Supreme Court Justice Indu Malhotra will replace Justice NV Ramana on the inquiry panel looking into the sexual harassment allegation against Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi, Live Law reported on Thursday. Ramana had earlier in the day recused himself from the panel.
The former court employee who has accused Gogoi had on Wednesday claimed that Ramana was close to Gogoi. Unidentified Supreme Court officials said that Ramana made the decision to recuse himself, as he feels strongly that baseless allegations are being made to prejudice the inquiry and its outcome.
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.
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.
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.
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”.
The 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.