Probe into larger conspiracy behind sexual harassment complaint against ex-CJI Gogoi closed

THE Supreme Court Thursday closed the suo motu proceedings it had initiated in 2019 to probe an alleged conspiracy to frame ex-CJI Ranjan Gogoi in an alleged sexual harassment case.

A bench led by Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul said that nearly two years had passed and the possibility of retrieving electronic records to help with the probe was low.

The bench, also comprising Justices AS Bopanna and V Ramasubramanian said that the Justice AK Patnaik (Retd) committee was not able to get electronic records like WhatsApp messages to probe the conspiracy and hence no purpose would be served by continuing with the suo motu case.

In a letter dated April 19, 2019, that was accompanied by a sworn affidavit to 22 judges of the apex court, a former Supreme Court employee alleged that she had been sexually harassed by CJI Gogoi while she was a staffer at his office. She also alleged that she and family were being persecuted by the police as a result of the incident.

The affidavit was reported by The, Caravan and The Leaflet which led to the initiation of suo motu proceedings by a bench led by the CJI Ranjan Gogoi himself and Justices Arun Mishra and Sanjiv Khanna. The bench sat on a non-working day and asked the media to exercise the restraint while reporting the allegations. The order, signed by only two judges, excluding CJI Ranjan Gogoi, reads as follows-

“Having considered the matter, we refrain from passing any judicial order at this moment leaving it to the wisdom of the media to show restraint, act responsibly as is expected from them and accordingly decide what should or should not be published as wild and scandalous allegations undermine and irreparably damage reputation and negate independence of judiciary. We would therefore at this juncture leave it to the media to take off such material which is undesirable,” 

Later a three-judge bench comprising Justices Arun Mishra, RF Nariman and Deepak Gupta was constituted to hear the matter, which on 25.04.2019 constituted a one-member inquiry committee headed by retired judge, Justice AK Patnaik to hold an enquiry into allegations made in affidavits by an advocate, Utsav Bains,  alleging that the sexual harassment complaints against ex-CJI Ranjan Gogoi were a part of a larger conspiracy by ‘fixers and plotters’ to frame him.

The Supreme Court had also made it clear that this enquiry by Justice Patnaik would not be with respect to the alleged misbehaviour involving CJI Gogoi and that the outcome of the enquiry would not affect the in-house procedure which was pending on the administrative side.

Meanwhile, in May 2019, a three-member in-house enquiry committee of the Supreme Court, comprising Justices  SA Bobde, Indira Banerjee and Indu Malhotra found no substance in the complaint of sexual harassment made by the former apex court employee against Justice Gogoi.

The committee, through a note released by the Secretary-General of the Supreme Court, said the findings of the report would not be made public. The report had been handed over the next senior-most judge, the note said, without naming the judge. CJI Gogoi had also been given a copy of the report.

After the retirement of Justice Gogoi in November 2019, the complainant woman staffer was reinstated to her job.