The common man looks up to the judiciary for upholding the values of equality, fairness and justice. When the highest court of the land itself faces serious allegations, the people expect it conduct itself in a manner that is above board. However, it is disheartening to see the turn of developments in the Supreme Court ever since the allegations of sexual harassment against the Chief Justice Ranjan Kumar Gogoi by a former court employee came to light. The complainant has now withdrawn from the inquiry proceedings fearing that no justice would be done to her since she has been denied a lawyer and the proceedings of the inquiry, by a three-judge team picked by the CJI, were not being recorded. It is ironical that the judiciary, which laid down national guidelines on prevention of sexual harassment at workplaces, is now found wanting in terms of putting in place a transparent mechanism to deal with charges against its own member. It would be a travesty of justice if the all-male internal inquiry panel goes ahead with the task without the presence of the complainant and without allowing her the support of a lawyer. In the interest of the credibility of the apex court, the inquiry must be handed over to an independent body comprising at least one woman member with a credible track record of working in the area of human rights. Three sitting judges hearing an allegation against the sitting CJI, who is their boss, clearly increases possibility of bias.
The legal experts have also argued that it is a fit case for the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) to intervene on behalf of the woman. It is unfortunate that the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act of 2013 (PoSH) does not specifically cover the Justices of Higher Courts. The provisions of this act insist strict adherence to the rule of having an external member in the probe committees to prevent the possibility of undue pressure or influence from senior levels and ensuring a safe environment for the complainant and witnesses. As per the Vishaka guidelines, the complainant has “the option to seek transfer of the perpetrator or her own transfer”. Since the CJI is both the administrative head and Chief of Judiciary, there is no such option available for the woman in this case. The complainant’s long affidavit contains allegations of persecution and dismissal from service after she resisted the sexual advances of the CJI. This is a very serious case with grave ramifications for the legal fraternity. Unless the judiciary comes clean on such charges and puts in place a transparent mechanism to prevent sexual harassment at workplace, it could face erosion of public faith.