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Govt Hits Back After Justice Chelameswar’s Letter, Says Sexual Harassment Charges Against Collegium's Pick Not Probed

Union Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad has written a strongly-worded letter to Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra, asserting that the Collegium's recommendation should be put in abeyance until a "fair" inquiry is conducted into the sexual harassment complaint against the Karnataka judge.

Utkarsh Anand | CNN-News18

Updated:April 9, 2018, 7:44 PM IST
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Govt Hits Back After Justice Chelameswar’s Letter, Says Sexual Harassment Charges Against Collegium's Pick Not Probed
File photos of union law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad and Justice J Chelameswar.
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New Delhi: Adopting a tough stand, the central government has moved to put the Supreme Court Collegium in the dock over pressing for appointment of a judge in the Karnataka High Court without a “fair and conclusive” inquiry into the allegations of sexual harassment against him.

Union Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad has written a strongly-worded letter to Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra, asserting that the Collegium's recommendation should be put in abeyance until a "fair" inquiry is conducted into the sexual harassment complaint by a lady officer against the district judge, whose name has been proposed for elevation to the HC.

The three-page letter dated April 5 has been exclusively accessed by CNN-News18. The letter rebuts the accusations levelled by Justice J Chelameswar on governmental interference and executive's attempt to block the appointment of the district judge.

The CJI has yet not responded to this letter.

Justice Chelsameswar, in his letter addressed to the CJI last month, had accused the government of “impropriety” and “contumacious” attitude while cautioning that “bonhomie between the judiciary and the government in any state sounds the death knell to democracy”.

The criticism from the most senior judge in the apex court had come after the government requested the Karnataka HC chief justice to inquire into allegations of sexual harassment against the district judge.

The Law Minister’s letter thus begins as: “I am writing to you to bring some very important issues related to the case to your kind notice for appropriate redressal and action. This issue has assumed critical importance and relevance again in view of the letter reportedly written by Justice J Chelameswar, senior most judge of the Supreme Court, released in media that the executive is deliberately blocking the appointment of Shri P Krishna Bhat, and seeking to undermine the authority of judiciary.”

The letter said that a complaint received by the Department of Justice in June 2016 from the lady judicial officer contained “serious allegations of sexual harassment” against the district judge but the HC Chief Justice cleared the latter following certain “discreet enquiries”. The district judge was hence recommended for elevation to the HC.

Prasad wrote that the HC Chief Justice never mentioned if the lady officer was at all given any chance to present her case and whether a senior lady judge conducted this inquiry.

“You will appreciate that a complaint of such a serious nature against a recommendee for the exalted and high position of High Court Judge required handling in a manner to inspire confidence in all the sides, particularly the lady complainant, and thereby establish the innocence of the officer complained against. Such a summary inquiry in a complaint involving allegations of sexual harassment of a subordinate judicial officer by her superior raises very serious questions,” stated the Minister’s letter.

It added that the lady judicial officer wrote to the President and the Prime Minister again in December 2017, claiming that till her fresh representation, she has not been called upon even once before any inquiry committee to present her side of the story.

“It is incumbent upon both the high judiciary and executive to apply the highest standards of transparency and judiciousness in making such recommendations and appointments,” said Prasad.

The letter maintained that the Supreme Court has alluded to these high precepts and professional standards to be kept in mind while making appointments as judges of high courts in NJAC Case and the case relating to Justice Karnan.

“It is, therefore, our bounden duty and responsibility towards the citizens of our country that we jointly uphold these sacred and noble values,” he said.

The Law Minister raised two specific issues for the CJI and the Supreme Court Collegium “in the fervent hope that these would be addressed appropriately before we move further in the case of appointment of Shri P Krishna Bhat as judge of Karnataka High Court.”

First, whether a “discreet” inquiry could ever be considered as a fair, sufficient and conclusive inquiry in cases of sexual harassment without adhering to the manner, procedure and gender of the inquiry officer in accordance with the highest standards of fairness and natural justice, as was laid down by the top court in Vishaka’s case.

Second, whether pending a proper and fair inquiry, should the Collegium not withhold its recommendation to appoint the district judge in Karnataka HC.

“These questions also assume significance as their satisfactory resolution will in future illuminate and inform our approach in dealing with such cases and help us in effective appointment of persons who can stand up to the highest standards of conduct and probity that the Founding Fathers of our great nation and makers of Indian Constitution considered as important and placed the responsibility on us to adhere to, and follow them, in making appointments to higher judiciary,” said Prasad, concluding his letter.
| Edited by: Aakarshuk Sarna
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