Section 144 was imposed around the Supreme Court premises after women lawyers and activists took to protests against the procedure adopted to deal with sexual harassment case against the Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi.
The protests followed the CJI being given a “clean chit” by the Supreme Court’s In-House Inquiry Committee which “has found no substance” in the allegations of sexual harassment levelled against him by a former woman employee of the apex court. A notice by the office of Supreme Court Secretary General said the report of the Committee, headed by Justice S A Bobde, “is not liable to be made public”. Raising doubts about the CJI’s exoneration, the protestors said the justice system was in danger. Activist Annie Raja said, “Women have waged a struggle for very long and will continue to do so for their rights. The SC committee has violated all existing norms. We want a transparent enquiry.”
“We want to protect the justice system. If the SC itself is violating norms, then there will be no value in the system left,” she added before being whisked away by the police.
Immediately after the CJI was absolved of sexual harassment charges, the aggrieved woman issued a press statement saying that she felt “highly disappointed and dejected”. She said she will consult her lawyers and decide on the future course of action.
The committee, also comprising two woman judges of the apex court — Justices Indu Malhotra and Indira Banerjee — gave the report ex-parte as the woman had opted out of the inquiry on April 30 after participating for three days.
She issued a press statement in which she described as “very frightening” the atmosphere of the Committee and walked out raising various objections including denial of her lawyer’s presence.
Justice Gogoi appeared on May 1 before the Committee and recorded his statements.
The notice said: “The In-House Committee has found no substance in the allegations contained in the complaint dated April 19, 2019 of a former employee of the Supreme Court of India. Please take note that in case of Indira Jaising vs Supreme Court of India and others, it has been held that the report of a committee constituted as a part of the In-House Procedure is not liable to be made public.”
It further said: “The In-House Committee has submitted its report dated May 5, 2019 in accordance with the In House Procedure, to the next senior judge competent to receive the report and also sent a copy to the judge concerned, namely, the CJI.”
An official source said that though Justice N V Ramana was the judge next in seniority after Justice Bobde, the report was not submitted to him as he was originally the member of the panel but had to recuse himself after the woman had expressed some reservations over his presence in the panel.
The source said Justice Arun Mishra, who is number four in seniority, is competent to receive the report.
After CJI Ranjan Gogoi, Justice Bobde is the senior-most judge followed by Justices Ramana, Mishra and R F Nariman.
The three-member panel was constituted on April 23, 2019 in which the original members were Justices Bobde, Ramana and Banerjee.
However, on April 25, Justice Ramana had to recuse himself after the woman expressed her reservations over his inclusion on the ground that he is a close friend of the CJI and a regular visitor to his house.
—India Legal Bureau