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"Has Become A Trend Now": SC Stays Disciplinary Proceedings Against Madhya Pradesh District Judge On Account Of Sexual Harassment Allegations

Sanya Talwar
4 Sep 2020 9:27 AM GMT
Has Become A Trend Now: SC Stays Disciplinary Proceedings Against Madhya Pradesh District Judge On Account Of Sexual Harassment Allegations

The Supreme Court on Friday issued notice & also stayed disciplinary proceedings against a Senior District Judge from Madhya Pradesh on account of sexual harassment charges levelled against him by a woman judicial officer in 2018.

A bench of Chief Justice SA Bobde, Justices AS Bopanna & V. Ramasubramaniun while issuing notice on the petition remarked that filing complaints against judges had become a "trend" and that it was a deplorable practice.

Senior Advocate R Balasubramanium appearing on behalf of the district judge, pointed out that the judge against whom alleged allegations were made actually had an unblemished service of 32 years and that he was about to considered for his elevation to the High Court. "What happened is so unfortunate. Then suddenly, the complaint surfaced in 2018, he is set to retire this year and is having to undergo embarrassment" he added.

At this juncture, CJI SA Bobde remarked:

The plea has been filed through Advocate on Record Sachin Sharma by a senior Madhya Pradesh district judge seeking quashing of sexual harassment charges levelled against him by a woman judicial officer had filed the complaint of sexual harassment before the Gender Sensitisation Internal Complaint Committee against the judge in March 2018.

It contends that the report which has come forth finds no mandate in law as a conciliation had been reached between the parties in terms of the Sexual Harassment At Workplace Act, 2013.

"there is no power vested with the GSICC to conduct the inquiry in the present case once a conciliation application is submitted by the complainant and the GSICC has recorded a categorical finding that the allegations are not proved and that it would be just and proper to close the enquiry. The GSICC has also no power to form its own opinion once the allegations are not proved. The dismissal of Conciliation application and submission of final report, by the GSICC itself both are simply void in view of Secs 10, 11 and 13 (2) of the Act of 2013 read with Rules made thereunder especially Rule 7 thereof.In light of this, the principal district judge was transferred pending the disciplinary proceedings against him," the petition reads.

The averments stipulate that the allegations levelled against the judge were made at a time when the petitioner was about to be considered for elevation,

"All these actions have been done at a time when the petitioner is in the zone of consideration for being considered for elevation. The action has apparently been kept pending for last more than two years by ordering one enquiry after the other by different agencies with a view to keep the 'pot boiling' in order to harm the career prospects of the petitioner and eschew him from consideration for extraneous reasons. Otherwise there is no explicable reason as to why as many as four enquiries were conducted by different agencies at different points of time finally culminating into a fifth enquiry viz., disciplinary enquiry"

The plea goes on to question the procedure adopted by the Enquiry officer and states that it was thoroughly devoid of principles of Natural Justice,

"Most importantly, the petitioner was not even examined as a witness and or given any opportunity to present himself to vindicate his stand leave alone cross-examining the complaint and two other witnesses whose statements were recorded by the Enquiry Officer. The Ld District Judge took ex-parte statement of three witnesses behind the back of the Petitioner, who is another District Judge of equivalent status and position as the Enquiry Officer herself, against all canons of principles of natural justice and submitted a report dated 20.03.2018 by collecting evidence/documents seriously indicting the petitioner without authority of law," plea submits.

The report submitted by the Gender Sensitisation and Internal Complaints Committee called for further disciplinary actions against him, which was challenged by the district judge in the Supreme Court earlier. However, in June, the bench had asked the district judge to first move the High Court with a writ petition. After the High Court refused to give any relief to him, a fresh petition was moved in the top court again.

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