‘I Should Have Not Been On That Bench’: Ex-CJI Gogoi On Sexual Harassment Allegation

New Delhi:  Former Chief Justice of India (CJI) Ranjan Gogoi on Wednesday said the woman who had made sexual harassment allegations against him was reinstated in service during his tenure, and that he should not have been on the bench, which heard the suo moto case registered by the apex court against the backdrop of allegations against him.

“In hindsight, I have should have not been on the bench… we all make mistakes. Even the CJI is human. No harm in accepting it,” he said.

Noting the reputation of 45 years at the bar and bench, which he had earned, was being questioned, he reiterated that it would have been better had he not been on that bench.

Ex-CJI Gogoi was speaking at a television interview at the launch of his autobiography “Justice for the Judge”.

The suo moto matter titled “Matter of Great Public Importance Touching upon the independence of Judiciary” had sent ripples after then Chief Justice Gogoi sat on the bench to hear the case, which directly affected him.

He said: “What was the order passed (by that bench)… does that order give me clean chit?”

Web portals had reported about the sexual harassment allegations levelled against Chief Justice Gogoi in April 2019. Following these allegations, a special Bench of the Supreme Court was convened on the same day to look into the matter.

Subsequently, an in-house special panel of the top court judges was constituted to examine the sexual harassment allegations against him. The panel was headed by Justice S.A. Bobde, who became the Chief Justice after him.

The former CJI insisted that this panel has been in existence for a long time and it will be wrong to label it toothless.

He elaborated that the investigation would not be launched at anybody’s compliant and it is only at the discretion of the full court.

“In house proceeding is not toothless. If there is prima facie finding, it would require the judge to resign. If he doesn’t, then matter goes to the Prime Minister and the President for impeachment,” he added.

Chief Justice Gogoi said: “But I put my neck out and gave the noose to Justice Bobde. He could have hanged me and got an extra 7 months of extra tenure (as Chief Justice)”, if the in-house committee had ruled against him. He further added that it is an internal inquiry and people have been found guilty.

To a query regarding the reinstatement of the woman staffer who made allegations against him after the end of his tenure, Chief Justice Gogoi said: “The lady was not reinstated after the end of my tenure, but during my tenure. She wrote a letter to Justice Bobde seeking appointment on humanitarian grounds. He (Justice Bobde) asked me (what to do) and I said ‘deal with it’. Justice Bobde reinstated her with compassion. He reinstated two other employees. He is a compassionate man.”

An inquiry into the complaint of the woman staffer, the in-house committee, comprising Justices Bobde, Indu Malhotra, and Indira Banerjee, had “found no substance” in her charges and gave a clean chit to the CJI.

The woman, who joined the top court in May 2014, had claimed unwelcome advances when she was posted at the residence office of then CJI Gogoi in October 2018. She claimed she was transferred later, and then terminated from service.