The Supreme Court has reinstated a woman employee who had last year accused former Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi of sexual misconduct, The Indian Express reported on Wednesday, 22 January.
The report quoted sources as saying that the woman had joined duty and proceeded on leave. Even her arrears have been cleared, the report quoted the sources as saying. Senior lawyer Vrinda Grover, who had assisted the woman complainant, has also confirmed the development to The Quint.
The woman had become a member of the Supreme Court’s staff in May 2014. In an affidavit sent to all the judges of the Supreme Court in April 2019, she had claimed she’d been sexually harassed by the former CJI when she was posted at Gogoi’s residential office in October 2018.
She had also alleged that she’d been victimised over the incident subsequently, and was transferred and terminated from service for alleged disciplinary violations on 21 December 2018. A week later, her husband and brother-in-law were suspended from their positions with the Delhi Police over an old complaint that had been mutually resolved. They were eventually reinstated in June 2019.
A criminal case for cheating and intimidation had also been filed against the woman in March 2019, allegedly for taking money from a man whom she’d promised a job at the court. She was arrested for this case the same month but was granted bail. In September 2019, the Delhi Police filed a closure report in the case after the complainant decided to drop the case.
The in-house committee of the Supreme Court, that had investigated the matter, had given a clean chit to the former CJI after finding 'no substance' in the allegations levelled against Gogoi. The committee comprised of Justice SA Bobde (the current CJI) as well as Justices Indu Malhotra and Indira Banerjee.
The woman had withdrawn from the proceedings of the committee on the grounds that she was not allowed legal representation.
When the allegations broke in April 2019, CJI Gogoi courted controversy by utilising his power as Master of the Roster to set up a bench to investigate what he termed a threat to the independence of the judiciary, of which he himself was a part.
He used the opportunity of an urgent hearing to speak out against the allegations before eventually setting up a bench headed by Justice Arun Mishra to probe a possible conspiracy to falsely implicate him. Retired Supreme Court judge, Justice AK Patnaik was appointed to investigate these claims, but despite submitting his report back in September 2019, there has been no further news on these claims.
The office of the Supreme Court Secretary General had also, in April 2019, denied the charges, calling them “absolutely false and scurrilous”.
Speaking to The Quint, Vrinda Grover suggested that the decision to reinstate the woman is “an acknowledgment of the truth of her affidavit, complaining of sexual harassment and the systematic victimisation suffered by her and her family members.”
"The SC staffer stands vindicated,” she said, “but the unfinished business of justice and accountability, however remains.” Grover also noted that the whole incident highlighted the absence of an independent and effective mechanism to address a complaint of sexual harassment against a Judge of the Supreme Court.
Currently, in such cases, the only way for the allegations to be investigated is by an internal committee set up under the court’s ad hoc procedures.
(With inputs from The Indian Express)