The Supreme Court-appointed committee conducting an in-house inquiry into sexual harassment charges against Chief Justice of India (CJI) Ranjan Gogoi has cleared him, finding “no substance" in the accusations levelled by a former employee in his office.
A notice uploaded on the Supreme Court website on Monday says the panel’s report dated 5 May has been submitted to the CJI and the next senior-most judge in accordance with “In-House Procedure".
The notice clarifies that the report will not be made public in accordance with the decision of the 2003 case of Indira Jaising vs Supreme Court of India & Anr.
“The In-House Committee has found no substance in the allegations contained in the Complaint dated 19.04.2019 of a former employee of the Supreme Court of India," said the notice, issued by the secretary general of the Supreme Court.
The process of investigation and the decision came in for strong criticism from civil society. “This raises the question of credibility of the judicial system. It is a unique case where justice is not delivering justice," said social activist Ranjana Kumari, director of the Centre for Social Research and president of advocacy body Women Power Connect.
“This is one of the most unfortunate decisions for access to justice, for women have now mustered the courage to come forward but such a response will discourage them to complain. The committee was already biased and no procedure was followed, no NGO member or external member appointed. The apex court itself is not following the law it made, then why should companies, government or other workplaces follow the laws," she said.
The complainant made her strong sense of dejection and injustice plain in a statement to the press on Monday evening. She said that despite submitting all the materials the committee “has found no substance" in the mala fide dismissal and suspensions, indignities and humiliations suffered by her and her family. “I am on the verge of losing faith in the idea of justice," she said.
The woman had withdrawn from the proceedings on being denied a lawyer, audio/video recordings, copies of her statement and information with respect to the procedure being followed by the committee.
According to a report in The Indian Express on Monday, Supreme Court judge D.Y. Chandrachud wrote a letter on 2 May to the committee voicing his concern on the contents of the press release made by the complainant on 30 April while withdrawing her participation in the proceedings of the committee. Chandrachud requested a full court sitting to ponder over and discuss the issue. He said there should be an external member on the committee and suggested the names of Justices Ruma Pal, Sujata Manohar and Ranjana Desai, according to the report.
Mint could not independently verify the contents of the report.
On 24 April, the former Supreme Court staffer also expressed her objection to the constitution of the panel, which, without a majority of women members, was not in accordance with the Vishakha guidelines and the Prevention of Sexual Harassment against Women at the Workplace Act (POSH). According to these provisions, such a committee should have a majority of women members and also include an external member. After objections were raised by the woman in her letter sent to the panel on 24 April, Justice N.V. Ramana recused himself from the panel and Justice Indu Malhotra was appointed the third member.
“I feel in the present decision, which could have removed all the doubts as to biasness and transparency in the decision, is that of the absence of the independent member (external expert) in the internal committee. This is in non-compliance of the provisions of the POSH Act," said advocate Mehak Kalra, an external expert of POSH internal committees at various companies.
The complainant, a former employee of the CJI, on 19 April wrote to all the judges of the Supreme Court alleging sexual harassment and subsequent victimization by Gogoi. On 20 April, in an “extraordinary" sitting convened by Gogoi, he denied all the allegations and said that “judiciary is under threat" and that he was being “targeted".
Separately, retired judge Ananga Kumar Patnaik was appointed on 25 April to head a committee to inquire into the allegations made by advocate Utsav Bains, who claims that the sexual harassment allegations are part of a conspiracy against Gogoi hatched by corporate giants.
The complainant, in her statement on Monday, said that she received a hard copy of her statements made before the committee only on the evening of 4 May and that she submitted the corrections to the registrar of the Supreme Court on Monday.