Jasti Chelameswar
Supreme Court judge Justice Jasti Chelameswar | PTI
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New Delhi: The Supreme Court did not follow due process when handling the sexual harassment allegations against Chief Justice of India (CJI) Ranjan Gogoi, Justice Jasti Chelameswar, a retired judge of the court, told ThePrint Wednesday.

Chelameswar is the second retired judge of the top court to publicly question the procedure followed in the case that has shaken the higher judiciary.

Justice Madan B. Lokur (retd) had expressed similar reservations in an opinion piece he wrote in The Indian Express Wednesday.

The two were among the four judges — the others being Justice Gogoi and Justice Kurian Joseph — who triggered a crisis in the Indian judiciary in January 2018 when they held a press conference to publicly raise concerns about the handling of cases under then-CJI Dipak Misra.

Saying that he is perturbed by the “systematic failure” in the judiciary, Chelameswar, who was the second most senior judge in the Supreme Court when he retired, told ThePrint that “no one is above the law, at least not in my opinion, and hence I don’t see why the procedure for this case should be any different from the law of the land”.

“I wouldn’t want to comment on individuals at this stage since we don’t know whether the allegations are true or false,” he said. “But it is about the system and the procedure adopted that I am concerned about.”


Also read: Is Supreme Court handling sexual harassment allegation against CJI Ranjan Gogoi correctly?

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An unprecedented crisis

The Indian judiciary has been facing one of its toughest crises since a former Supreme Court employee alleged in a letter to the court’s 22 judges last month that CJI Gogoi had sexually harassed her while she was working at his home office.

She claimed that a campaign had been launched to victimise her after she spurned his advances, saying she and a brother-in-law were fired from the court, while her husband and another brother-in-law lost their jobs with the Delhi Police.

In a controversial decision, the next day, 20 April, a Saturday, the CJI had presided over a hearing on the matter. At the hearing, he described the allegations as the handiwork of a “bigger force” that wanted to “deactivate the CJI’s office”.

The allegations were subsequently taken up by an in-house committee of the court, which said in its report that it had found no substance in the woman’s claims.

The controversy has only intensified since as the in-house panel — comprising Justices S.A. Bobde, Indu Malhotra, and Indira Banerjee — refused to give a copy of its report to the complainant.

This decision, which was attributed to a legal precedent from 2003, was among the issues questioned by Lokur in his opinion piece.

Chelameswar said concerns about the woman not being given a copy of the report were valid, adding that she had “complete right” to ask for a support person or lawyer to be present if she felt uncomfortable during the proceedings.

While the panel was discussing the case, the woman had been denied permission to bring a lawyer or support person, following which she had recused herself from the proceedings.

Referring to the CJI being the presiding judge for the special hearing on 20 April, Chelameswar added, “It is like the medical college scam last year. I see the same process is being followed this time too.”

The “medical college scam” is another episode that triggered considerable tumult in the judiciary. On 19 September 2017, the CBI had registered an FIR, claiming that attempts had been made to manipulate the Supreme Court’s proceedings to obtain permissions in favour of a medical college run by the Lucknow-based Prasad Education Trust. It named former Odisha High Court judge I.M. Quddusi as an accused.

Activists subsequently moved petitions in the top court, seeking an independent inquiry into the matter. The petitions were mentioned before a bench headed by Justice J. Chelameswar, who was then the second most senior judge, as the then CJI Dipak Misra was presiding over a Constitution bench.

Chelameswar sought the formation of a five-judge bench to deal with the petitions. The next day, following an order from a two-judge bench handling a similar petition, a Constitution bench was quickly put together to nullify the orders of Chelameswar’s bench. In the process, the power of the CJI as master of the roster was asserted. The petitions were dismissed.


Also read: Shattered, dejected, says woman who complained against CJI Gogoi after his clean chit


Speaking up

The CJI Gogoi row sparked several calls from the legal fraternity and activists for retired judges of the Supreme Court to speak up.

