Justice NV Ramana opts out of panel probing harassment allegations against CJI Ranjan Gogoi

New Delhi: Justice NV Ramana, part of 3-member in-house inquiry panel set up to examine the allegations of sexual harassment against Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi, recused himself from it on Thursday.

An apex court source said that Justice Ramana has opted himself out of the inquiry panel headed by Justice S A Bobde.

The development comes a day after the former apex court woman employee, who leveled the allegations against the CJI, wrote a letter to the panel expressing reservation over the inclusion of Justice Ramana.

She had expressed objection to the presence of Justice Ramana in the panel on the ground that he is a close friend of the CJI and a regular visitor to his house.

The woman was supposed to appear before the panel on Friday.

In a letter to Justice Bobde, she also raised question over the presence of only one woman apex court judge — Indira Banerjee — in the panel to examine her allegations against the CJI which is not in accordance with the Vishaka Guidelines.

She said that as per the guidelines laid down by the Supreme Court in the Vishaka judgment, for holding inquiry into the allegations of sexual harassment at work place, the committee must have a majority of women.

According to an official, the woman wrote, “I would humbly suggest that since I was posted in the CJI’s residence office, I know that Justice Ramana is a close friend of the CJI and is like a family member to him.

“Justice Ramana is a frequent visitor to the residence of the CJI. Because of this I fear that my affidavit and evidence will not receive an objective and fair hearing.” The woman had also asked the panel to allow her to appear before it along with a lawyer and the proceedings of the committee be video recorded so that there can be no dispute about what transpired in the inquiry.

In the letter, the official said, the woman expressed concern over the statements made by the CJI when he sat on a bench on Saturday along with Justices Arun Mishra and Sanjiv Khanna.

The committee headed by Justice Bobde, the senior-most apex court judge, was appointed Tuesday and he inducted Justices Ramana and Banerjee into it.

“I decided to have Justice Ramana in the panel as he is next to me in the seniority and Justice Banerjee as she is a woman judge,” he had told PTI Tuesday.

“This is going to be an in-house procedure which does not contemplate representation of advocate on behalf of parties. It is not a formal judicial proceeding,” he said.

He had clarified that there is no time frame to complete the inquiry and future course of action will depend on “what comes out of the inquiry” which will be “confidential”.

A three-judge bench headed by CJI on Saturday had held an unprecedented hearing in the wake of allegations made against Justice Gogoi.

Describing the allegations of sexual harassment against him as “unbelievable”, the CJI had convened the extraordinary hearing at the Supreme Court during which he said a larger conspiracy was behind it and he would not stoop so low even to deny these allegations.

Justice Gogoi had said some “bigger force” wanted to “deactivate” the office of the CJI.

After the Saturday’s hearing, lawyers’ organisations and jurists had criticised the CJI for constituting the bench comprising himself, though he had recused himself in the middle of the hearing leaving it for justices Mishra and Khanna to pass the order.

On Tuesday, the CJI had set up a fresh bench comprising justices Mishra, R F Nariman and Deepak Gupta to adjudicate the matter relating to sexual harassment levelled against him.

The former woman apex court staffer had leveled the allegations against the CJI which was brought into public domain by some news portals on April 20.

She had worked at Justice Gogoi’s home office in Delhi and the allegations were carried by these news portals based on the affidavit by the woman.

In her affidavit, the woman described two incidents of alleged molestation, days after Justice Gogoi was appointed CJI last October and her subsequent persecution.

She alleged that she was removed from service after she rebuffed his “sexual advances”. She claimed that her husband and brother-in-law, both of whom were head constables, were suspended for a 2012 criminal case that had been mutually resolved.

(With Agency Inputs)