New Delhi: Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi’s decision to address sexual harassment allegations against him from the bench Saturday has come in for severe criticism from several quarters.
Yatin Oza, senior advocate and president of the Gujarat High Court Advocates’ Association has written a letter to CJI Gogoi criticising and questioning his decision.
In a separate open letter, activists Arundhati Roy, Anjali Bhardwaj, Yogendra Yadav, Bezwada Wilson, Harsh Mander, P. Sainath, Medha Patkar, Aruna Roy, Kamal Jaswal and others have expressed their concern over the victimisation of the complainant, a former Supreme Court staffer who accused the CJI of sexually harassing her in October last year.
Both Oza and the activists questioned the propriety of the top judge in assembling a special bench Saturday and addressing a matter that involved him.
Writing in his personal capacity, Oza said “keeping the question aside” as to whether the CJI could or could not have sat on the bench and taken up the matter on the judicial side on an issue that directly involves him, there were several questions to which “the nation wants answers”.
The activists, meanwhile, said: “The act of the Chief Justice of India to constitute a special bench headed by himself to hear this issue on the judicial side, rather than constituting a credible and independent inquiry committee, goes against all just and settled principles of law.”
At the hearing, CJI Gogoi and the government’s senior-most law officers made allegations against the complainant, which the activists said was “unbecoming of a judicial proceeding…”
Disclosure of income
Oza wrote that during Saturday’s special hearing, the CJI disclosed his bank balance. However, he asked if the top judge would also disclose the income of his son and son-in-law, “which runs into billions”.
“The return would not reflect even ten percent if Your Lordship were not a judge of the Supreme Court,” Oza claimed.
He further wrote: “I don’t think in the whole country, any advocate would have reflected this figure of income in their return with such less number of years in practice. Not one, including any top-notch respected senior advocate of the Supreme Court as on date.”
The advocate opined that by sitting on the bench Saturday, hours after the allegations were made public, it “clearly and unequivocally gave an impression to a man with prudence that you [Gogoi] abused the chair that you hold”.
Gogoi, he claimed, utilised the “pious chair of the Chief Justice” to prove his innocence.
Oza also questioned the impropriety in the alleged backdoor appointment of the staffer’s brother-in-law, which was expedited by the top judge using his discretion. Oza asked how the staffer was present at the CJI’s oath-taking ceremony on a personal invitation.
The senior advocate said the dismissal of the 35-year-old staffer in December was disproportionate to her alleged infraction — she was dismissed on the grounds of absenteeism. Referring to Justice A.M. Ahmadi’s observation in a matter in 1985, Oza said the dismissal was akin to applying “a roadroller to crush a fly”.
“It is the misfortune of this country that every time when serious allegations are made against the people holding the high of highest constitutional office, the females/victims are always looked at with contemptuous eyes and the law which otherwise has been laid down to deal with this type of cases is being a complete go by,” Oza said.
He also expressed his anguish at the transfer of Justice Akil Kureshi to the Bombay High Court, which many alleged was punishment for delivering two verdicts that angered Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah.
“Why [did] this [judicial independence] not occur to you, when knowingly and purposefully, under the mandate and dictum of the government you victimised Justice Akil Kureshi? Was the above not the reason for you to succumb to will and wish of the government?”
Activists call for independent inquiry
Meanwhile, the activists in their letter observed that “the charges are prima facie serious enough to warrant an independent inquiry by a high level independent committee”.
“The complaint also alleges arbitrary actions taken against the complainant, resulting in unprecedented victimisation that she and her family have been put through and continue to suffer after she rejected the alleged sexual advances. These include, the unjust termination of the services of the complainant, the suspension from service of her husband and two brothers-in-law, and her arrest on an apparently motivated FIR,” the activists said.
“It is imperative that the complainant be granted protection, so that her safety and security is ensured. In the meantime, since many of the witnesses named by the complainant are officials of the Supreme Court registry, it is incumbent on the Chief Justice to refrain from exercising any administrative powers during the course of the inquiry, since it would not be reasonable to expect officials under his direct administrative control to depose fearlessly.”
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