Hit-and-run in the apex court

The complainant against the Chief Justice of India, Ranjan Gogoi, who had accused him of sexual harassment has refused to cooperate with the three-member committee of sitting judges specially set up to probe her charge. She said she did not expect `justice from this committee.’

On Tuesday, in a statement issued under her name but by the office of the activist-lawyer Prashan Bhushan she faulted the committee comprising Justices S A Bobde, Indira Banerjee and Indu Malhotra for not allowing her lawyer to be present, for not supplying her a copy of her own statement recorded a couple of days earlier and for not video-recording the proceedings.

She questioned the tenability of the committee: “It is neither an in-house committee proceedings, nor a proceeding under the Vishakha Guidelines and that it was an informal proceeding.” She also claimed that she was orally told not to reveal the proceedings of the committee to the media or even share these with her lawyer. A few more grievances on the above lines are mentioned to justify her refusal to join the inquiry into her own charge against the CJI. Clearly, she was looking for an excuse to boycott the probe.

Her charge was very serious, and given the time she had taken to file it, careful deliberation by her lawyer-mentors seemed to have gone into it. But why would she miss an opportunity when given to prove the correctness of her charge. Why would she run away from an inquiry in which two respected women judges sit along with the senior-most judge after the CJI.

Truthfully testifying before the high-powered committee would have been the only rightful course for her. Instead, she has chosen to run away on what appear to be entirely flimsy excuses. If her intention was to damage the reputation of the CJI she has already done it. It is because there are always people ready to believe the worst of others, especially those in higher authority. But in this case there seems to be a deeper conspiracy at work.

Though it is hard to furnish substantive evidence, the fact that the CJI has disappointed all those who had built up their hopes that he would adopt a pointedly anti-government stance- particularly after his participation in an extraordinary press conference against the then CJI Dipak Mishra in January last year.

A slew of politically sensitive cases were heard by the Supreme Court in recent weeks and in none of these did the court tilt away from giving just and fair orders, something which must have riled those who are habitually used to rope in the higher judiciary through PILs or other such devices to advance their own partisan and ideological agendas.

Yes, what we are suggesting is that a conspiracy might be afoot to trip the CJI, to bend him away from leading a balanced, fair-minded court, and to tilt towards the activists’ extraneous agendas. Of course, this is not to pass a comment on the correctness or otherwise of the charge of sexual harassment but to underline the fact that the intervention of the usual suspects in the Supreme Court Bar who are always the first to throw stones against the judges without ever furnishing solid evidence seems to have turned the poor complainant into a mere puppet in their hands

. She may have genuine grievances but her failure to lodge the complaint immediately after the alleged incident too creates suspicion. The whole thing has become murky. Now that she has pulled out of the inquiry, she has forfeited an opportunity to prove her case. The least she can do now is to steer clear of those who are known to often settle their battles with judges and with politicians through PILs and other legal mechanisms, though they are known to be equally adept at raking in big bucks like all other ‘normal’ lawyers.

Meanwhile, it is a sorry situation that without a clean chit from the inquiry committee doubts about the character of the CJI will linger, neither proved nor disproved. Any honorable man in CJI’s position will feel very hurt and angry. But will find himself helpless when the accuser uses hit and run tactics.

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