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How SC turned back the clock & CJI discovered yet another worst possible way of dealing with sex harass complaint against him

Just when you thought the Supreme Court had learnt something from history...
‘Great public importance’: Isn’t there a different procedure for this?
‘Great public importance’: Isn’t there a different procedure for this?

The Chief Justice of India (CJI) Ranjan Gogoi has instituted a special bench this morning, at 10:30am in Court Number 1, headed by himself alongside justices Arun Mishra and Sanjeev Khanna, to vociferously refute sexual harassment allegations made against him by a complainant in a letter sent to all Supreme Court judges.

The Leaflet, the Caravan Scroll and The Wire have carried the letter, and a full summary of the allegations made by a former Supreme Court employee.

The charges as outlined in the letter against the CJI and police appear pretty serious, so the Leaflet, Scroll, The Wire and Caravan reached out to the Supreme Court’s secretary general (SG). The SG responded, denying the allegation on behalf of the Chief and basically attacking the complainant’s integrity and cryptically imputing the complaint to “mischevious (sic) forces behind all this, with an intention to malign the institution” (the Leaflet has published a full copy of the letter in its article).

The CJI this morning also used the pulpit of the bench to defend himself, as live tweeted by several court reporters, including noting that he was “extremely hurt” by the “unbelievable” allegations against him after 20 years of selfless service, after which his peon had more assets and money than him.

According to LiveLaw, Gogoi also noted: “All I would like to say is this, undoubtedly every employees are treated fairly and decently. This employee was there for a month and half. Allegations came and I didn’t deem it appropriate to reply to the allegations.”

CNNNews18’s legal editor Utkarsh Anand tweeted: "#CJI clarifies that charges against him will be examined by other senior judges & not [b]y himself. Court also doesn’t pass any judicial order & leave it to the wisdom of the media to decide on publication.”

The order, passed by justices Mishra and Khanna stated:

Having considered the matter, we refrain from passing any judicial order at this moment leaving it to the wisdom of the media to show restraint, act responsibly as is expected from them and accordingly decide what should or should not be published as wild and scandalous allegations undermine and irreparably damage reputation and negate independence of judiciary. We would therefore at this juncture leave it to the media to take off such material which is undesirable.

But irrespective of whether the allegations have any truth to them or how hurtful they may have been, constituting a special court in the first place (even if it did not pass any orders) is a terrible idea and visual.

Supreme Court judges have happily held press conferences before, which could have been a forum for the CJI to defend himself. Or, preferably, if he felt that way inclined, he could have put out a statement in his own name, denying the allegations.

But at the very least, the CJI should have agreed to follow procedures that had been instituted by the same court.

What was that committee’s name again?

The Supreme Court Gender Sensitization and internal Complaints Committee (GSICC) was set up in November 2013 the wake of two sexual harassment complaints against formerly sitting judges.

Sure, the complainant may not have approached the committee (yet) herself, but this is clearly within its domain, rather than the CJI vowing to set up an investigation by senior judges into their own boss.

This is perhaps indicative of the neglect the GSICC has seen since it has been set up.

Finding the Supreme Court Gender Sensitization and internal Complaints Committee website via the Supreme Court’s, means scrolling to the bottom of the page to the footers and picking out its cryptic GSICC acronym from a long list bureaucratic SC functions.

Play find the GSICC link
Play find the GSICC link

Once clicking through, you will also note, that the GSICC has not published its annual report (at least on its own website) since 2014, when it had shared that only two complaints had been received, and were pending disposal.

One had resulted in the ban of an advocate from SC premises, for six months by April 2014.

Since then, radio silence, besides publishing a list of GSICC volunteers in 2017 and 2015, and releasing some guidelines in 2015.

If that’s the way the Supreme Court implements its own Vishaka judgment and guidelines, which have since been converted into statute, what hope is there for an ad hoc committee of judges reporting to the CJI to look into this complaint in a way that will make it apparent that justice has been done?

Deja vu?

It’s also worth remembering the 2013 complaint against then former Justice AK Ganguly, in which an internal committee of judges gave a hearing to Ganguly and the complainant and ultimately passed an order finding that prima facie sexual harassment had been made out. Ganguly resigned as chair of the West Bengal Human Rights Commission (WBHRC), a short time before parliament began a presidential reference procedure to remove him.

The second sexual harassment complaint, made against National Green Tribunal (NGT) chairman Swatanter Kumar, was stalled when Kumar hit out with clever legal notices and a defamation case, which has been languishing between courts in transfer petitions.

A grand total of 19 non-hearings and adjournments have happened to decide on that transfer petition in the Delhi high court since 15 May 2014 (see screenshot below).

The latest order in the transfer petition, of 18 February 2019, echoing the 18 others, simply stated:

Reference to order dated 29.01.2018 it is urged by learned counsel for the plaintiff that the transfer petition is still pending in the Supreme Court.At request, adjourned to 14.5.2019.Interim order to continue till then.

In all this time, the Me Too movement may have surged and public consciousness of sexual harassment has expanded, and the Supreme Court has survived moves to create a judicial appointments commission.

Meanwhile, the way the courts deal with sexual harassment has quietly returned to the state-of-affairs pre-2013.

Swatanter Kumar defamation case transfer petition delays: What happens when you try to fight a judge in court
Swatanter Kumar defamation case transfer petition delays: What happens when you try to fight a judge in court

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