Woman judge sexually harassed by Madhya Pradesh High Court’s Justice Gangele files for reinstatement

[dropcap]O[/dropcap]n July 23, 2018, a former Additional District and Sessions Judge started one more chapter in her years-long struggle for justice as she moved to the Supreme Court pleading for reinstatement of her rudely interrupted judicial service. The former woman judge pleaded that her resignation — given four years back in the wake of “unbearable circumstances” — amounted to an act of constructive termination. She claims that she was forced to put in her papers as a consequence of her being unlawfully and in a mala fide manner transferred to a conflict area for not bowing to the immoral demands of a Madhya Pradesh High Court judge.

The current petition projects that her resignation was a forceful dismissal.

On December 15, 2017, a three-member judges inquiry committee set up by the Rajya Sabha Chairman to probe into the charges of sexual harassment alleged by the woman judge, said in its135-page report that the decision of the transfer committee to transfer the complainant from district Gwalior to district Sidhi was based on the recommendation by the then district judge of Gwalior, Kamal Singh Thakur, “who had his own reasons to believe that the complainant was making anonymous complaint against the district judge and other judges”.

The judges inquiry committee report added: “The transfer committee committed an irregularity on solely relying on the recommendation of district judge Kamal Singh Thakur and without making any verification or enquiring on the same, was not justified in transferring the complainant in mid-session. Equally unjustifiable was the rejection of her representations. Transfer of the complainant also does not seem to be in the interest of the administration and, in our view, it was punitive.”

In addition, the committee also “acknowledge[d] [Justice S K Gangele’s] interference with her transfer, rejection of her representations, and appointment with the Chief Justice. The Committee however, termed the same as improper conduct and not ‘misbehaviour’ under Article 124(4) read with Article 217.”

The inquiry committee report further said: “The respondent judge was the Portfolio Judge of District Gwalior and also the Administrative Judge of Gwalior Zone, the respondent must have been definitely apprised about the proposal for transferring the complainant by Mr. Kamal Singh Thakur. Certain conversations between respondent judge and Justice Menon (presently, the Chief Justice of Patna High Court) at certain interval of time of which some conversations coincide with the processing of transfer order of the complainant and consideration of her representations. The coincidence of call details records is suggestive that the respondent judge’s interference with the transfer and consideration and rejection of her representations.”

The judges inquiry committee observed: “From her ACR (annual confidential report) and her performance, we find that the complainant was a good officerand it was unfortunate that “wrong impressions were created by Kamal Singh Thakur and Naveen Sharma, district registrar, about the complainant, both in the High Court as well as with the respondent judge.”

Under these circumstances, the complainant probably had no option than to submit her resignation since her elder daughter was pursuing Board XII exam. In these circumstances, we find that the transfer of the complainant to Sidhi has become unbearable for her to continue in service, resulting in her resignation,” the report observed. “So far as the Madhya Pradesh High Court is concerned, without naming any particular individual, the committee is of the view that there has been a total lack of human face in the transfer of the complainant. The committee is of the opinion that, in the interest of justice, the complainant has to be re-instated back in the service, in case, if the complainant intends to re-join the service,” the report said.

The woman judge, accordingly, had on December 21, 2017, written to the Madhya Pradesh High Court, showing her willingness to rejoin the judicial service as the Additional and District Sessions Judge. The Madhya Pradesh  High Court sent her a reply saying and plea “has been considered and rejected by the Full Court” meeting held on January 11, 2018.

The Madhya Pradesh High Court also added: “It is resolved unanimously after considering the entire record relating to the transfer and resignation of _____, that the Committee under the Judges (Inquiry) Act,1968 is a Tribunal of Limited jurisdiction constituted to examine the allegations of misconduct against a sitting Judge of the High Court in terms of article 217(1)(b) read with article 124(4) of the Constitution.

It is upon this ambiguous order of the Madhya Pradesh HC that the former woman ADJ has moved to the Supreme Court for relief, seeking reinstatement of her judicial service, with all the retrospective reliefs such as seniority considerations, promotions, back wages and arrears, etc.

It is pertinent to note that there has been a prayer for the setting up of Vishakha Committees in all High Courts for the redressal of complaints related to sexual harassment, as was the case in the earlier petition filed by the former woman ADJ.

It is also equally important to note that the concerned High Court Judge, Justice S K Gangele, against whom the sexual harassment charges were levelled by the woman ADJ, is going to retire on July 25, 2018. The senior counsel advising the former woman judge is of the view that Justice Gangele should not be given any post-retirement job to drive home a strong point against the still unacknowledged sexual harassment cases within the judiciary.

The Leaflet