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Sexual harassment charges: Delhi HC passes restricting orders on JNU professor, Atul Johri

Sexual harassment charges: Delhi HC passes restricting orders on JNU professor, Atul Johri
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The Delhi High Court on Wednesday (May 2) put strict restrictions on Atul Johri, professor at the School of Life Sciences, Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) on entering certain laboratories, on entering certain areas of the university and in contacting students who have brought allegations for sexual assault against the professor.

The court is hearing a plea filed by female students of the varsity who sought the suspension of Prof Johri and restraining him from entering the varsity’s campus. The plea had sought a safe and secure environment for the students as Johri has still been taking classes in the varsity.

In its last order the court has questioned the “helplessness” of the Vice Chancellor (VC) in suspending the professor against whom eight FIRs of sexual harassment have been lodged.

Justice Rajiv Shakdher had earlier asked the counsel for JNU if the VC was so helpless that he cannot take action and suspend Prof Atul Kumar Johri who is out on bail after being arrested for allegedly sexually assaulting female students at the varsity?

“Are you saying that the Vice Chancellor has no power? Is he is so helpless that he cannot take any action against the professor on the basis of the complaints? There is prima facie a case against the professor,” the judge had asked.

“Don’t you think that the professor should stay out of the campus till the enquiry is conducted even by the Internal Complaints Committee?” the court had asked the counsel for JNU.

Today petitioner (students), through senior advocate Vrinda Grover, submitted that the FIRs have been registered against the professor, he has been arrested and out on bail, but he is still continuing on the campus.

The plea was to put in place a redressal by the ICC (Internal Complaint Committee); take immediate action for misconduct, as no action has been initiated by JNU; initiate regulation 9 to deal with interim redressal, because they are taking refuge of ICC; “I have launched a FIR against the Professors but he still my PhD guide,” alleged a student; stop him from visiting the campus, faculty of life sciences; “they have restricted my access to laboratories and faculty, where I have to do my research, but the professor is continuously visiting the laboratories; total misleading of the law; reference to the sexual harassment at workplace Act made; FIR launched under Section 164 CrPC, Statements made before the Magistrate, no reason why one cannot stop him from visiting the faculty; duties of the employer; provide a safe environment at work place; provide assistance to women if she chooses to file a complaint; counsels.

The counsel started reading the FIR, but respondents intervened strongly.

After reading the news related to the alleged professor more women students coming forward with the complaints against Professor Johri.

Even the ex-university students have complained against Professor Johri. Complainants said that “he (the professor) repeatedly talks to women student’s about their physicality.”

Respondents counsel appearing for (Professor Johri) said: “Many documents have been given in this court and I have still to respond. The attendance of those students who have complained against me is poor. All complaints are vague. Please see the bail order and I need some time to respond.  Allegation against misconduct, a proper procedure is already stated under the sexual harassment act. The university has to initiate internal enquiry in that respect. Why did they come to this court for investigation? Oral statements of allegations cannot be taken as ground, because, according to law, women should have to  make a written complaint within a period of three months from occurrence of incidents only before the Internal Committee.”

The counsel also said that stereotype complaints were made against the professor. He said that by the statute complaints have to be made in a specific form.

At that point the bench cut in and asked: “Why are you reading all this? They have not gone to the ICC and FIRs have been launched already. What is the JNU intending to do here onwards? What is their plan and I have indicated in the last order as well.”

The counsel for the respondent said that so far as the civil action is prescribed it is under or should be according the statute. There is not statutory mandate to remove the professor at all.

The bench asked: “What has the VC done?”

The counsel said: “We have a fact finding committee in place. The VC can only act on the recommendations of the committee. There has been no misconduct. The committee was set up to check the facts on March 20.”

He said that the girls are being told to go to the ICC to give statements but they are not cooperating.”

The bench said: “So there is only the fact finding committee?”

The counsel said: “By the dean.”

The bench asked, what does the VC propose to do?

The counsel said that the professor is no longer a faculty member. “We will restrict his access to laboratory as well. The post of the supervisor has been changed. The students can go on leave for three months if they want to. So far as the UGC guidelines are concerned, there is a statutory mandate to take leave.”

He also said that finding another professor is not feasible at this point of time. However, arrangements can be made for that.

The counsel for the petitioner said that no arrangement has been made for a technical professor.

The bench suggested: “You need to find someone. Someone who can come from Jamia.”

The respondent’s counsel said: “In Jamia I don’t know whether they have professors in life sciences or not.”

When the petitioner’s counsel said that the professor resides on the campus and even after the hearing the court he can go to laboratory, the bench asked if he is going there.

The counsel for the professor said: “I don’t. I am respected person, father to three girl children.” The counsel also said that he (the professor) is no longer a warden and no longer in any administrative position.

The bench asked how long will the fact finding committee take. The answer was two to three weeks. “Waiting for the students to come forward.”

The bench ordered: “In fact the finding committee has been set up by the VC. Counsel has informed the court the professor has resigned and no longer warden of Chandrabhaga hostel. He shall no visit Lab No. 409, school of life Sciences. He will use a separate laboratory to work. Students should access the ICC which is set up by the VC. Concrete action should be taken against the professor if his presence is seen on the campus. Since the fact finding committee comprises only male members see if there can be a female professor who will become member. The suggestion shall be forwarded to the VC if he can take action. The VC shall take steps in a fair manner.

“Respondents No 4 (professor) will not be part of any administrative department.  Will not take charge of any hostel which have women inmates. Not use Lab Nos 4 and 5. The VC should find an alternative supervisor for the petitioner No 1 and 4 within the shortest possible time.  JNU will consider the advising of sending respondents no 4 (professor) on leave for three months.

He can return after the fact finding Committee submit its report. Serious allegations made against respondents no 4 (professor). Also in the interest of respondents 4 reduce the chance of interactions.  Respondent no 4 shall file reply in two weeks. Also, we expect, on the next date of hearing the report of the facts finding committee by the VC will be put on record.

Matter Adjourned to May 23.

—India Legal Bureau

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