Former Supreme Court Justice Jasti Chelameswar told The Print on Wednesday that the Supreme Court did not follow due process while hearing the sexual harassment charges against Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi last month. Chelameswar retired in June last year.
“No one is above the law, at least not in my opinion, and hence I don’t see why the procedure for this case should be any different from the law of the land,” Chelameswar said on Thursday. “I wouldn’t want to comment on individuals at this stage since we don’t know whether the allegations are true or false.” However, Chelameswar added, he is concerned about the system and the procedure adopted in dealing with the case.
Chelameswar had in January 2018 held a press conference along with Justices Madan B Lokur, Gogoi and Kurien Joseph, alleging that “democracy is in danger”. They charged the then Chief Justice Dipak Misra of violating conventions and allowing interference from the executive.
Chelameswar is the second former Supreme Court judge to come out against the handling of the sexual harassment case against Gogoi. Retired Justice Madan B Lokur had said on Wednesday that the woman who accused Gogoi of misconduct was not treated fairly. 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.
Chelameswar said concerns about the complainant not being given a copy of the report exonerating Gogoi was valid. He said the woman had the complete right to ask for a lawyer or support person to be present if she felt uncomfortable in court.
He also praised lawyers and activists who criticised the Supreme Court’s handling of the Gogoi case, but added: “Where were these people when me and three of my colleagues raised our concerns at a press conference last year?”
Chelameswar also criticised Finance Minister Arun Jaitley for a blog post in which he backed the Supreme Court in the Gogoi case. The retired judge said that when the four judges had held a press conference, the government had called it the Supreme Court’s internal matter. “However, we have Union ministers who are now willing to come to the rescue or defend the institution,” he added. “Why the double face?”