Millennium Post

Stop turning a blind eye

The report by an Additional District and Sessions Judge in Gwalior, who was heading the Vishaka committee against sexual harassment, that she could not save herself from the prying eyes of a Madhya Pradesh high court judge and had to resign from judicial service to protect her ‘dignity, womanhood and self-esteem’ and former Supreme Court judge, Justice Markanday Katju’s allegation of corruption against a former additional judge of the Madras High Court and the manner in which he was protected by members of the higher judiciary as well as Tamil Nadu’s political leadership of the time is a matter of great concern with implication that all is not well with the higher judiciary.

These serious allegations raises a doubt about the integrity and moral turpitude of the judges who are trusted upon to carry out their public duties and functions independent of dishonest or ideological considerations. The lady judge’s allegations advocate that India’s higher judiciary is in a state of deterioration. They bring into attention the vital necessity on the part of the government to pledge moves to quickly pass two important bills – the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill of 2013 and the Judges Standards and Accountability Bill, 2010. All these measures will increase accountability of Judges of the High courts and the Supreme Court thereby further strengthening the independence of the judiciary. The proposed Bill would strengthen the institution of judiciary in India by making it more accountable thereby increasing the confidence of the public in the institution.

The Parliament passed The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 to provide protection against sexual harassment of women at workplace and for the prevention and redressal of complaints of sexual harassment and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto. It’s been a dichotomy that the same lady judge who was heading the Vishaka committee herself became of victim of sexual harassment which results in violation of the fundamental rights of a woman to equality under articles 14 and 15 of the Constitution of India and her right to life and to live with dignity under article 21 of the Constitution and right to practice any profession or to carry on any occupation, trade or business which includes a right to a safe environment free from sexual harassment.

There have been only two previous occasions where impeachment proceedings were initiated in Independent India in last 67 years. The first was Justice V Ramaswami of the Supreme Court of India and the other judge to face impeachment proceedings was Justice ‘Soumitra Sen’ of Calcutta High Court, against whom proceedings was initiated in Rajya Sabha on 17 August 2011
A scandal surfaced in the middle of year 1990 when several media outlets reported Justice Ramaswami ostentatious expenditure on his official residence during his tenure as a Chief Justice of Punjab and Haryana. In a serious turn of events, on 1 February 1991, Supreme Court Bar Association passed a resolution calling for his impeachment and requesting Chief justice not assign him any further legal work. Bharatiya Janata Party and Left parties submitted a notice of motion to the Indian Parliament seeking his removal from office.

Accepting the motion on 12 March 1991, Speaker Rabi Ray constituted a committee composed of Justice P B Sawant of the Supreme Court, Chief Justice P D Desai of the Bombay High Court and Justice O Chinnappa Reddy, retired judge of the Supreme Court to investigate the affair. The committee found Ramaswami guilty of 11 out of 14 charges. The impeachment motion was placed in the parliament for debate and voting on 10 May 1993. Well known lawyer and a Congress politician Kapil Sibal was his defence lawyer. Out of 401 members present in the parliament that day, there were 196 votes for impeachment and no votes against and 205 abstentions by ruling Congress and its allies. The motion which required not less than two third majority of the total number of members present in both houses of the Parliament and an absolute majority of its total membership thus failed to pass.

A few months back, a young woman accused a retired Supreme Court judge of sexually harassing her while he was in office. The woman said that she was harassed while she interned for Justice Swatenter Kumar in 2011. Though the former judge denied the charges and even sued the newspapers who published the former intern’s allegations against him. Not only this, another woman intern had leveled similar allegations against a retired Supreme Court judge. She alleged that Justice Ganguly had sexually harassed her in a hotel room on December 24, 2012. Hit by the allegation, the Supreme Court constituted the three-judge committee to go into the charge of the intern.  The ministry of home affairs later cleared the air about Justice  Ganguly, saying there is no case against him. It has referred to the Delhi Police’s feedback that there isn’t adequate evidence to lodge an FIR against Justice Ganguly and no probe is on against him.

Clean chit given by various committees formed to investigate the serious allegations will not help to stem the rot which has deeply infected the judicial system. To restore faith and confidence in the institution, systematic changes will need to be brought in and at the same time the highest officials will have to accept the reality, take hard decisions and punish the guilty in accordance with law and not attempt to thrust the problem underneath the rug.
The author is an advocate
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