- Justice Indu Malhotra to join panel probing charges against Chief Justice
- Replaces Justice NV Ramana who opted out after objections by complainant
- A former top court employee had accused Chief Justice of sex harassment
Justice Indu Malhotra will replace Justice NV Ramana, who withdrew from the three-member Supreme Court panel that will look into the sex harassment allegations against Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi. Justice Ramana stepped down earlier on Thursday following objections from the woman who had complained against the Chief Justice.
In a letter to the top court yesterday, the woman had said Justice Ramana was a close family friend of the Chief Justice. "Because of this I fear that my affidavit and evidence will not receive an objective and fair hearing," she had said in the letter.
She had also asked for the inclusion of more women judges in the panel.
Indu Malhotra, the second woman judge in the Supreme Court after Justice R Bhanumathi, was inducted in April last year. She was a member of the Vishakha Committee which drew up the guidelines to be followed in case of sexual harassment in workplaces across the country.
She is also a member of the court constituted by the Supreme Court to deal with in-house sexual harassment complaints.
In his letter to the top court recusing himself, Justice Ramana said, "I categorically reject these baseless and unfounded aspersions on my capacity to render impartial judgment in this matter, in consonance with the best traditions of judicial propriety and the integrity of this Honourable Court."
But he added that justice, "must not only be done, but also manifestly seem to be done" and added that his decision was based on an "intent to avoid any suspicion that this institution will not conduct itself in keeping with the highest standards of judicial propriety and wisdom".
The three-member panel was formed on Tuesday after a meeting of the full court, attended by all judges except the Chief Justice.
Justice SA Bobde - next in seniority to Justice Gogoi -- had initially chosen the two other judges in the panel. The third judge is Indira Banerjee.
The complainant - a former employee of the top court -- had made the allegations against the Chief Justice in an affidavit sent to several judges last week.
Chief Justice Gogoi has denied the allegations, saying he is being targeted as he has several important cases coming up.
Alleging a conspiracy, he said, "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.
Conspiracy allegations also came from a lawyer, Utsav Bains, who filed an affidavit in the top court, claiming he was offered Rs 1.5 crore by one Ajay to represent the complainant and arrange a press conference against Chief Justice Gogoi.
On Thursday, a top court bench which is looking into his affidavit, said his "bench fixing" allegations are so serious that it requires investigation". The court has named retired judge Justice AK Patnaik to investigate the matter.