The lady who had raised allegations of sexual harassment against Chief Justice Gogoi has now said in a press release that she will not participate in the proceedings of the three judge committee. The complainant walked out of the proceedings yesterday after submitting a letter. The main reasons cited by her for deciding not to participate in the proceedings are that (i) she was not allowed to have “presence of lawyer/support person” despite her “impaired hearing, nervousness and fear”, (ii) there was no video or audio recording of the committee proceedings, (iii) she has not been supplied a copy of her statement recorded on the earlier two hearings and that (iv) she has not been informed of the procedure the Committee is following.
The Committee constituted with the approval of the Full Court consists of the second most senior Judge, Justice S. A. Bobde, and two lady Judges, Justice Indira Banjeree and Justice Indu Malhotra. The complainant participated in the proceedings on the 26th an 29th but walked out of yesterday’s proceedings without participating in it.
The primary grievance of the complainant is that she is not being permitted legal representation before the Committee. The same grievance was also raised in the complainant’s letter dated 24th April to the Judges and also in a letter addressed to the Supreme Court Judges by more than 250 women in support of the complainant. The complainant has stated more than once in her press release that the Committee should follow the spirit of the Prevention of Sexual Harassment of Women at the Workplace Act. Interestingly, Rule 7(6) of the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition, and Redressal) Rules 2013 specifically says, “The parties shall not be allowed to bring in any legal practitioner to represent them in their case at any stage of the proceedings before the Complaints Committee.”
The complainant has stated in her press release that she informed the Committee in writing on the 27th that she wants to be represented by her lawyer Vrinda Grover. However, she has made a dramatic claim in a preceding paragraph of the press release that she was asked by the Committee on the 26th to “not even share the proceedings with my lawyer Advocate Vrinda Grover”. Though a very serious allegation, it is not clear how the three Judges knew (on the 26th) who her lawyer would be, to be able to mention the lawyer by name.
A similar allegation of sexual harassment was made by a law intern against Justice A K Ganguly after his retirement. A Committee comprising of Justices R M Lodha, Justice H L Dattu and Justice Ranjana Prakash Desai was constituted by the then Chief Justice P Sathasivam. That Committee with only one lady Judge followed a similar procedure as is being followed by the present Committee. The Committee held seven meetings, recorded statement of the complainant and took on record three of her affidavits and recorded the statement of the retired Judge. The Committee filed a report before the then Chief Justice recording their finding that the statement and affidavits of the complainant prima facie disclosed unwelcomed behavior by the Judge.
Despite the prima facie finding by the Committee, the Complainant in that case refused to record her statement before the Police and the matter came to an inconclusive end. However, the damage had already been done. Justice Ganguly had resigned as Chairman of West Bengal Human Rights Commission.
Given the manner in which one objection after the other is being raised by the complainant in the present case, it seems that this case also will not reach anywhere near its logical conclusion. The reason why the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace Rules, 2013 denies legal representation to parties is to ensure a speedy conclusion. The object of those who are advising the complainant seems to be to protract the matter and to keep the sword of Damocles hanging over the whole institution.
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