New Delhi: Chief Justice of India S.A. Bobde has made a suggestion to reinstate a former district judge in Madhya Pradesh who had resigned after alleging sexual harassment by a state high court judge.
Hearing the former judge’s plea seeking reinstatement to judicial services, Bobde said Wednesday the woman judge could be transferred to some other court. The former judge agreed to this.
The move came after the former additional district judge told the bench led by Bobde that she wanted to “move on with her life”, and should be reinstated in the judiciary.
“There is too much animosity in the earlier place. Kindly accept my suggestion to keep me anywhere in the northern part of India,” the former judge told the bench through senior lawyer Indira Jaising.
In 2014, the former judicial officer had alleged that Justice S.K. Gangele, then her supervisor judge, sent her a message through the district court registrar to “perform a dance on an item song” at a function at his residence.
She was subsequently transferred from Gwalior to Sidhi, leading her to resign as an additional district and sessions judge on 15 July 2014.
Her July 2018 plea for reinstatement in the Supreme Court came six months after a Rajya Sabha-constituted panel dismissed the sexual harassment allegations even as it found evidence “suggestive of the respondent judge’s interference with the transfer and rejection of the representations of the complainant…”
“But since charges of sexual harassment are not proven, it cannot be said that this interference is on account of not submitting to his immoral demands,” the panel had said.
However, the inquiry panel did rule in favour of the judicial officer’s reinstatement. The ruling wasn’t binding on the Supreme Court, the only authority on whose directions she can be reinstated.
Supreme Court Justice R. Banumathi, former Bombay High Court chief justice Manjula Chellur and Attorney General K.K. Venugopal were on the panel. It was formed, as is the procedure, after 58 members of the Rajya Sabha sought to initiate impeachment proceedings against the high court judge in 2015.
During the hearing Wednesday, the former judge said she was compelled to resign after her transfer as her daughter was in Class 12 and was due for her board exams. However, the Registrar General of the Madhya Pradesh High Court said her resignation was never contested and the inquiry panel never ruled that the transfer was “unlawful”.
CJI Bobde said the dispute should end now as “situations have changed drastically” and that “all those who were in power then were no longer there”.
When the former judge said she wouldn’t rake up past complaints or claims of remuneration anymore, Bobde said, “This is the correct attitude.”
To this, Jaising replied, “She just wants to move on with her life.”
The CJI then interrupted the senior lawyer and said, “Of course she should.”
Jaising, however, added that the former judge would not compromise on seniority after being reinstated. The woman judge, who had topped the Madhya Pradesh judicial services, could still have over three years in active service if reinstated.
In her petition, she has asked the court to treat her resignation as “constructive termination” since she “resigned in duress”.
The complainant had moved the apex court earlier as well, seeking its intervention, after she found the Madhya Pradesh HC’s in-house probe unsatisfactory. The SC had stayed the high court probe and set up its own inquiry team, which found “insufficient” material to establish the charge of sexual harassment.
The case will now be heard on 16 March.