Second Law intern files PIL before Supreme Court; Seeks inquiry against J. Kumar, redressal mechanism to combat sexual harassment by judicial officers

Second Law intern files PIL before Supreme Court; Seeks inquiry against J. Kumar, redressal mechanism to combat sexual harassment by judicial officers

Anuj Agrawal

A former intern of the Supreme Court (Petitioner), moved the Supreme Court yesterday, seeking, inter alia, an inquiry against Justice Swatanter Kumar. Justice Kumar, a former Supreme Court Judge and current Chairperson of National Green Tribunal has been accused of sexually harassing the intern during her official internship.

The Petitioner has asked for the constitution of a committee headed by a woman with an external member to inquire into these allegations. The Petitioner has also challenged the constitutionality and legitimacy of the Full Court Resolution dated December 5, 2013 and letter dated December 13, 2013 issued by the Secretary General of the Supreme Court that complaint(s) against  former judges will not be entertained by the Supreme Court.

But perhaps the most significant plea in the petition is the one for the establishment of a formal process to examine sexual harassment complaints against members of the judiciary. This process, it is requested, ought to apply to both sitting and retired judges. To quote the relief sought in the petition drawn by Vrinda Grover, the Petitioner seeks, 

[An] appropriate Writ Order or direction directing that a permanent mechanism be set up to enquire into the complaints of sexual harassment against all judicial officers, sitting or retired judges, whether while holding office or not.

The matter was mentioned by Senior Advocate Harish Salve yesterday morning, before the Bench headed by Chief Justice Sathasivam. The CJI directed the matter be taken up tomorrow, January 15. 

As per the Petitioner’s affidavit, the incident occurred while she was a student of the West Bengal National University of Juridical Sciences, Kolkata and interning with the Supreme Court in May, 2011. During this internship, the Petitioner alleges that she was sexually harassed on more than one occasion, and faced “unwelcome physical contact” and “advances and suggestions of a quid pro quo arrangement”.

The petition also states that after a 3-judge committee was formed to look into allegations against J. AK Ganguly, the Petitioner felt encouraged to approach the Apex Court with her complaint. Accordingly, on December 2, 2013, the Petitioner approached the Supreme Court with an affidavit containing details of the harassment.

However on December 13, 2013 this very affidavit was returned along with a letter from the Secretary General informing her that in light of the December 5, 2013 Full Court resolution,  her complaint against a former Judge will not be entertained.

Left with no other option, the Petitioner has approached the Supreme Court.  The petition rests on a number of grounds inlcuding, 

That this Hon’ble Court is obliged and bound to set up a Committee as contemplated under Vishaka to look into the complaint made by the Petitioner.

There is no rationale for not enquiring into complaints of sexual harassment against a judge who was a sitting judge at the material time on the ground that he has subsequently retired.

That it is discriminatory to enquire into the complaint of one intern in respect of a retired Supreme Court Judge, even though he was not a sitting judge when the acts of sexual harassment took place in that case, and to not enquire into the complaint of the Petitioner against the retired Judge when at the material time, of sexual harassment was a sitting Judge.

Meanwhile, Justice Kumar has denied all the allegations and has also sent legal notices to three media houses, demanding an apology within 24 hours for publicising “incredulous and false” allegations. In the notice, he has claimed that the complaint had been made with an “ulterior motive”. The retired judge has also found the support of the National Green Tribunal’s Bar Association, which recently passed a resolution stating that “conduct and public demeanor of Justice Kumar is of the highest order” and that the “one-sided” demand for his resignation amounts to “mob lynching”.

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