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In the upcoming week, between November 13 to November 15, the Supreme Court will deliver a verdict on whether the Supreme Court and Chief Justice of India should fall under the ambit of the transparency and accountability law, the Right to Information Act (RTI). Considering that the Supreme Court did not make the process of investigation into the sexual harassment allegations levelled against the Chief Justice Of India Ranjan Gogoi transparent, and the complainant felt like a victim of injustice in April 2019, bringing the office of Chief Justice Of India under RTI has the potential to ensure that no other woman in future suffers the same fate as the complainant.

Image Source: India Today

CJI Under RTI: Background Of The Upcoming Verdict

Earlier this year, Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi said, “Nobody is for a system of opaqueness. Nobody wants to remain in darkness. Nobody wants to keep anyone in darkness. The question is where do we draw a line. Somewhere a line has to be drawn. In the name of transparency, you cannot destroy the institution.”

This statement was made in reference to the 2010 Delhi High Court (HC) judgement which conveyed that the office of Chief Justice of India (CJI) should be brought under the scrutiny of Right To Information Act (RTI) of 2005.The case of whether the Supreme Court (SC) and CJI can be considered as “public authority” to be put under the ambit of RTI, has been pending since 2009. On April 4 2019, the SC reserved its judgement regarding this matter. Reserving the judgement means that the SC has put a delay on its verdict and the Delhi HC judgement will not be operational until SC comes up with the final decision.

Considering that the Supreme Court did not make the process of investigation into the sexual harassment allegations levelled against the Chief Justice Of India Ranjan Gogoi transparent, bringing the office of Chief Justice Of India under RTI  has the potential to ensure that no other woman in future suffers the same fate as the complainant.

It is anticipated that a Constitution Bench consisting of CJI Ranjan Gogoi, Justice NV Ramana, Justice D Y Chandrachud, Justice Deepak Gupta and Justice Sanjiv Khanna will be delivering a verdict soon on the case of putting Supreme Court and Chief Justice of India under the purview of Right to Information Act.

Sexual Harassment Allegation Against CJI Ranjan Gogoi

On 19 April 2019, a former junior Court Officer accused the Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi of sexually harassing her. She submitted documents to provide evidence for her allegations and wrote an application to 22 Supreme Court Justices.

Supreme Court had formed an in-house panel to investigate the sexual harassment case against Ranjan Gogoi. On 30 April, the complainant withdrew her case from the SC in-house panel headed by Justices SA Bobde, Indira Banerjee and Indu Malhotra.

The three-judge in-house committee probing the allegations of sexual harassment against CJI Ranjan Gogoi gave a clean chit to the Chief Justice of India, saying it found “no substance” in the sexual harassment allegations. The complainant said that after CJI Ranjan Gogoi was given a clean chit in the sexual harassment allegations against him, her “worst fears have come true” and “all the hopes of justice have been shattered“.

On 19 April 2019, a former junior Court Officer accused the Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi of sexually harassing her. She submitted documents to provide evidence for her allegations and wrote an application to 22 Supreme Court Justices.

The complainant said, “In fact, the committee has announced that I will not even be provided with a copy of the report, and so I have no way of comprehending the reasons and basis for the summary dismissal of my complaint of sexual harassment and victimisation.”

Sexual Harassment Case Against CJI From the RTI Perspective

However, as per the principles of inquiry, criminal justice and the Prevention of Sexual Harassment Act, and under the Right to Information Act, the complainant is entitled to get a copy of the report of the procedure conducted by the Supreme Court in-house panel.

The decision by Supreme Court to not disclose the details of the in-house committee proceedings is unjust from the Right to Information perspective. The first problem is the decision to treat the committee’s report as confidential. According to the Chief Justice and other dignitaries, there is “larger conspiracy” behind the allegations. Advocate Utsav Bains believes that the accusations against the CJI are false and incited by a larger conspiracy to undermine the independence of the judiciary by corporate persons and corrupt political leaders. If that is the case, then it’s an issue of public interest. Hence, the report should be made public after removing the information that need not be revealed.

The RTI Act of 2005 repealed the Freedom of Information Act and laid down an exception that “information that would impede the process of investigation or apprehension or prosecution of offenders” need not be made public, unless public interest overrides the interest in protecting that information. This exception cannot be used in this case because the inquiry has already been completed and the report submitted. Thus, the publication of the report will not impede investigation or apprehension or prosecution in this case.

Section 4(1)(c) of RTI Act states: “Every public authority shall publish all relevant facts while formulating important policies or announcing the decisions which affect the public”. Similarly, Section 4(1)(d) lays down that the court must provide reasons for its administrative or quasi-judicial decisions to the affected person. This decision of the Supreme Court to not disclose the report of the in-house committee has a negative influence on all persons since “no aggrieved woman could get a fair process now if she complains against judges of the constitutional courts.

References

  1. Scroll.in
  2. Supreme Court Observer
  3. Indian Express
  4. Business Standard
  5. Indian Express

Featured Image Source: Outlook India

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