New Delhi: Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi Saturday denied the sexual harassment charges, levelled against him by a former Supreme Court staffer, suggesting that vested interests were threatening the independence of the judiciary.
“All I would like to say is that undoubtedly every employee is treated fairly and decently,” CJI Gogoi said at a special bench hearing of the Supreme Court. “This employee was there for a month and a half. The allegations came and I didn’t deem it appropriate to reply to them.”
The Supreme Court assembled the special bench Saturday barely hours after the story broke of the former court staffer’s allegations of sexual harassment. The 35-year-old woman, who reports said worked as a junior court assistant in the Supreme Court, had written to 22 judges of the apex court Friday, alleging that the CJI had sexually harassed her at his residence last year.
The special bench, also comprising Justices Arun Mishra and Sanjiv Khanna, was assembled after Solicitor General Tushar Mehta urgently mentioned the matter before the registry.
Speaking from the bench, CJI Gogoi said the independence of the judiciary was under grave threat.
“There are two offices that are absolutely independent,” he said. “The Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) and that of the Chief Justice of India. They want to deactivate this (the CJI) considering the sensitive cases lined up next week. And the elections.”
The CJI is scheduled to hear next week a contempt petition against Congress president Rahul Gandhi, a plea relating to the release of Modi biopic and a petition seeking deferment of elections in Tamil Nadu on the charge of huge bribes being paid to voters.
No graft charges so being targetted this way: CJI
The CJI Gogoi further said that he was being targeted in this manner as there are no corruption charges against him. “This is unbelievable,” he said. “I don’t think I should stoop so low.”
“After 20 years of service, I have a bank balance of Rs 6.80 lakh. Check it,” he said. “I have Rs 40 lakh in my Provident Fund (PF). I used to earn more money as a lawyer. Here I am on the verge of retirement and this is what I get.”
“Nobody can touch me on money, so they find this,” he added. “This is the reward the CJI gets. This I felt should be told from the judicial seat.”
He also reiterated his warning that the judiciary was under threat. “The independence of the judiciary is under a very serious threat,” Gogoi said. “It’s pathetic. Judges are to work under these conditions. That is why I said good people (lawyers) are not coming to this side (judicial). Who will come?”
The Chief Justice also said that he will not resign over the charges and will “sit in this chair and discharge my functions without any fear”.
“I will decide what I have to in the remaining seven months I have here,” he added. Gogoi is slated to retire later this year.
Bench asks media to exercise restraint
While it did not pass any judicial order, the special bench appealed to the media to exercise restraint and wisdom in reporting the “unverified charges against the CJI, which would undermine the independence of the judiciary”.
“We are not passing any judicial order but leaving it to media to act responsibly to ensure that independence of judiciary it protected,” the bench said. It also said an appropriate bench (of other judges) will hear the sexual harassment allegations against the Chief Justice.
The CJI recused from passing the orders. He, however, named the four web portals that ran the story and said that a common thread ran among them.