After a three-judge inquiry panel dismissed a sexual harassment complaint against Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi, an overwhelming majority of Supreme Court judges on Monday expressed solidarity with the CJI and questioned the propriety of Justice D Y Chandrachud’s letter to the panel suggesting alteration of the inquiry procedure. Contrary to reports in a section of media that views shared by Justice Chandrachud in his May 2 letter to the in-house panel headed by Justice S A Bobde had the support of 17 of 22 judges, SC sources said an “overwhelming number of judges met the CJI on Monday before lunch and expressed solidarity with the head of the institution while questioning the propriety behind the letter”.
Justice Chandrachud wrote to the inquiry panel which was set up by Justice Bobde and ratified by a full court of which Justice Chandrachud was a part. He suggested that the panel should not proceed ex-parte since the woman complainant had opted out of the inquiry. Justice Chandrachud’s letter did not go down well with most SC judges, who met the CJI on Monday and voiced their disagreement with the unprecedented step taken by a fellow judge. While expressing reservations against Justice Chandrachud’s letter, they questioned how a sitting SC judge could appear to influence the course of an in-house panel’s inquiry process. “The judges wondered whether this could open the floodgates for retired judges, colleague judges, lawyers, litigants and others to write to the judges to follow a certain procedure while hearing a case,” sources said.
The complainant had withdrawn from the inquiry after two days of proceedings. She had earlier objected to Justice N V Ramana’s presence on the panel and sought his recusal on the ground that he was close to CJI Gogoi. Justice Ramana refuted her charge but recused nevertheless. The reconstituted panel, which included Justices Indu Malhotra and Indira Banerjee, had told the complainant that they would proceed exparte if she withdrew midway. Two days after the complainant withdrew from the inquiry, Justice Chandrachud wrote to the panel against ex-parte proceedings and said there was no harm in providing assistance of a lawyer to the complainant during the inquiry, which was against the inhouse inquiry procedure.