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"We strongly recommend your case to MP HC", Supreme Court to woman judge seeking reinstatement after raising sexual harassment complaint

The complainant had resigned pending her transfer after she raised complaints of sexual harassment against a then sitting judge of the High Court.

Shruti Mahajan

The Supreme Court today urged the Madhya Pradesh High Court to consider reinstating a woman district judge who had made allegations of sexual harassment against a High Court judge.

The Court granted four weeks' time to the woman district judge and the High Court to hold negotiations on the issue.

The complainant had resigned pending her transfer after she raised complaints of sexual harassment against a then sitting judge of the High Court.

In February this year, the complainant district judge had told the Supreme Court that she was only seeking reinstatement and that she was not willing to pursue the sexual harassment complaint against the since retired High Court judge. She submitted that she was seeking to be reinstated as a judge in light of the findings of the Inquiry Committee, which had concluded that the complainant's transfer was "unlawful".

Today, the Bench of Chief Justice of India SA Bobde and Justices R Subshash Reddy and AS Bopanna was told by the Madhya Pradesh High Court that the Full Court had turned down the complainant's reinstatement, for the third time.

The Apex Court asked the counsel for the Madhya Pradesh High Court as to why the High Court is opposed to Supreme Court's suggestion as regards the complainant's reinstatement. Senior Counsel Ravindra Srivastava replied that the difficulty lies in the fact that the case is that of voluntary resignation by the complainant, and not of her termination.

The resignation of the complainant was accepted in 2014, the Court was told. At this point, CJI Bobde remarked that the case can be treated as one of fresh appointment.

"...here is an officer who is willing to work... You see if you can talk to High Court and Ms. Jaising, and see if the officer can be accommodated somehow."
CJI SA Bobde

The complainant judge has submitted that while she is willing to forego monetary dues and remuneration for the period of time she did not serve as a judge, she is not willing to let go of her seniority, a submission that was made before the Court in February as well.

Senior Counsel Indira Jaising, appearing for the complainant, said that she could be accommodated in states where her posting would not prejudice the seniority rights of anyone else. She argued,

"I am conscious of people's vested rights being affected. She can be sent to Rajasthan or somewhere where they need judges. She can be sent to a court where she does not prejudice anyone's seniority... She can be sent to Rajasthan or Himachal Pradesh, there are no direct recruitments in those two states from 2009. She is 2011 recruit. She can be sent on deputation too."

The Court, taking note of the point of contention, asked why the woman could not give up her seniority. Jaising explained that she is a direct recruit from 2011 and is about 48 years of age right now. She aspires to be a High Court judge, and subsequently even a Supreme Court Judge. These aspirations will be adversely impacted if she were to start at the bottom now.

Jaising said,

"How can I ask her to give up her aspirations?"

In response, CJI Bobde said,

"We strongly recommend your case to the Madhya Pradesh High Court."
CJI SA Bobde

The Court went on to grant a period of four weeks to the parties to hold negotiations on the issue and inform the Court of the result of the same after a month.

"If your meeting with Srivastava does not yield a result, then we will hold a hearing," CJI Bobde said to Jaising.

In the previous hearing held in February, the complainant had stressed that now she is only seeking to be reinstated as a judge, and was not willing to pursue the sexual harassment complaint.

The woman judge was set to be transferred from Gwalior to Sidhi before the Inquiry Committee that looked into the allegations of sexual harassment made by the complainant dismissed the same. This committee was set up by the Rajya Sabha and was headed by Supreme Court Judge, Justice R Banumathi.

It was in light of this impending transfer that she tendered her resignation.

While the complainant had claimed that the transfer was termed "unlawful", the counsel for the High Court had refuted this argument.

The Court, noting that the case had reached at a stage where it would not be appropriate to be sent back to the High Court, had asked the complainant which places she would be open to be posted at.

The complainant had said that while she was not seeking remuneration for the time not served in duty, she was not willing to forfeit her seniority, which became a point of contention in today's hearing.

The woman Judge was represented by Senior Counsel Indira Jaising and Advocate Astha Sharma and the Madhya Pradesh High Court was represented by Senior Counsel Ravindra Srivastava.

Read Order:

X vs Registrar General and Ors - 14.07.2020.pdf
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