A three-member inquiry committee constituted by the Rajya Sabha to conduct investigation into allegations of sexual harassment against Justice SK Gangele of Madhya Pradesh High Court has found the charges “not proved” and has termed the judge’s conduct part of routine district administration/ exercise of supervisory power by the high court while criticising the MP HC for showing lack of human face in case of the complainant lady judicial officer.
The committee, comprising Justice R Banumathi, Supreme Court judge, Justice Manjula Chellur, former Chief Justice of Bombay High Court, and senior advocate KK Venugopal, held all three charges against Justice Gangele as “not proved”.
While ruling out sexual harassment, the committee concluded that the lady officer was a good officer who became a victim of wrong impressions and the MP High Court showed lack of human face in transferring her mid-term.
Since the complainant lady judicial officer was forced to resign after her transfer to a remote naxal-affected location at a time when her daughter was to sit for Board examination, the committee was of the view that she should be reinstated if she is interested in joining back the service. It, however, hastened to add that giving such a direction is not within its purview.
Justice Gangele was accused of sexually harassing an Additional District and Sessions judge.
On March 4, 2015, 58 members of the Rajya Sabha gave notice of motion for removal of Justice Gangele of the MP High Court bench at Gwalior on three grounds:
(i) Sexual harassment of a woman Additional District and Sessions judge of Gwalior while being a sitting judge of the Gwalior bench of the High Court of Madhya Pradesh.
(ii) Victimisation of the said Additional District and Sessions judge for not submitting to his illegal and immoral demands, including, but not limited to, transferring her from Gwalior to Sidhi.
(iii) Misusing his position as the administrative Judge of the High Court of Madhya Pradesh to use the subordinate judiciary to victimize the said Additional District and Sessions judge.
The inquiry committee which returned its finding in favour of the accused judge was the fourth committee to be constituted by the Rajya Sabha in April, 2016.
On Friday, it submitted the report before the Rajya Sabha.
Allegations By The Lady Judge
Justice Gangele was elevated to the MP High Court in October, 2004 from the Bar. In 2011, he was nominated to be the administrative judge of the Gwalior bench and was also in-charge of functioning of the District court, Gwalior.
The lady judge had joined MP Higher Judicial Services in 2011.
In her affidavit before the committee, the lady judicial officer referred to various instances of sexual harassment which involved alleged indirect demands by Justice Gangele to perform on an item song as part of the celebration of his 25th wedding anniversary.
She had complained that Justice Gangele used to send numerous messages through District Registrar asking her to meet him at his bungalow where he usually lived alone.
She also accused him of behaving inappropriately and making sexually-coloured remarks at various social gatherings and subjecting her to intense form of surveillance as a consequence of not paying heed to the sexual advances followed by her transfer to remote District Sidhi before completion of normal three-year tenure at Gwalior.
She was ultimately forced to resign from her post.
Justice Gangele, in his defence, denied all allegations, including sending messages through registrar, and said he was not part of the transfer committee and had no role in posting her to remote district.
The committee found all allegations unsubstantiated which included non-allotment of peon to the lady officer, deputing her stenographer to another court etc.
Charge Of Sexual Harassment
The committee found that the complainant judge had delayed in making any complaint against the alleged sexual harassment and the four instances of sexual harassment are not proved beyond reasonable doubt.
“Given the conduct of the complainant in strongly reacting to the behaviour of her stenographer, police constable and also her staff problem, absence of any reaction to the alleged sexual harassment meted out to her by the respondent judge, raises serious doubts in our mind. As pointed out earlier, the allegations of sexual harassment emerged for the first time much after her resignation that is in the complaint made to the Chief Justice of India on 01.08.2014 long after her resignation,” it noted.
Mid-Term Transfer To Naxal-Affected Sidhi
The committee held that the “mid-term transfer of the complainant and irregularity committed is attributable to the district judge Mr. Kamal Singh, Thakur and also the Transfer Committee…” but junked the allegation that the district judge acted at the behest of Justice Gangele.
The committee held that they failed to consider that the daughter of the lady officer was to take the Board examination and went ahead with her transfer.
“Be that as it may, the allegation of the complainant that District Judge Kamal Singh Thakur acted at the behest of the respondent judge is not substantiated by any material. On the other hand, in all probability, it appears that Mr. Kamal Singh Thakur as district judge of Gwalior and Mr. Naveen Sharma, District Registrar have carried wrong impression about the complainant in the mind of the respondent who was the portfolio judge. We do not, however, find any material which could link the allegation of sexual harassment against the respondent judge with the illegality in the transfer of the complainant,” it concluded.
MP HC Lack Of Human Face, Lady Officer Should Be Re-Instated
“From her ACR and her performance, we find that the complainant was a good officer. It is unfortunate that wrong impressions were created … about the complainant, both in the High Court as well as with the respondent judge. Therefore, there is a possibility of respondent judge forming wrong impression about the complainant especially when she has been approaching Justice PK Jaiswal for one reason or other.
“Consequently, the respondent judge pursuing the complainant's transfer, has resulted in the complainant's transfer to Sidhi. 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 committee said.
“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 option that, in the interest of justice, the complainant has to be reinstated back in the service, in case, if the complainant intends to rejoin service. We are conscious that the above opinion is not within the purview of our reference,” it concluded.