The Supreme Court Collegium has withdrawn its approval to a proposal to confirm the permanent status of an additional judge of the Bombay High Court following two controversial verdicts she gave in sexual assault cases against minors, NDTV reported on Saturday, citing people familiar with the development.
The judge, Pushpa Ganediwala, had courted controversy after she first acquitted a man accused of sexually assaulting a minor girl on January 19. Ganediwala had observed that that groping a child’s breasts without “skin-to-skin contact” does not amount to sexual assault under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act. The verdict was put on hold by the Supreme Court on Wednesday.
Later, in another judgement, she observed that holding a minor’s hands and unzipping one’s pants in front of a minor will not fall under the definition of sexual assault under the POCSO Act. In both instances, she, however, had said that such acts would constitute as “sexual harassment”.
On January 20, the collegium headed by Chief Justice of India SA Bodbe, “approved the proposal for appointment of Justice Ganediwala as a permanent judge” of the Bombay High Court, reported The Times of India. The approval was sent to the law ministry, as per provisions to confirm a permanent judge. The recommendation was made despite reservations from two senior judges of the Supreme Court.
Justices AM Khanwilkar and DY Chandrachud, both coming from the Bombay High Court, had reiterated their strong reservations against making Justice Ganediwala a permanent judge of the High Court in closed-door conversations, according to the newspaper. They had earlier also objected to Justice Ganediwala’s initial appointment as an additional judge in Bombay High Court in February 2019.
Later, Justices Khanwilkar and Chandrachud convinced a member of the Collegium to withdraw his consent to grant approval to the proposal to appoint Justice Ganediwala as a permanent judge. Khanwilkar and Chandrachud are not members of the collegium that decides on the appointment, confirmation and transfer of High Court judges.
After Ganediwala’s second controversial verdict, the collegium member withdrew his consent. The collegium now thinks she should stay as an additional judge of the Nagpur bench of the Bombay High Court for one or two years, according to the report. The Supreme Court judges believe that she needs to be sensitised about the aim and objective of the POCSO Act.
The Supreme Court Collegium, comprising the chief justice and Justices NV Ramana and RF Nariman, is rarely known to withdraw the recommendations it makes to the government.
On January 25, the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights had implored the Maharashtra government to file an urgent appeal against the Bombay High Court’s interpretation of what constitutes as sexual assault of a minor. The children’s rights body said the language of the judgement needed to be reviewed at the earliest as it was derogatory to the minor.
Several activists and child rights bodies had criticised the judgement, terming it “absolutely unacceptable, outrageous and obnoxious”.
Justice Pushpa Virendra Ganediwala, born on March 3, 1969, was directly appointed as a district judge in 2007 and was elevated as an additional judge of the Bombay High Court on February 13, 2019.