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  India   All India  21 Apr 2019  CJI convenes court to deny sexual harassment charge

CJI convenes court to deny sexual harassment charge

Published : Apr 21, 2019, 4:12 am IST
Updated : Apr 21, 2019, 4:38 am IST

Chief Justice Gogoi said he would continue to perform his duties without fear or favour till the end of his tenure and would not be cowed down.

Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi (Photo: PTI/File)
 Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi (Photo: PTI/File)

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Saturday held an extraordinary hearing after a former employee of the apex court accused the Chief Justice of India, Ranjan Gogoi, of sexual harassment on two occasions in October last year and persecution after she resisted his alleged sexual advances.

A three-judge bench, headed by Chief Justice Gogoi himself, was constituted to deal with the matter following a notice by the court’s registry that the sitting was to deal with a matter of “great public importance touching upon the independence of the judiciary”.

 

At the special hearing — prompted by the fact that copies of a sworn affidavit by the woman sent to the residences of 22 apex court judges became public on Saturday — Justice Gogoi rubbished the allegations as “unbelievable” and hinted that there may be a “bigger force behind this” that wants to “deactivate the office of CJI.”

CJI Gogoi also hinted that the allegations of sexual harassment against him could be due to the fact that the Bench led by him will deal with “many, many sensitive cases” next week.

Supreme Court judges have held press conferences in the past, or issued a statement to the press to refute personal charges. That the CJI choose to sit in his own court, with two male judges, to deny allegations of sexual harassment and more drew a lot of criticism from lawyers and judicial activists on social media.

 

“This is unbelievable. I don’t think I should stoop low even to deny these allegation,” CJI Gogoi said, adding, “There has to be bigger force behind this, they want to deactivate the office of CJI.”

“`6.8 lakhs is all I have as bank balance... They cannot catch me on money, so they have brought up this. This is the reward a Chief Justice of India gets after 20 years and a bank balance of Rs 6.8 lakh. Independence of judiciary is under very serious threat. I had to tel this from the judicial seat,” he said.

“When I had become a judge, I had much more. If judges have to work under these conditions then, I have always said in my public meetings, that good people will not come forward to take up the job. My peon has got more money than me.”  

 

The woman’s detailed allegations were carried by several news websites on Saturday, along with a response from the Supreme Court’s secretary general who refuted the allegations, saying the charges are “completely and absolutely false and scurrilous.”

The woman’s affidavit provides a detailed account of the apparent victimisation she, her husband and their family have undergone over the past few months after she spurned what she claimed were inappropriate advances last October.

The 35-year-old woman was appointed junior court assistant in May 2014 and was later deputed to work in Justice Gogoi’s court in October 2016 when another junior court assistant was on leave.

 

The alleged incidents of harassment happened on October 10 and 11, 2018. The woman has since been dismissed from service, and was arrested in a case of bribery that was registered in March 2019.

Her husband and one of her brothers-in-law — both employed with the Delhi police — have also been suspended. And another brother-in-law, who was appointed a junior court attendant through CJI Gogoi’s discretionary quota on October 10, 2018 — a week after he became the CJI — was also dismissed from service.

During the sitting in which CJI presided over a Bench which also included Justices Arun Mishra and Sanjiv Khanna, he said, “I have taken this unusual and extraordinary step of sitting in court today because things have gone too far”.  

 

“I believe there is a bigger plot behind this to deactivate the office of CJI. No judge is going to decide cases if this is the kind of attack we get. Reputation is only thing we get. Even that is attacked. Why do you think a person decides to become a judge? Reputation is all that matters for a judge. If that is also under attack, what is left?” the CJI asked.

Justice Arun Mishra described the allegation as “wild and baseless”.

Chief Justice Gogoi said he would continue to perform his duties without fear or favour till the end of his tenure and would not be cowed down.

At the end of the half-hour hearing, the CJI said he would not pass any judicial order in the matter and left it to Justice Mishra to take the lead and do what was necessary.

 

A brief order signed by two other judges (without the CJI) said, “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 the 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.”

The woman — who is a mother of an eight year old girl — in her affidavit has sought protection from any “coercive action” by the Delhi police and claimed “a grave threat” to her life besides the lives of her family members.

 

She has requested all teh sitting judges of the Supreme Court to constitute an independent external committee to inquire into her charges.

Both Attorney General K.K. Venugopal and Solicitor-General Tushar Mehta were present in the courtroom along with Supreme Court Bar Association president and senior advocate Rakesh Khanna. Mr. Mehta at whose instance the sitting was called termed the allegation “rubbish”. He said the allegations are a blackmail technique.

Tags: supreme court, ranjan gogoi, sexual harassment
Location: India, Delhi, New Delhi