Tuesday, 29 November, 2022
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3 yrs, 17 hearings, but no SC decision on reinstating MP woman ex-judge who was ‘harassed’

The woman judge from MP had moved SC seeking her reinstatement after a parliamentary panel said her transfer was ‘punitive’. Her next date of hearing is on January 12. 

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New Delhi: In October 2018, a former sessions judge of Madhya Pradesh who quit her job in 2014 after she was transferred “unlawfully” to a conflict area for allegedly refusing “immoral demands” of a then sitting Madhya Pradesh High Court judge, moved the Supreme Court with a plea to reinstate her in service.

However, three years and 17 hearings later, the woman judge is yet to get a conclusive decision from the top court.

The matter is again up for hearing in the Supreme Court on 12 January 2022.

Though a parliamentary enquiry panel absolved the HC judge S.K. Gangele, now retired, of harassment charges in December 2017, the same committee found evidence to suggest that he had a role in the woman judge’s transfer, which it termed as “punitive”.

The woman judge had based her petition in the Supreme Court on this aspect of the committee’s finding. 

While she awaits a final decision on her petition, the Supreme Court on 11 December designated the former HC judge accused of harassing her as a senior advocate.

The decision was taken by all judges of the Supreme Court. The former HC judge was one of seven former judges to have been conferred with the honour.

Also read: MP judge who made sexual harassment allegations & resigned can be reinstated, CJI suggests

SC asked MP HC to reinstate judge 

The Supreme Court had advised the Madhya Pradesh High Court to reinstate the woman judge twice in the past three years.

During a hearing in February 2019, the HC had expressed reservations over the top court’s suggestion.

But in March 2020 it agreed to reconsider its decision when the apex court once again floated the suggestion. This time, the court proposed that the HC reinstate the woman judge and depute her to a state or central quasi-judicial body.

However, the HC decided against such a move. Though it was asked by the Supreme Court to file a copy of the full court resolution in which the decision was taken, the HC is yet to do so.

Even though the matter was last heard virtually during the Covid pandemic in September 2020, it never got listed thereafter for a hearing. 

The lawyer representing the woman judge mentioned it (a verbal request to hear a matter urgently) on 29 November 2021, after the SC commenced physical hearings from late October. 

Now, a bench led by Justice L.N. Rao has agreed to take up the case on 12 January 2022.

The charge and clean chits

The former judicial officer had resigned on 15 July 2014, following her transfer out of Gwalior, which she alleged was done when she questioned her supervisor judge, Justice Gangele, who had sent her a message through the district court registrar to “perform a dance on an item song” at a function at his residence.

The woman judge wrote a letter to the then Chief Justice of India (CJI) R.M. Lodha, bringing to his notice the alleged harassment she faced.

An enquiry committee was set up by the then MP HC chief justice to ascertain the validity of the allegations, but on a challenge by the woman judge, the SC dismissed it. 

Subsequently, the then CJI H.L. Dattu constituted a fresh panel of three judges from different HCs to conduct a probe. In August 2019, this committee gave a clean chit to Gangele.

But, in March 2016, then Vice President Hamid Ansari set up another panel to probe the accusation, after 58 members of the Rajya Sabha sought Gangele’s impeachment.

Led by apex court judge Justice R. Banumathi (now retired), this committee, too, found the HC judge innocent. However, it found evidence “suggestive of the respondent judge’s interference with the transfer and rejection of the representations of the complainant….”

Six months later, relying upon the committee’s observations on her transfer, the woman judge approached the SC, which issued notice on her petition on 12 October 2018.

Twists and turns

Since then, the matter has witnessed twist and turns — from a bench recusing itself in the case to the matter getting deleted twice on dates fixed for hearing, as well as the top court attempting to resolve the issue.

On 11 January 2019, the first date of hearing, a bench of justices A.K. Sikri (now retired) and S.A. Nazeer ordered listing of the matter for a final disposal after two weeks. Instead of a hearing, the case got ‘deleted’ (when a case doesn’t make it to the final list to be heard on a certain day), prompting the woman judge’s lawyer to seek a direction that the matter would not be deleted on the notified date.

The court accepted this request and heard the matter on 12 February, when the woman judge’s lawyer advanced her arguments. On 13 February 2019, when the Madhya Pradesh HC was making its submissions, the court came up with its proposition to reinstate the judge on humanitarian grounds, without going into legal technicalities.

When the HC turned down the proposal and informed the SC about it on 21 February 2019, the entire bench recused itself from hearing the case. Considering it had suggested the reinstatement of the woman judge, the bench observed, it would be inappropriate to hear the matter on merits now.

More hearings

The case was listed afresh before a new bench led by Justice S.A. Bobde (now retired). Between 1 March 2019 and 10 December 2019, six hearings happened, but were of no consequence. 

Finally, on 12 February 2020, by which time Justice Bobde had become the CJI, the court once again suggested the reinstatement of the woman judge and sought a response from the High Court by 16 March 2020. There was no written response.

After three more hearings in the SC — on 14 July, 24 August and 14 September — the bench led by Justice Bobde decided to list the matter for final disposal. 

According to the 14 September 2020 order, the case should have come up for a hearing after four weeks. But ThePrint learnt that as many as 28 emails were sent by the woman judge’s legal team to the SC registry, with a request for a virtual link to mention the matter or be heard. 

However, the request was never entertained.

(Edited by Saikat Niyogi) 

Also read: Rajya Sabha panel gives MP high court judge clean chit in sexual harassment case


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