Attorney General KK Venugopal, the government’s most senior law officer, wrote a letter to Supreme Court judges last week, recommending that external members be added to the court’s in-house committee that conducted an inquiry into sexual harassment allegations levelled against Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi by a former employee of the court, The Wire reported on Friday.
The inquiry panel cleared Gogoi of the charges on May 6.
The attorney general reportedly urged that retired women judges be made part of the committee to satisfy the principle of transparency and fairness.
However, the Centre reportedly disagreed with Venugopal and asked him to declare that his letter was personal and did not reflect the government’s view on the matter. After this, the attorney general reportedly wrote another letter to the judges, clarifying that his views were personal. “With such a serious difference of opinion having arisen on a substantive issue between the AG and the government, sources say Venugopal may be constrained to step down soon to preserve his own longstanding reputation as a jurist and constitutional expert,” The Wire added.
While Venugopal told The Hindu that he had written a letter to the court, asking “for a committee different to the one constituted”, he denied there were “serious differences” between him and the government.
The Supreme Court last week denied news reports that claimed Justices DY Chandrachud and Rohinton Nariman had also expressed concerns about the panel. Initially, Justice NV Ramana was on the three-member panel. However, he recused himself from the panel on April 25 after the complainant in the case pointed out that he was close to Gogoi. Ramana was replaced by Indu Malhotra.
Protests against panel clearing Gogoi
Dozens of people were reportedly detained on Friday for the the third time this week as they protested outside the Surpeme Court against the in-house committee’s decision to clear Gogoi. Reports said dozens of women activists and lawyers were detained at Mandir Marg police station.
Protests have been held in major cities across the country this week against the inquiry panel’s decision. The committee passed its decision, saying it had found “no substance” in allegations, days after the complainant withdrew from its proceedings for not being allowed to have a lawyer present at depositions and not being informed of the procedure that would be followed.
The former Supreme Court employee had levelled the accusations against Gogoi in a detailed complaint sent to 22 judges on April 19. She accused the chief justice of victimising her, saying criminal cases had been lodged against her and her family members, and that they had lost government jobs.
Gogoi denied the allegations during a special hearing of the court on April 20. The chief justice had called the hearing immediately after media reports on the woman’s allegations were published. He had said he did not “deem it appropriate” to reply to the allegations, and claimed they were part of a “bigger plot”, possibly one to “deactivate the office of the CJI”.