Senior advocates Indira Jaising and Anand Grover on Wednesday alleged that they were being victimised and penalised for speaking up against the procedure followed by the Supreme Court’s in-house committee that cleared Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi of sexual harassment charges on May 6.
The statement came hours after the court issued a notice to the advocates’ non-governmental organisation Lawyers Collective in connection with an alleged Foreign Contribution Regulation Act violation. The court issued the notice on the basis of a petition filed by an organisation called the Lawyers Voice, which has sought criminal prosecution against Jaising and Grover. The court then issued notices to the Ministry of Home Affairs, the Lawyers Collective and the two senior advocates, according to Mirror Now.
In a press statement, Jaising and Grover said the case was listed before Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi’s bench in contravention of the top court’s circulars regarding the listing of cases. The petition was filed on May 6. The following day, a few defects and objections in the petition were rectified, and the case went to court on May 8, the lawyers said.
But, this was in contravention of the top court’s order, Jaising and Grover added. They cited the latest circular of the Supreme Court on the issue of listing, dated May 7, 2019, which says: “In continuation of this Registry’s circular No. 14/Judl/2019 dated April 29, 2019 regarding listing of fresh matters verified upto 06.05.2019 [Monday] before ensuing summer vacation, it is further brought to the notice of all the Members of the bar and the parties appearing in-person that the Competent Authority has directed that some of the fresh matters verified on 07.05.2019 [Tuesday] will also be listed in the final cause list for 10.05.2019 [Friday], in chronological order of their verification.”
The lawyers said that the court had passed an interim order, saying the pendency of the petition would not stop government agencies from proceeding in the case even “though the petitioner’s advocate did not orally seek any interim orders”.
“It is obvious to us that this is victimisation on account of Ms Jaising taking up the issue of the procedure adopted in relation to the allegations of sexual harassment against the chief justice of India by a former employee of the Supreme Court, which Ms Jaising has done so in her capacity as a concerned citizen, a senior member of the Bar and a women’s rights advocate, without commenting on the merits of the allegations,” Jaising and Grover added in their statement.
The senior advocates said that since Jaising has “been publicly vocal on the issue of due process of law in relation to the conduct of the in-house inquiry”, the chief justice should have recused himself from hearing the petition against Lawyers Collective.
The Ministry of Home Affairs had cancelled the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act registration of Lawyers Collective in November 2016, stopping the organisation from accepting funding from abroad. Six months earlier, the NGO’s foreign funding licence had been suspended. The ministry had said there were discrepancies in the foreign funding section of the returns filed by the collective, and accused Jaising of violating the FCRA by receiving foreign funding while serving as the additional solicitor general under the United Progressive Alliance government.
“We wish to state that LC [Lawyers Collective] has no foreign funding since 2016, when its FCRA registration was suspended and subsequently cancelled by the Ministry of Home Affairs on false and illegal grounds,” Jaising and Grover said in their statement. “LC has taken up appropriate legal proceedings against the cancellation in accordance with law. In any event, we strongly dispute any allegation of mis-utilisation of any funds.”
The harassment complaint against CJI
A three-member inquiry committee rejected the sexual harassment complaint against Gogoi on Monday. According to the court’s secretary general, the panel found “no substance in the allegations”. The court official also said that the inquiry committee’s report was not liable to be made public. The following day, the complainant asked the committee to give her a copy of their report.
On April 19, the woman had sent her complaint to 22 judges and called for an inquiry into the actions of Gogoi, who she said not only harassed her but was also responsible for her subsequent victimisation. However, on April 30, she withdrew from the inquiry as she had not been allowed to have a lawyer present at the deposition and was not informed about the procedure that would be followed.