SC must follow Vishakha spirit

The Supreme Court has again erred in the handling of the sexual harassment charges levelled against Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi by a former woman employee of the court. It has set up a committee under the senior-most judge, Justice SA Bobde, to investigate the charges. The court improvised in the matter because there is no laid down in-house procedure for investigation of sexual harassment charges against the CJI. But the court should have followed the spirit of the Vishakha guidelines, the law on sexual harassment at the workplace, and its own past orders in such cases to conduct an independent and neutral investigation of the charges. Such an investigation should be conducted by a committee headed by a woman. Though the three-member committee now has two women judges — Justice Indira Banerjee and Justice Indu Malhotra — after Justice NV Ramana recused himself, the committee still does not inspire full confidence.  

The three members of the committee are under the administrative control of the CJI, whose conduct is being probed by it. This will affect the credibility of its findings, especially if they exonerate Justice Gogoi of the charges. The former employee had sought an investigation by three retired judges of the court. It is important that the process of investigation should be credible and acceptable to the accuser, and be seen as fair by the public, and it should be beyond reproach. No time limit has also been set for the enquiry. The committee has been formed after a controversial sitting of the court, presided over by the CJI himself, described the charges as “wild and scandalous’’. The secretary-general of the court totally rejected the charges. There was victim-shaming also, and the woman was described as a person with a criminal background. In such circumstances, the investigation launched by the court may not carry full conviction. 

The parallel investigation ordered by the court into the charge of a “high-profile conspiracy’’ on the part of “fixers and plotters’’ to frame Justice Gogoi has complicated the issue. It is not known how the two issues under investigation are linked or whether they are linked at all. It would have been ideal if the sexual harassment charge had been probed first and the court had gone into the charge of a wider conspiracy against it after that. There are concerns that the parallel enquiry would prejudice the enquiry into the charges against Justice Gogoi. Whether the woman’s charges are correct or not, the enquiry into them should be fair and the methods credible and convincing. This is necessary to protect the prestige and credibility of the nation’s top court. 

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