Two judges who participated in the historic press conference by four sitting Supreme Court judges in January last year have questioned the Supreme Court’s handling of the sexual harassment allegations levelled against Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi. Writing for The Indian Express, Justice Madan Lokur—who along with Justice Jasti Chelameswar, Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justice Kurian Joseph had raised concerns over the conduct of former Chief Justice Dipak Misra—said the top court’s handling of the allegations reflected clear bias against the staffer who had made them. This, according to Justice Lokur, made him believe that she wasn’t fairly treated. He also questioned the need for the chief justice to attend the open court hearing that dealt with the allegations.
A former Supreme Court staffer had, in a letter addressed to all current judges of the apex court, alleged that Justice Gogoi made unwanted sexual advances to her twice in October 2018, following which her family was victimised. In a sudden hearing on April 20, 2019, a Supreme Court bench took up the matter for hearing. Justice Gogoi, who was also part of the bench, said in the court there was an attempt to attack the independence of the judiciary. An internal committee set up under Justice SA Bobde absolved the chief justice of any wrongdoing.
“The matter was reopened the same day (Saturday) at 10:30 am in Court No 1 of the Supreme Court on a mention having been made by the Solicitor General of India,” Justice Lokur wrote on the hearing. “It isn’t clear before whom he mentioned the matter, when and why was the mention entertained and what procedure was followed.”
Justice Lokur explained how the hearing was unprecedented. “The record of proceedings didn’t indicate the presence of the CJI on the Bench,” he wrote. “In other words, either the news reporters were seeing and hearing the equivalent of Banquo’s ghost (a reference to the character in Shakespeare’s Macbeth) in Court No. 1 or the record of proceedings was incorrect—tampering with the record may be to strong a word.”
The judge also highlighted how the internal committee meant to probe into the allegations was constituted by the chief justice himself and that it didn’t look into allegations that the complainant’s family was further victimised after the incidents. “The mandate given to the internal committee was limited to the allegation of unwanted physical contact, itself difficult to prove. The mandate did not include the allegation of victimisation.”