Where’s the SC going with this?

Many questions were raised about the Supreme Court’s enquiry into the sexual harassment charges levelled by a former woman employee of the court against the Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi when the court set up an in-house probe panel last week. These questions have gained added relevance now with the woman walking out of the probe expressing fears that she is not likely to get justice from the Justice SA Bobde committee. She has said that the panel has not adopted a procedure which would ensure fairness and equality in the highly unequal circumstance, in which she is pitted against the highest judicial functionary of the country. From her account, it emerges that the court’s enquiry is not open and transparent. She has said that she was not informed of the procedure, the proceedings were not recorded, and she was not a given copy of her depositions. She was also denied a lawyer to assist her. She was told not to disclose the proceedings to the media and even to her lawyer. The atmosphere of the committee was, according to her, frightening and intimidating, and she has decided not to participate in the hearing any more. 

This is not the normal procedure to be adopted in any sexual harassment case. The court should have taken special care to make the investigation fair, because the charges are against the CJI. But, from the beginning, its handling of the charges have left much to be desired. The due process of law, the Vishakha guidelines and the court’s own orders in similar cases in the past were not followed in the composition of the probe committee and its procedures. The committee members are judges of the court who are under the administrative control of the CJI. It is not headed by a woman, and there is no external member. There is no precedent for probing such charges against the CJI, but that should have been a reason to institute a fair and credible enquiry and to adopt the best procedures in the investigation. 

The woman has said that she was told by the committee that it was an informal proceeding. This is surprising, because there cannot be anything informal about an investigation ordered by the Supreme Court into such a serious charge against the CJI. With the woman having decided not to come back to the committee, it should decide how to proceed further in the case. If it passes an ex-parte order, it will lack credibility. The woman’s charges may not be correct, and she may have made them up for her own reasons. But she deserves a fair hearing and justice. 

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