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CJI gets clean chit, but questions remain

Published : May 07, 2019 15:05 IST T+T-

The in-house committee constituted by the Supreme Court on Monday found no substance in the allegations of sexual harassment against the Chief Justice of India, Ranjan Gogoi. The committee, comprising Justices S.A. Bobde, Indu Malhotra and Indira Banerjee, was constituted following allegations made by a former woman employee posted at Justice Gogoi’s residence last year.

The committee submitted its report on May 5 to the “next senior judge” competent to receive the report and also sent a copy to the judge concerned, namely, the CJI, in accordance with the in-house procedure, said the press note signed by the Supreme Court’s Secretary General.

The press note also cites the Supreme Court’s order in Indira Jaising vs Supreme Court of India , (2003), which held that the report of a committee constituted as a part of the in-house procedure was not liable to be made public. The court’s reliance on a judgment delivered before the enactment of the Right to Information Act (2005) to deny transparency is considered a setback to the principle of accountability of the judiciary.

The in-house committee’s clean chit to Chief Justice Gogoi is likely to snowball into a controversy as it has rejected the demand of Justice D.Y. Chandrachud, who is in line to become the CJI in 2022, to broad-base the composition of the committee by including a former woman judge, and also by appointing a woman senior advocate as the amicus curiae to conduct its proceedings.

The woman complainant had earlier decided to boycott the proceedings of the committee after attending it for three days on the ground that it did not accept her plea for an advocate or a support person. Justice Chandrachud had, therefore, written to the committee on May 2 to accept her plea and not to hold its proceedings in her absence in order to maintain Supreme Court’s credibility. It appears that Justice Chandrachud’s view did not find enough support among other judges of the Supreme Court, who have rallied behind the CJI.

Justice Bobde committee’s report is controversial because he, soon after finalising the report on Sunday, agreed to hear a petition on Monday alleging conspiracy on the part of well-known activists-advocates Prashant Bhushan and Vrinda Grover who had publicly said that they had helped the complainant draft her affidavit which was sent to all the judges of the Supreme Court. The leaking of the affidavit to four news websites on April 20 led to a series of developments in the court, starting with the infamous Saturday hearing by a Bench presided by the CJI to deny the allegations against himself.

The swiftness with which Justice Bobde agreed to hear the petition filed by the maverick petitioner Manoharlal Sharma even before the Supreme Court’s Secretary General formally released the news of the committee’s clean chit to CJI has raised eyebrows.

Justice Bobde’s decision to hear Sharma’s petition may also affect the functioning of the inquiry commissioned by a three-judge bench on the larger conspiracy behind the allegations against the CJI. This inquiry, under the chairmanship of Justice A.K. Patnaik, however, decided to begin its work after the Bobde committee had completed its work. A huge question mark hangs over the inquiry in the wake of the controversy surrounding Bobde committee’s report.

Meanwhile, the woman complainant has expressed grave apprehension that following the clean chit given to the CJI, she and her family face the risk of greater victimisation by the police and the authorities. The last few days have seen many senior advocates of the Supreme Court expressing serious concern over the court’s abject failure to respond to the woman complainant’s allegations against the CJI with objectivity, thereby eroding its own credibility in the eyes of the public.