CJI gets clean chit as In-House panel finds "no substance" in sexual harassment allegations

PTI
Monday, 6 May 2019

A notice by the office of Supreme Court Secretary General said the report of the Committee, headed by Justice S A Bobde, "is not liable to be made public".

NEW DELHI: Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi on Monday got a clean chit from the Supreme Court's In-House Inquiry Committee which "has found no substance" in the allegations of sexual harassment levelled against him by a former woman employee of the apex court.

A notice by the office of Supreme Court Secretary General said the report of the Committee, headed by Justice S A Bobde, "is not liable to be made public".

The committee, also comprising two woman judges of the apex court -- Justices Indu Malhotra and Indira Banerjee -- gave the report ex-parte as the woman had opted out of the inquiry on April 30 after participating for three days.

She issued a press statement in which she described as "very frightening" the atmosphere of the Committee and walked out raising various objections including denial of her lawyer's presence.

Justice Gogoi appeared on May 1 before the Committee and recorded his statements.

The notice said: "The In-House Committee has found no substance in the allegations contained in the complaint dated April 19, 2019 of a former employee of the Supreme Court of India. Please take note that in case of Indira Jaising vs Supreme Court of India and others, it has been held that the report of a committee constituted as a part of the In-House Procedure is not liable to be made public."

It further said: "The In House Committee has submitted its report dated May 5, 2019 in accordance with the In House Procedure, to the next senior judge competent to receive the report and also sent a copy to the judge concerned, namely, the CJI."

An official source said that though Justice N V Ramana was the judge next in seniority after Justice Bobde, the report was not submitted to him as he was originally the member of the panel but had to recuse himself after the woman had expressed some reservations over his presence in the panel.

The source said Justice Arun Mishra, who is number four in seniority, is competent to receive the report.

After CJI Ranjan Gogoi, Justice Bobde is the senior-most judge followed by Justices Ramana, Mishra and R F Nariman.

The three-member panel was constituted on April 23, 2019 in which the original members were Justices Bobde, Ramana and Banerjee.

However, on April 25, Justice Ramana had to recuse himself after the woman expressed her reservations over his inclusion on the ground that he is a close friend of the CJI and a regular visitor to his house.

In Justice Ramana's place, Justice Bobde had inducted Justice Malhotra as the former woman employee had also alleged that the Committee was not formed in accordance with the Vishaka guidelines laid by the top court.

Justice Bobde on April 23 had told PTI, "This is going to be an in-house procedure which does not contemplate representation of advocate on behalf of parties. It is not a formal judicial proceeding."

He had clarified that there is no time frame to complete the inquiry and future course of action will depend on "what comes out of the inquiry" which will be "confidential".

The allegations against the CJI had become public on April 20 when some news web portals had come out with the stories.

The woman had sent her affidavit to 22 judges of the apex court about the alleged sexual harassment.

Within hours of the allegations coming into public domain, an unprecedented hearing by a bench comprising CJI and Justices Mishra and Sanjiv Khanna had taken place on April 20 which was Saturday.

Though the CJI had recused himself midway of the hearing, he had taken the opportunity to describe the allegations of sexual harassment against him as "unbelievable" and had said a larger conspiracy was behind it and he would not stoop so low even to deny these allegations.

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