Allegations of sexual harassment levelled against Chief Justice of India (CJI) Ranjan Gogoi by a dismissed employee of the Supreme Court have stunned the nation. People are more shocked than surprised, not just because the allegations are against one of the highest constitutional functionaries and head of the country’s judiciary, but also due to their obnoxious nature. CJI Gogoi is not the first judge to face such allegations. Former Supreme Court judge AK Ganguly had to quit as the Chairman of the West Bengal Human Rights Commission in 2014 following allegations of sexual harassment by a law intern. Another former SC judge had to get a restraint order against the media from the Delhi High Court after a law intern alleged that she was sexually harassed by him in 2011. Removal proceedings were initiated against Madhya Pradesh High Court judge SK Gangele in 2015 after a lady judicial officer accused him of sexually harassing her. But a three-member inquiry committee constituted by the Rajya Sabha found the charges ‘not proved’ in 2017.
Justice Gogoi has described these allegations as ‘unbelievable’. In an unusual hearing held on Saturday, he said the independence of the judiciary was under a ‘very serious threat’ as some ‘bigger force’ wanted to ‘deactivate’ the CJI’s office. He has talked of his 20-year career as a judge, his paltry bank balance and asserted, “I will sit in this chair and discharge my judicial functions without any fear.”
However, it’s important for the judiciary to clear the air. The institution’s credibility is at stake. As per the Supreme Court verdict in the K Veeraswamy case (1991), no criminal case can be registered against Supreme Court and High Court judges unless the CJI is consulted in the matter. It is very easy to hurl accusations at people of stature, so the charges have to be diligently examined before tarnishing the reputation earned over decades of hard work. But at the same time, due process of law, upholding the highest principles of probity, should be followed by the CJI by not getting involved in his own case. And if the allegations are found to be false, the attempt to malign the CJI must be dealt with strictly.