composition of the inquiry panel before reading news reports about the same. Citing the Vishakha guidelines and the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013, the complainant said the Supreme Court’s inquiry committee does not have a majority of women members and an external member as mandated by law, reported Live Law.
The former court employee also objected to Justice NV Ramana being included in the inquiry committee. She alleged that Ramana was a frequent visitor at Gogoi’s house and was a “close friend of the CJI and is like a family member to him”.
She said that on April 20, the day her affidavit was sent to the Supreme Court judges, Ramana had dismissed her allegation while speaking in Hyderabad. “We have seen such attempts in the past and we will see some more in the future…” he had said, according to The Times of India. “Do not be wary of such criticisms as we have to uphold the dignity of the judiciary.”
Meanwhile, on Thursday, a separate three-judge bench continued hearing a lawyer’s claims that Gogoi has been framed, and decided to set up a committee headed by former judge AK Patnaik to investigate the allegation. The bench made it clear that the committee’s inquiry will not interfere in the investigation by the panel headed by Bobde that will look into the harassment allegations.
Charges against Gogoi
The complainant, who used to work as a junior court assistant at the top court, wrote to 22 of its judges on April 19, alleging that Gogoi had made sexual advances on her at his residence office on October 10 and 11. In the affidavit, the woman said that after she rebuffed the chief justice, she was moved out of his residence office, where she had been posted in August. Two months later, on December 21, she was dismissed from service. One of the three grounds for dismissal, as detailed in an inquiry report, was that she had taken casual leave for one day without approval. She has alleged that her family is being persecuted after the incident.
Gogoi denied the allegations during a special hearing on April 20. The chief justice said he did not “deem it appropriate” to reply to the allegations and that they were part of a “bigger plot”, possibly one to “deactivate the office of the CJI”. Gogoi said the woman has a criminal background, with two cases against her.