Chelameswar said it was “good that they are speaking up”, but added, “Where were these people when me and three of my colleagues raised our concerns at a press conference last year?”

“If only they had spoken up well in time, we could have avoided such a situation wherein everyone is pointing fingers towards the due process,” he added.

He also weighed in on Finance Minister Arun Jaitley’s 20 April blog about the CJI Gogoi row, where he had said that “It’s Time To Stand Up With Judiciary” and questioned the “unverified allegations” made by a “disgruntled person with a not-so-glorious track record”.

“When we raised pertinent issues last year about the functioning of the Supreme Court, the government said it was an internal matter of the apex court. However, we have union ministers who are now willing to come to the rescue or defend the institution…” said Chelameswar. “Why the double face?”

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8 Comments Share Your Views

8 COMMENTS

  1. Whatever the truth of this matter, CJI Ranjan Gogoi retires on 18th November. His two immediate predecessors faced allegations as well, issues that subside with the passage of time. The disquiet expressed by Justice Chelameswar and Justice Lokur is, however, more important as far as the almost thirty serving Justices are concerned.

  2. I have yet to hear retired SC judges talking about how to improve the justice delivery system and how to reduce the delivery time to standards of developed countries. Instead I hear retired judges expressing views on insignificant matters. It indicates a serious attitude issues with judges. Judges attitudes are influenced by the ideology they believe in and the training if any given to them,. Selection of judges being a very closed process, results in perpetuating the belief system of judges. It looks that Judges themselves are not capable of bringing any change.. Under the fake bogy of independence, they will also not allow the executive and the parliament to assist them. Indian judicial system seems to working for themselves and not the for the people. Who will bell the cat? I strongly feel its the responsibility of elected representatives to set directions for the judiciary and the executive to improve judicial system. If they have to confront with the self centred judges, they should not hesitate as they are the onces who had been elected by people.

  3. Retd justice Chelameswar is attempting to be too clever by half. Last year’s unprecedented and disgraceful press conference was supposedly a protest against the “selective” allocation of cases.
    The grouse then was “important ” cases were being given to judges who the presser judges claimed were “junior”….

    On one hand they asserted that the Chief Justice (who is the master of the roster) was merely a first among equals. Yet they complained of “important” cases going to “select” benches — as if the judges on those benches were any less capable — or of lesser integrity. On both grounds they should not be in the SC in the first place!!

    Has anything changed under the new CJI? I understand cases are still be allocated exclusively by the CJI who is the master of the roster.

    Regarding appointment of judges….aah, a topic which the SC as a whole should enlighten the country.

    From a purely consulative role as envisaged by our Constitution the SC usurpred all power to appoint higher judiciary. The govt of the day serves only as a rubber stamp.

    Btw, check out the appointments to the SC and high courts — a shockingly high number of appointees are close relatives of the serving judges or had worked in their chambers.

    Surely the nation wants to know on what criteria the wholly unconstitutional body called the Collegium appoints judges.

  4. Did Justice Chelameshwar follow the process when he went to the press to revolt against the then Chief Justice? Ironically, the current Chief Justice was also in that team. We “not so intellectual” common citizens feel that the judicial system is being politicized and people like Justice Chelameshwar are part of the problem. If he wants to enter politics, sure he has the right as an ordinary citizen. But firing a gun on the Supreme Court seems distasteful.

  5. Poor Gogoi! Chalameswar ensnared him in his revolt against the then CJI. Now that he is no longer of any use, Chalameswar has no hesitation in throwing Gogoi under the bus. The sleeper cells of congress and communists are deeply entrenched in every institution – it will take a determined purge to eradicate the system of these internal enemies.

  6. Both the judges i.e. Chelameshwar and Lokur were very much serving in the SC when the concerned lady was terminated from the SC….. I fail to understand what for these judges gone for the Presser when they all are same… What for they have downgraded the prestige of Ex CJI Deepak Mishra…. The presence of Mr D. Raja in the house of Justice Chelameshwar on the day of Presser is a blot on judiciary and tells something else behind this whole saga….

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