Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi appeared on Wednesday before the Supreme Court's three-member in-house committee, which is looking into the sexual harassment allegation against him levelled by a former employee of the top court. The panel, formed after a decision of the full court, has decided to go ahead with the inquiry even though the complainant has opted out. It had earlier written to Chief Justice Gogoi, asking him to appear for the in-camera hearings.
The woman withdrew from the inquiry on Tuesday, saying she was opting out as she feels that she is "not likely to get justice from this committee".
In a letter, she said she found the "atmosphere of the committee very frightening" and that she felt "very nervous" as she was not allowed to have her counsel with her or discuss the proceedings with her.
Her decision came after three hearings by the panel, the composition of which had been tweaked after her objections that a judge named was a close family friend of the Chief Justice.
Justice NV Ramana had immediately withdrawn from the panel, saying while he rejected her aspersions on his "capacity to render impartial judgment", it was essential that justice, "must not only be done, but also manifestly seem to be done".
The panel, headed by Justice SA Bobde, now have Justices Indira Banerjee and Indu Malhotra as the other two members.
Soon after the news of the allegation became public, Chief Justice Gogoi, at a special hearing of the top court, had denied the woman's allegations, saying he is being targeted as he is slated to heat several important cases shortly. He also alleged that there was a conspiracy, saying "There has to be bigger force behind this, they want to deactivate office of Chief Justice". The independence of the judiciary is "under threat" and it was being made a "scapegoat" he had said.
The hearing, however, was criticised by many, including two associations of the top court - the Supreme Court Bar association and the Supreme Court Advocates on Record Association, which wanted the full court to take a call on further action.
Around 33 activists and key personalities from the civil society, including Medha Patkar, Arundhati Roy and Aruna Roy, had sought an independent inquiry.
The unprecedented allegations against a top judge of the country have added to a series of setbacks the judiciary has been facing over the last year - starting with a press conference by four of the seniormost judges where they spoke of their concerns.
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