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Above: A representative image of sexual harassment/Photo: Anil Shakya

A panel probing sexual harassment charges against the MP judge has found “insufficient” material to impeach him and wants the complainant reinstated 

Pallav Sisodia

 

~By Pallav Shishodia

 

In cases where sexual harassment allegations are based on sexually loaded comments, the debate is between the victim’s version and the perpetrator’s. Persons in positions of power against whom allegations are made can also stonewall the inquiry by delays and procedural maze. At times, the victim’s allegations may be motivated or simply due to paranoia. The puzzle may be unravelled by attendant circumstances and enquiry of other actors at the workplace. However, there rarely is one inference and the versions of others tend to be partisan. And the ultimate casualty is truth.

In the sexual harassment case against Justice SK Gangele, a High Court judge in Madhya Pradesh, the complainant was Sangita Madan, who joined the subordinate judicial services of the state in 2011. She complained against him in 2013-14 and resigned for being transferred to a remote Naxal area.

A debate about procedure resulted in a long judgment in A.D. & A.S.J ‘X’ V/s High Court of M.P. reported in 2015 (4) SCC 91. This led to a preliminary report by a committee of three judges comprising Justices DY Chandrachud, G Rohini and Ajay Rastogi which found the allegations prima facie correct.

Thereafter, a three-member committee of Justices Banumathi and Urmila Chellur and KK Venugopal was set up by the Rajya Sabha for statutory inquiry under the Judges (Inquiry) Act, 1968. It found that evidence against Justice Gangele was not adequate to prove the allegations beyond reasonable doubt to justify an impeachment. This committee said: “We have no doubt in our mind that the allegations of sexual harassment if proved would amount to ‘misbehavior’ warranting removal of the judge. In Article 124 (4) of the Constitution of India, our constitution framers have thoughtfully used the expression ‘pro-ved misbehavior’. As pointed out earlier, since misbehavior of one judge has cascading effect on the reputation of the entire judiciary and undermines the public confidence in the administration of justice, charges must be based and proved by substantive evidence. We are conscious that normally sexual harassment does not happen in public view and it is difficult to adduce any independent evidence. But impeachment proceedings cannot be equated to a departmental proceeding to adopt the standard of proof of ‘preponderance of probability’. The present proceedings being an impeachment proceeding for removal of a High Court Judge, higher degree of proof is required.”

The committee found from Madan’s ACR and performance that she was a good officer. It was unfortunate that wrong impressions were created about her in the High Court as well as with the respondent judge, and most likely this wrong impression led to her transfer to Sidhi. Under these circumstances, Madan probably had no option but to resign as her elder daughter was appearing for her Class XII board exam.

The committee finally concluded: “In these circumstances, we find that the transfer of the complainant to Sidhi has become unbearable for her to continue in service resulting in her resignation. So far as the Madhya Pradesh High Court is concerned, without naming any particular individual, the Committee is of the view that there has been a total lack of human face in the transfer of the complainant. The Committee is of the opinion that, in the interest of justice, the complainant has to be re-instated back in the service, in case, if the complainant intends to re-join service.”

—The writer is a senior advocate in the Supreme Court

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