For an institution that has always been regarded as the sanctum sanctorum and the country’s pulse for righteousness, the sexual harassment complaint against former judge Ashok Kumar Ganguly has thrown up a challenge for the Supreme Court to introspect.
Questions are also being raised whether justice Ganguly, who now heads the West Bengal Human Rights Commission, should continue in office or quit.
“I have not decided. I am undecided,” the former apex court judge said today maintaining “time has not come to think about it.”
However, not many in the legal fraternity share his views.
“When a person is holding a position of trust then even on slightest suspicion of misconduct which may amount to crime later, the person concerned should resign immediately,” Additional Solicitor General of India Indira Jaising told NDTV in a discussion The Buck Stops Here.
Justice Ganguly has been the subject of a probe following allegations of sexual harassment by a young law intern.
“Our judges are supposed to be worthy of being worshipped. The interns who work under Supreme Court judges consider them as hallowed beings. Now for a person to function in such a situation (when he is an accused) does not do well for himself or to the institution. If he wants he can go on leave. The institutional integrity should be preserved and the WBHRC head must step aside,” said eminent lawyer Harish Salve.
Salve also pointed out that Justice Ganguly after superannuation is no longer protected as per the Supreme Court judgement on the K Veeraswami versus Union Of India and Others case that was delivered on 25 July 1991.
The judgement says: “No criminal case shall be registered under s.154, Cr. P.C. against a Judge of the High Court, Chief Justice of the High Court or a Judge of the Supreme Court unless the Chief Justice of India is consulted in the matter.”
However, senior journalist BG Verghese felt that the former Supreme Court judge still enjoys the freedom to decide whether to quit or not to quit. “He is not legally bound to resign. But had I been in his place I would have recused myself until the investigation was over,” Verghese said. Members of the panel also did not agree with the “character certificate” given by former chief justice of India Altamas Kabir to his peer.
“Justice Kabir has put pressure on us by giving a character certificate by making a gratuitous comment,” Jaising said.
Kabir had recently said, “One automatically does not resign on the basis of allegations. I know he had said that he was shocked and shattered. I never ever would believe that this is possible.” Senior advocate Raju Ramachandran also shared Jaising’s views.
Senior advocate Raju Ramachandran also shared Jaising’s views.
“Altamas Kabir’s conspiracy theory was an uncalled for comment. It allowed the media and politicians to exploit the situation,” Ramachandran said. Kabir had said, “The higher a person climbs, the more that person is subjected to accusations.”
Ramachandran made it clear that justice Ganguly should no longer be a part of the constitutional body in West Bengal. “If the Supreme Court has found it fit to name justice Ganguly even at this stage he should stay away,” said Ramachandran.
Senior advocate KTS Tulsi, who was part of the programme, however chose to differ. “Stepping down would almost result in admission of guilt,” Tulsi said. He even went on to question the long time taken by the intern to let the world know about it. “Eleven months only to complain is quite a delay. The courts even doubt when there is a delay of 11 hours. Ideally, a woman should complain within 24 hours if her sanctity has been violated with,” Tulsi said, provoking strong responses from others particularly Jaising. “
Tulsi does not know the psychology of women, his history and does not know how a women feels when she faces sexual harassment,” she said. The absence of an internal committee dealing with such offences in the Supreme Court despite its self-made Vishaka guidelines was also critically examined.
“It is alarming to know that despite framing Vishaka guidelines the Supreme Court does not have a committee on the same line,” said professor Ananya Chakrabarti from Kolkata’s St Xavier’s College.
“Perhaps the judges never thought that it would ever apply to them,” said Ramachandran. The panel was unanimous that the Supreme Court-appointed committee to investigate the case should be made public soon.