The judiciary, an independent arm of the Indian democratic republic reposed with ensuring justice to citizens of India has a dark underbelly which it refuses to address. Issues ranging from nepotism in appointment of higher judiciary, lack of transparency in declaration of assets to sexual harassment allegations have been plaguing the judiciary with precious little action in the matter. The Supreme Court on Thursday, February 10, 2022, finally began to crack the whip by reinstating an Additional District Judge of Gwalior District Court who resigned over eight years back exasperated with the punishment transfer order following her sexual harassment complaint against a sitting Judge of Madhya Pradesh High Court.

The Additional District Judge was transferred on July 8, 2014 from her posting in Gwalior to 500 kms away in rural Sidhi area right after she levelled charges of sexual harassment against Justice SK Gangele the then Madhya Pradesh HC Judge. Pertinently Gangele was the Portfolio Judge of the Gwalior District empowering him with supervisory powers over Gwalior District Court. As a Portfolio Judge he was incharge of assessing the complainant’s work, during which he is accused of sexually harassing her on four occasions.

She had filed a representation seeking 8 months extension in her Gwalior posting as her daughter was studying in Class 12th and had to appear for board exams. Her plea was rejected. Frustrated with the inhumane attitude she resigned from service on July 15, 2014. Her resignation was accepted by the MP High Court a mere two days later on July 17, 2014.

A bench of Justices L Nageswara Rao and BR Gavai castigated the High Court for the manner in which they handled the case and reprimanded the continuous obduracy of the full bench of the Madhya Pradesh HC to not heed to SC’s suggestions to revoke her resignation and reinstate her in service. The SC noted that the resignation of the ADJ was triggered due to feeling of frustration and disappointment due to injustice being meted out by the institution of judiciary itself without any due consideration of her plight.

The SC also noted that the alacrity with which the resignation was accepted by the HC in two days gave rise to suspicion there is something more than which meets the eye. The SC declared the woman judge’s resignation cannot be considered as voluntary and set it aside. 

Notably, even in the present order the SC was quite cagey about not appearing to cast aspersions on the functioning of the HC as it would reflect badly on the working of Justice AM Khanwilkar as the then Chief Justice of MP HC while handling the case. Pertinently, senior journalist Dhananjay Mahapatra of the Times of India in his report dated 11.02.2022 on the matter mentions that the woman judicial officer had also alleged that the then HC Chief Justice had refused to grant her audience when she wanted to apprise him of her plight and harassment.

The SC while criticising the HC for mishandling the case hoped that in future HCs take adequate care to not end up losing valuable well trained judicial officers due to an insensitive approach. The aforementioned Times of India report quoted that the SC reminded that the law is supreme and no one is above law. It also reiterated Thomas Fuller’s statement quoted by Lord Denning, “Be ye ever so high, the law is above you”.

Despite this welcome judgement offering a healing touch after 8 long years to the wronged woman judicial officer, the Supreme Court still has not addressed the elephant in the room – i.e. devising an independent robust mechanism to deal with sexual harassment complaints in judicial arena by doing away with internal inquiry by brother judges which invariably vitiates an objective enquiry in the issue. It is time to read out the riot act to the judiciary compelling it follow its own judgement in the Vishakha case.

Image sourced from internet