Retired Supreme Court judge Madan B Lokur has said that the woman who accused Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi of sexual harassment and subsequent victimisation was not fairly treated. In an op-ed article in The Indian Express published on Wednesday, Lokur hinted at “institutional bias” in the manner the Supreme Court initially dealt with the allegations.
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. 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 but claimed they were part of a “bigger plot”, possibly one to “deactivate the office of the CJI”.
On April 30, she withdrew from the inquiry as she had not been allowed to have a lawyer present at depositions and was not informed about the procedure that would be followed. On May 6, the in-house committee rejected her complaint and the court’s secretary general said the panel had found “no substance” in her allegations. The next day, the complainant had asked the court’s in-house committee to give her a copy of their report exonerating Gogoi. The court official said that the inquiry committee’s report was not liable to be made public.
“Please note, the Internal Committee was set up by a person charged of unwanted physical contact with a lady staffer and that person chose the judge to enquire into the allegation,” Lokur pointed out.
“What is equally mysterious is the rejection of the sane advice given by the Attorney-General on April 22 to the CJI and the next four senior judges to constitute an outside committee of three retired judges of the Supreme Court,” wrote Lokur. “We have several eminent retired judges, including women judges. It would have been to the credit of the Supreme Court if the advice had been accepted, thereby negativing the belief of possible institutional bias.”
Justice Lokur said the Supreme Court in-house committee that cleared Chief Justice Gogoi of sexual harassment charges never dealt with the allegations of victimisation. “Will another internal committee be set up or will these allegations be forgotten and not looked into, as not worthy of consideration?” he asked. “There is no way of knowing this.”
Justice Lokur said the complainant must be given a copy of the report of the in-house committee “so that she gets answers to the questions that she and others have raised”. “The Secretary-General declined to give a copy of the report to the staffer by referring to a judgement in the case of Indira Jaising v. Supreme Court of India,” he wrote. “That decision is not at all relevant. Firstly, the Internal Committee was not an in-house enquiry of the kind understood by the judges of the Supreme Court in 1999-2000 when the in-house procedure was adopted. Secondly, the decision was rendered in the context of a formal in-house enquiry and not in the context of informal in-house proceedings or Internal Committee proceedings.”
He added that the judgment of the Supreme Court does not say that the complainant is not entitled to get a copy of the report. “The procedure for conducting an in-house enquiry merely says that a copy of the report shall be furnished to the judge concerned,” he pointed out. “There is no prohibition in giving a copy of the report to the complainant — neither the in-house procedure refers to any prohibition nor does the judgement of the Supreme Court refer to any such prohibition. Besides, under what law can the report be denied to the complainant?”
Justice Lokur also sought to know the fate of the report. “Has the report of the Internal Committee been accepted by the concerned judge?” he asked. “Is there an order to this effect? Can the concerned judge disagree with the report of the informal so-called in-house Committee?”
There were several protests held across the country after the court panel had cleared Gogoi, during which dozens of women activists and lawyers in Delhi had been detained at a police station.