Probe panel on CJI: Justice Malhotra second woman in panel, replaces Justice Ramana who has recused himself

New Delhi: Justice N V Ramana has recused himself from a 3-member panel of judges headed by Justice Sharad Bobde, which was constituted to probe a sacked woman employee’s allegations of sexual harassment against CJI Ranjan Gogoi. The woman ex-employee had objected to Ramana’s presence on the probe panel since he was a close friend of CJI Gogoi and a frequent visitor to his house.

In a letter to Justice Bobde, she also raised question over the presence of only one woman apex court judge — Indira Banerjee — in the panel to examine her allegations against the CJI which is not in accordance with Vishaka Guidelines. Late night reports said Justice Indu Malhotra will replace Justice Ramana and look into the charges against CJI Gogoi.

The panel is headed by Justice SA Bobde has another judge, Justice Indira Banerjee, on board. The second woman judge in the Supreme Court after Justice R Bhanumathi, Indu was a member of the Vishakha Committee which drew up the guidelines to be followed in case of sexual harassment in workplaces across the country.

She is also a member of the panel constituted by the Supreme Court to deal with in-house sexual harassment complaints.

In another development, the Supreme Court has ordered a probe by its former judge A K Patnaik into allegations of fixing of its benches, which essentially means that litigants can get a judge of their choice for a consideration.

The probe is rooted in the allegations of a young lawyer that ‘fixers’ of Benches were behind a conspiracy to frame Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi with the charge of sexual harassment, levelled by an employee thrown out of job. This is the second big task to be entrusted to Justice Patnaik, who retired in July 2014; earlier, he was asked in October to supervise the Central Vigilance Commission probe against then CBI chief Alok Verma.

After continuing the hearing for the third day in a row, the Bench of Justices Arun Mishra, Rohinton Nariman and Deepak Gupta also ordered the directors of CBI and Intelligence Bureau and Delhi Police to assist Justice Patnaik in the investigation. It has sought Patnaik’s probe report in a sealed cover.

It also made it clear that Justice Patnaik will not go into the issue of the sexual harassment charges against CJI Gogoi, which are to be probed separately by the 3-judge panel of Justice Bobde. The court order came on the affidavit of lawyer Utsav Singh Bains, who submitted more information in another sealed cover besides the affidavit taken on record on Wednesday.

The earlier affidavit had alleged that the sexual harassment charge was part of a conspiracy by the fixers to defame the CJI. The Bench rejected Bains’ claim of privilege, which was objected to by the Attorney General and others on Wednesday, and directed him to divulge all information regarding the issues he has raised to Justice Patnaik and the IB and the CBI.

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