February 13, 2019:
On Tuesday, the Supreme Court quizzed the Madhya Pradesh HC as to why a woman judicial officer, seeking reinstatement after having resigned following inquiry into her allegations of sexual harassment against a sitting HC Judge, wasn’t allowed to meet the then Chief Justice.
The Judge was given a clean chit in Dec 2017 by a Rajya Sabha-appointed panel which had probed the allegations.
A motion of impeachment was admitted against the HC Judge after 58 members of the Rajya Sabha supported the woman’s case.
The Top Court told the registrar general of the high court that “there were too many strange coincidences” in the arguments put forth by him.
A bench of Justice A K Sikri, Justice S Abdul Nazeer and Justice M R Shah said that the High Court will have to explain the circumstances in which the trial judge was transferred to Sidhi from Gwalior on the ground of pendency of cases as the Judges Inquiry Committee (JIC) have opined that it was not the valid ground.
Senior Advocate Ravindra Shrivastava, appearing for Registrar General of the high court, said that the apex court has to see the scope and jurisdiction of the JIC.
The bench said it agrees that JIC’s recommendation were not binding on the high court but it was a high powered committee and, therefore, it may have some persuasive powers.
Shrivastava contended that the woman in her petition is seeking judicial review of the full court’s administrative decision which cannot be done.
To this, the bench said, “Judicial review of the administrative decision of the full court can be done. Role of a judge and role of an administrator are two different things. In Supreme Court, there are cases when two judges support the motion in full court but when they sit on judicial side, they have adjudicated it accordingly. That’s the beauty we have”.
The Senior Counsel said all the high courts draw their power from the Constitution and administrative decisions of transfer, resignation and seniority fall within its purview.
The bench asked him to respond to the submissions made by the petitioner’s counsel, Senior Advocate Indira Jaising, that there were several calls made by the sitting judge to the staff of the Chief Justice of the High Court and to the chairman of the JIC.
“Let’s be honest. Why she was not allowed to meet the Chief Justice to tell her side of the story. She sought time for meeting with Chief Justice,” the bench asked Shrivastava.
Earlier, Jaising said that petitioner after being transferred was left with no other option but to resign due to the circumstances.
The hearing remained inconclusive and would continue today.
On Jan 11, the High Court had told the Apex Court that the woman judicial officer cannot be reinstated.
The woman has moved the apex court seeking that the administrative order of Jan 11, 2017 passed by the High Court, dismissing her application for reinstatement into the state Higher Judicial Services, should be set aside.
The registrar general of the High Court also said that High Court had not compelled her to tender resignation.
In her petition, the former trial judge has said that her fundamental rights granted under the Constitution for employment, to work and to carry on her profession needs to be secured.
She has said that high court had ignored the categorical finding in the report of the JIC dated Dec 15, 2017 terming the petitioner’s resignation dated July 15, 2014 from her post of Additional District Judge as “unbearable circumstances having no other option”.
The plea has said that Madhya Pradesh High Court had dismissed her application “without assigning any valid reasons for the rejection and in utter disregard of the findings of fact arrived by the Judges Inquiry Committee in its report”.
“After the inquiry proceedings conducted against the respondent judge on three charges relating to sexual harassment, consequent victimization and transfer of the petitioner, the JIC held that the charges were not proved and hence cleared him of all charges,” the petition has said.
It, however, said the JIC took note of the arbitrary and sudden transfer of the petitioner from Gwalior to Sidhi which was done “in complete violation of the transfer policy, not on administrative exigencies and concluded that the transfer of the petitioner was in violation of the transfer Policy – punitive, irregular, unjustified, arbitrary and hurried”.
The woman in her plea has added that the JIC had opined that “the petitioner be reinstated in service since her resignation was tendered under coercion”.
The report of the panel comprising Supreme Court judge R Banumathi, Justice Manjula Chellur (then Bombay High Court judge) and jurist K K Venugopal (now Attorney General for India) had given a clean chit to the High Court Judge was tabled before the Rajya Sabha on Dec 15, 2017.
The panel was set up in April 2015 by then Rajya Sabha chairman Hamid Ansari after admitting a motion supported by 58 members to impeach the judge.
On July 7, 2014, the woman trial judge was transferred to Sidhi from Gwalior which she termed as “illegal”, “unjust” and “punitive transfer” as their was no vacancy in Sidhi nor any administrative exigencies.