JNU Sexual Harassment Case: Should Prof. Atul Johri Be Suspended From Campus? Delhi HC Directs ICC To Examine [Read Order]

JNU Sexual Harassment Case: Should Prof. Atul Johri Be Suspended From Campus? Delhi HC Directs ICC To Examine [Read Order]

The Delhi High Court on Tuesday ordered Jawaharlal Nehru University's Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) to reach a prima facie finding on allegations of sexual harassment against Prof. Atul Johri, and examine whether the allegations warrant his immediate suspension or removal from the campus.

Justice Rajiv Shakdher ordered, "ICC as, presently, constituted will examine the material available on record, which is the FIRs and the complaints placed on record as also the deposition of the other concerned persons and, thereafter, reach a prima facie finding as to whether respondent No.4’s conduct is such that it merits his immediate suspension and/or removal from the campus. The ICC so constituted will not insist on the petitioners/complainants deposing before it for this purpose. The ICC will, in this behalf, if necessary, call upon the Investigating Officer (I.O.) appointed in the criminal case triggered against respondent no.4 to show them the statement of the petitioners/complainants recorded under Section 164 of the Cr.P.C."

The ICC has been directed to do the needful within a period of three weeks. Justice Shakdher further reiterated his earlier order which barred Prof. Johri from contacting the complainants, and taking charge as the warden of any hostel in the university campus which houses women.

The Court is hearing a Petition filed by seven women students seeking Prof. Johri's suspension on the ground of eight FIRs having been lodged against him alleging sexual harassment.

During the hearing on Tuesday, Justice Shakdher expressed his dissatisfaction with the report submitted by the Fact Finding Committee (FFC), which was constituted at the behest of the Vice Chancellor (VC) of JNU. Notably, initially, the FFC consisted of only male members. A lady professor was taken on board only after the Court pointed out the deficiency to the University.

The report of the FFC was now submitted to the Court by JNU's counsel, Ms. Ginny J. Rautray. At the outset, the Court noted that a copy of the report had not been furnished to the counsel for the Petitioners. It further noted that the report lacked any finding as such on the allegations and that the annexures appended to the report merely collated the correspondence between the JNU administration and the complainants.

The Court also pointed out the fact that the FFC had failed to deliberate on other issues highlighted by it in its earlier orders, which included steps to provide a safe working environment to the complainants.

Responding to the Court's concerns, Ms. Rautray asserted that it is only the ICC which can inquire into the professor's alleged misconduct. She submitted that the FFC did not have the jurisdiction to deal with the issues pointed out by the Court. Prof. Johri, on the other hand, contended that his removal from the campus would affect other students who might require his supervision.

Having considered the submissions, the Court opined that there existed sufficient evidence to show that despite its orders, Prof. Johri has had access to laboratory no. 409 of the Department of Life Sciences where the students work. It therefore barred him from visiting the lab and directed separate keys to be provided to two of the complainants, who are pursuing their Ph.D.

Besides, the two PhD students have also been directed to be provided new supervisors, so that they can continue with their research work. Setting a deadline of 10 days for this, the Court ordered, "In this behalf, suggestions, if any, given by petitioner No.1 and 4 will be considered favorably by the V.C. This, however, will not absolve the VC from appointing separate supervisors for petitioner No.1 & 4. The needful be done in the matter within 10 days of the receipt of a copy of this order."

With regard to the issue of Prof. Johri's removal from campus, the Court observed that JNU is "duty bound to provide a safe working environment to the complainants", even if they had not taken the ICC route to seek redressal and had chosen to file an FIR instead. It then pondered upon the need to balance the interests of all parties involved, observing,

"Having said so, it is clear that there is no finding, as yet, returned qua the complaints made against respondent No.4. Respondent No.4, it appears, is also supervising other students other than the petitioners/complainants. Besides this, respondent No.4 says that the measures other than those which have been already taken qua him would apart from anything else, impact his students, family and his reputation irreversibly.

That being said, I must indicate that in every infraction of law, there is always, unfortunately, some amount of collateral damage. The administrative or quasi judicial or even judicial authority while ruling on such like matter need to bear in mind that the victim who is possibly vulnerable and weak, also needs protection. It takes a lot for the victim to bare her life to public at large. Therefore, the delay in reporting and the contours of the complaint lodged have to be looked at from that prism."

The Court went on to issue a slew of directions to be adhered to by all parties involved. It specifically barred Prof. Johri from contacting the complainants in any way, directing the VC to consider his removal in case of any infraction of this condition.

Read the Order Here