Can’t brush sexual harassment allegations under carpet: Supreme Court

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The Supreme Court has said that “sexual harassment allegations can’t be swept under the carpet” and asked a former district judge who challenged a decision of the Madhya Pradesh high court to initiate disciplinary proceedings against him for his alleged conduct to face probe than challenging it in court.

The judicial officer had challenged his disciplinary proceedings on the ground that the accuser, a junior lady officer, had withdrawn her sexual harassment complaint against him. The HC was wrong in initiating disciplinary proceedings against him a second time, argued senior advocate R Balasubramaniam, representing Shambhoo Singh Raghuvanshi. Senior advocate Ravindra Srivastava appeared for the HC.

Raghuvanshi is accused of sending inappropriate messages to the junior judicial officer and the HC had instituted a disciplinary inquiry into this. A bench comprising Chief Justice SA Bobde and Justices AS Bopanna and V Ramasubramanian forced him to withdraw his plea against the probe. “We cannot allow sexual harassment cases to be swept under the carpet like this,” the CJI observed.

“You are walking on very thin ice; you can fall any time. As it is, you stand convicted (of the charges), you may get acquitted,” the CJI told his counsel. This prompted him to withdraw the plea rather than have his client’s case dismissed. Dismissal could have prejudiced his client in the enquiry.

The CJI’s remarks notwithstanding, SC has no procedure for filing sexual harassment complaints and an in-house panel deliberates on the charges in camera and its findings are often not released to the press. As a result, most complaints are often made in the press and charges debated in public, much to the discomfiture of the court.

In one recent case involving a former judge, a blanket ban was placed on the media reporting the charges. Nothing has been heard about the case since. In another case, a sitting CJI called for a judicial hearing and dubbed it a conspiracy to attack the independence of the institution. The in-house panel subsequently cleared him of the charges and a week ago, the court which instituted a suo motu inquiry into the conspiracy disposed the case with an observation that too much time had lapsed since the case and there was little chance of recovering any electronic evidence now. The bench though refused to rule out a conspiracy citing an IB report which had said that the former CJI’s judicial decisions on the

may have prompted an attack on him. The in-house mechanism also cannot deal with such cases involving former top court judges, a sore point with those seeking greater accountability and transparency in its workings.





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