The Supreme Court has reinstated a woman employee, who, after being dismissed for insubordination in December 2018, had levelled sexual harassment charges against previous Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi in April 2019.
A three-judge SC inquiry panel headed by Justice S A Bobde, who succeeded Gogoi, had concluded in May that the charges were “without substance” and the SC secretary-general had dismissed them as “absolutely false and scurrilous”.
The woman is learned to have petitioned Gogoi last October, a month before he retired, seeking mercy reinstatement on the grounds that loss of job had put her family in extreme financial difficulty. She said she was not able to get a job and requested Gogoi to reinstate her with back wages.
Gogoi asked Bobde to decide on her application, and the latter ordered her reinstatement in the first week of November with back wages. She joined service in November, received back wages and proceeded on maternity leave.
The junior court assistant, who had accused the then CJI of an incident on October 11, 2018, was immediately ordered to leave the CJI’s residence office and report to the SC registry for a fresh assignment. However, she resisted the directions till October 27. Later, she joined the SC registry but then faced disciplinary proceedings for insubordination, leading to her dismissal in December 2018. She had levelled charges in an affidavit on April 19, 2019.
Bobde, who formed a panel of three Supreme Court judges on Gogoi’s direction, inquired into the complaint and gave a clean chit to the CJI on May 5 last year.
Activist-lawyers had backed woman’s demand for lawyer
The complainant withdrew from the inquiry midway after the panel did not agree to her demand to be represented by a lawyer. The allegations and subsequent developments had engulfed the SC in a controversy with a section of activist-lawyers taking up cudgels for the dismissed staffer and supporting her demand that she be allowed to be represented by a defence lawyer.
When news broke about the unprecedented charges, then CJI Gogoi had held court on a Saturday on April 20 and hinted that there were bigger forces behind the allegations. He had said, “Nobody can catch me on money part, so they found this. I don’t think a junior court assistant is behind this. There has to be a bigger force behind this. They want to destabilise the CJI, considering the important cases coming up for hearing next week in an election month. The independence of the judiciary is under severe threat. If judges are to be vilified like this, why would any good person want to become a judge? Who will want to become a judge and retire with a bank balance of Rs 6.8 lakh? I want to tell the country that the judiciary is under threat.”
Former CJI Ranjan Gogoi