On April 19, 2019, a former member of the staff in the office of the Chief Justice of India (CJI) had sought an inquiry by the “senior retired judges” to “enquire into charges of sexual harassment and consequent victimization”. Subsequently, a committee of three judges exonerated the CJI of the charge of sexual harassment. Since the committee proceedings have not been made public, their reasoning and decision remain a mystery.
Be that as it may, the charge of victimisation remains unanswered. On August 27, 2018, the woman was posted “to work at the R/O of Hon’ble Mr. Justice Ranjan Gogoi at 10 Tees January Marg, New Delhi with immediate effect”, but by an order of October 22, 2018, she was “posted to work in the Centre for Research and Planning with immediate effect”. This order was changed on November 22, 2018, so as to post her “to work in the library division”. Meanwhile, on November 19, 2018, she was issued a memorandum seeking explanation on her part for showing “lack of devotion to duty, indiscipline and insubordination”, and disciplinary proceedings were contemplated. On November 27, 2018, she was placed under suspension “until further orders” and was simultaneously served with a memorandum to hold an inquiry under the Supreme Court Officers and Servants (Conditions of Service and Conduct) Rules, 1961. The three charges levelled against her did not justify the ultimate action of her dismissal from service. The alleged incidents of impropriety took place around this time, according to the victim.
On December 14, 2018, a request was made by an officer working in the Rajya Sabha Secretariat to “act as her Court Defence Assistant” in the inquiry. Without waiting in this regard, hearing took place on December 17, 2018, on which day the victim was moved to Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital from the Supreme Court premises with definite medical complications. Yet, the next day, the Registrar of the Supreme Court issued a show cause notice enclosing report of “enquiry officer”, prepared hurriedly to which a reply was submitted on December 20, 2018. But on December 21, 2018, the victim was dismissed from service.
The narration of these events reflects high-handedness on the part of the Supreme Court against one of its Class III employees. This was followed by departmental action against the husband of the victim and his brother around the first week of January, 2019. Reportedly, SHO Tilak Marg took the victim and her husband to the CJI’s residence and made them apologise to his wife. On January 14, the brother-in-law of the victim, appointed by the CJI himself to a post in the Supreme Court on compassionate grounds, was dismissed. Later, a criminal complaint was lodged on March 3 by one Naveen Kumar of Haryana claiming that the victim had promised him a job in the Supreme Court demanding large sums and a part of it was paid by him in presence of a witness on June 2017. Clearly, this appeared to be a false complaint and in any case was raked up almost two years later as part of the efforts to pressure the victim. It is inconceivable that a Class III employee can promise a job in the Supreme Court and somebody would pay her money for the same. The police readily registered the FIR, arrested the victim on March 10, handcuffed and sent her to judicial custody on March 11. She was released on bail the next day.
Curiously, this newly found complainant did not join the investigation after the registration of case and avoided summons issued by the Court. Ultimately, the complainant joined the investigation on September 5 and gave a written statement stating that he didn’t want the complaint to be proceeded with further. His statement was recorded, following which on September 6, the investigating officer submitted the final report in the court of CMM, Patiala House Court, Delhi, reporting clearly that “during investigation, nothing has been found to substantiate or corroborate the allegation of cheating, criminal conspiracy or criminal intimidation as initially alleged by complainant. Hence, a closure report has been prepared in this case”. He reaffirmed his statement on September 16 following which the Court passed the following order:“In view of the facts and circumstances, statement given by the complainant, and investigation conducted by the police in the present case, the closure report filed in the present case is hereby accepted.”
So, the victim stands honourably discharged. On June 20, the victim’s husband and brother in law who were suspended earlier were reinstated. On July 11, the victim filed an appeal challenging her dismissal. As the punishment of dismissal was wholly disproportionate to the alleged charges, she was entitled to be reinstated in service. Yet, within 24 hours on July 12, she moved an application before the Supreme Court seeking to withdraw the appeal stating that “inadvertently certain documents have been omitted in aforesaid appeal. I wish therefore, to withdraw the said appeal and re-file”. Clearly, a hidden hand appears to be working behind this.
Even overlooking the charge of sexual harassment, now that the committee of three judges has exonerated the CJI, victimisation is evident. Efforts are being made in a concerted manner to placate the victim which is evidenced by the revocation of suspension orders of her husband and brother in law and closure of criminal cases against her. But how will the nation compensate her for wrongful arrest, handcuffing and judicial custody, even if for a day?
This episode hides more than what it reveals. Only a thorough investigation will bring out the truth including as to who set up the said complainant for alleging corruption against the victim. These are very disturbing issues and need a fierce and independent investigation. Perhaps, these events also indicate towards a possible attempt to pressure the victim to resile from her complaint of April 19, 2019, against the CJI alleging sexual harassment. The above events suggest that efforts may be afoot in this direction. Will they succeed? Only time can tell.
One must remember that the CJI is the master of the roll and has as such distributed judicial work, including sensitive and political matters, to select Benches since October 2018 till date. How far his actions or inaction were influenced by this sordid episode, one will never know. This saga does no service to the Supreme Court, and to the administration of justice and to the rule of law. Therefore, one only hopes that other honourable judges of the Supreme Court will step in to stop further rot and to ensure justice to the victim.
Dushyant Dave is a Senior Advocate of the Supreme Court of India