The Supreme Court on Friday came down heavily on a district judge from Madhya Pradesh who had challenged the disciplinary proceedings initiated against him after he was accused of sexual harassment, Live Law reported. “We cannot allow sexual harassment cases to be swept under a carpet like this,” the court observed, before dismissing his plea.
“You are walking on very thin ice,” the Supreme Court said, according to Bar and Bench. “You may have a chance that you may be acquitted. But as matters stand now, you are convicted.”
The bench of Chief Justice of India SA Bobde and Justices Bopanna and Ramasubramanian, however, gave the judge the liberty to withdraw the case to participate in the inquiry.
The Supreme Court court made the observations even as the woman withdrew her complaint, filed under the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013. The court noted that a woman has the right to withdraw her complaint, and that the Madhya Pradesh High Court’s departmental proceedings are anyway independent of the POSH complaint.
The Madhya Pradesh HC initiated disciplinary hearings against senior District Judge Shambhoo Raghuvanshi after a junior judicial officer filed a sexual harassment complaint against him in 2018. The complainant alleged that the judge sent her inappropriate messages.
During the last hearing, advocate Ravindra Shrivastava, appearing for the Madhya Pradesh High Court, read out the alleged WhatsApp messages that the judge sent to the woman. The Supreme Court had then orally observed that to “flirt with a junior official is not acceptable conduct for a judge”.
“We find the WhatsApp messages quite offensive and improper,” the CJI had observed.
The judge’s counsel, advocate R Balasubramanium, had submitted before the bench that the officer had withdrawn her complaint under the Prevention of Sexual Harassment Act, and therefore the disciplinary proceedings by the High Court were not maintainable.
The bench, however, observed that the woman might have withdrawn the complaint “because of some embarrassment”. This should not prevent the High Court from initiating separate departmental proceedings on its own, it had said.
“Is there any law which can prevent the HC from proceeding with enquiry?” the court had asked. “The right to departmental enquiry is an inherent right of the employer even if there is no provision in the service law.”