Today, the in-house committee of the Supreme Court gave a clean chit to the Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi in the sexual harassment allegations raised against him by a former Junior Court Assistant.
It may not possible to say that the issue has attained a quietus, as the opaque manner in which the Committee held proceedings, even after the decision of the woman complainant to refuse participation due to apprehensions of bias, will continue to be debated intensely amongst legal fraternity and general public during the coming days.
Here is a brief time line of all that transpired in this episode so far.
April 20, Saturday
What would have been a sleepy Saturday morning turned out to be tumultuous, as few online portals published the contents of an affidavit prepared by the former SC staff, copies of which were sent to all Supreme Court judges.
In her affidavit, she alleged that the Chief Justice of India had made unwelcome sexual advances at her and when she resisted, she was subjected to frequent transfers and was eventually dismissed. She further alleged that the CJI was persecuting her family as well, and had caused the suspension of her husband from service of Delhi police.
Immediately after the publication of these reports in media, the Supreme Court convened an urgent hearing at Court No.1, with a bench composition of CJI Gogoi, Justice Arun Mishra and Justice Sanjiv Khanna.
The notice by registry had stated that the sitting was to deal with a matter of 'great public importance touching upon the independence of the judiciary', which was mentioned by Solicitor General Thushar Mehta.
During the session, the CJI denied the allegations and termed them as an attempt to "deactivate the judiciary". The Attorney General and the Solicitor General expressed their solidarity with the CJI.
After the session, the Court passed an order (signed only by Justices Mishra and Khanna, with conspicuous omission of CJI Gogoi), advising media to exercise "restraint".
Facebook post by Utsav Singh Bains
On the evening of April 20, Utsav Singh Bains, a Delhi-based lawyer, posted in Facebook that the allegations against CJI were part of a conspiracy. He said that he will file an affidavit in SC with evidence of "conspiracy against the CJI by a lobby of disgruntled judges, SC fixers, corporate scamsters and a few corrupt Politicians - All who have meticulously planned the conspiracy to force the CJI to resign as their 'Corrupt works were not going through in SC".
April 22, Monday
April 23, Tuesday
April 24, Wednesday
The special bench of Justice Arun Mishra, R F Nariman and Deepak Gupta heard Bains and the Attorney General in the matter. The Attorney General pointed out certain deviations made in the affidavit filed by Bains from his earlier Facebook posts.
Bains handed over certain materials to Court in a "sealed cover". The Court summoned the chiefs of CBI, Delhi Police and Intelligence Bureue to chambers for discussion. Sharp exchanges occurred between Bains, the AG and the bench during the hearing, where Justice Nariman chastised Bains for using intemperate language at AG.
Bains offered to file an additional affidavit the next day to substantiate his allegations that disgruntled employees, particularly Tapan Kumar Chakraborty and Manav Sharma, who were dismissed for tampering with the order in Anil Ambani's case, were behind the conspiracy.
Complainant objects to inclusion of Justice Ramana
The complainant woman addressed a letter to Justice Bobde, expressing concerns about the procedure to be followed by the panel. She said that she had concerns whether the panel will be biased and objected to inclusion of Justice Ramana in it on the ground that he was a close friend of the CJI.
She also said that the news reports about the comments made by the judges and top law officers of the government during the special sitting held in suo moto proceedings on Saturday have left her "frightened and helpless" and that she was worried if her complaint has been "declared to be false by the Hon'ble Judges and senior law officers" without hearing her.
The panel issued notice to the complainant asking her to appear on April 26.
April 25, Thursday
The special bench appointed Justice A K Patnaik to probe the conspiracy angle in the allegations against CJI, after a dramatic hearing session.
The Court directed the CBI, Delhi Police and Intelligence Bureua to give necessary assistance to Justice Patnaik. Utsav Bains's claim of privilege over information was rejected and he was directed to cooperate with the investigation.
Justice Ramana recuses
Following the apprehensions raised by the woman, Justice Ramana informed that he was recusing from the panel.
"My decision to recuse is only based on an intent to avoid any suspicion that this institution will not conduct itself in keeping with the highest standards of judicial propriety and wisdom", Justice Ramana wrote in his letter
Justice Indu Malhotra was appointed in his place.
April 26, Friday
Justice Patnaik informed that he will await the result of in-house probe against CJI Gogoi before starting the investigation of conspiracy allegations.
""I am not going to start until the in-house inquiry is over. If you see the Supreme Court order [of April 25], I have not been given a time limit, like 15 or 20 days, to complete my assignment… I think to avoid any clash with the Justice Bobde Committee inquiry, I will wait for them to finish… Let that be over,"he said.
April 30, Tuesday
Stating that the atmosphere of the in-house committee was "frightening" , the woman who alleged sexual harassment by the Chief Justice of India decided not to participate in the proceedings any longer.
In a press release, she has said that she felt "intimidated and nervous in the presence of three Hon'ble Judges of the Supreme Court and without having a lawyer or support person".
"I felt I was not likely to get justice from this committee and so I am no longer participating in the 3 Judge Committee proceedings", the complainant said.
She stated the following factors for her decision :
May 1, Wednesday
Despite the complainant withdrawing from the enquiry, the panel chose to proceed ex-parte, and examined the Chief Justice of India, who denied the allegations.
May 2, Thursday
Justice Chandrachud wrote to Justice Bobde and met him, stating that the panel should not proceed with the enquiry in the absence of the complainant. Justice Chandrachud also seeks inclusion of a retired woman judge as an external member of the panel, and providing legal assistance to the complainant. He said that a senior woman lawyer from the SC bar should be made amicus curiae to guide the procedure.
May 6, Monday
A press release by the SC Secretary General informed that the in-house panel has given clean chit to CJI Ranjan Gogoi in the matter.
The contents of the report will not be made public, stated the press release.