New Delhi: Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi on Saturday rubbished an allegation of sexual harassment against him, saying there was a "larger conspiracy" to destabilize the independence of the judiciary, which, he said, is "under very serious threat".
After the allegation leveled by a former employee of the Supreme Court was reported by a section of the media, a three-member bench of the apex court, headed by the Chief Justice and including Justice Arun Mishra and Justice Sanjeev Khanna, held an urgent hearing this morning -- a holiday -- over the matter.
The bench said the judiciary "cannot be made a scapegoat" and that the media should not publish the woman's complaint without verifying its truth.
The Chief Justice said the sexual harassment charge against him is "unbelievable" and he would "not stoop too low even to deny these allegations."
He said the issue has been brought out days before a bench headed by him is scheduled to hear "many, many sensitive cases". This is also the month of the Lok Sabha elections in the country, he noted.
"I don't think it's just a plot of a junior court assistant. There is a larger design. Someone wants to deactivate the office of the CJI. My bench is set to hear some important cases next week, and this could be an attempt to dissuade me from hearing these matters," Justice Gogoi said.
"There has to be a bigger force behind this. There are two offices -- one of the Prime Minister and one of the CJI. They want to deactivate the office of the CJI," he said.
"I will sit on this bench and discharge my duties without fear and favour till my tenure is over. This is the reward a CJI gets after 20 years of service," he said.
Justice Gogoi, who assumed the office of the CJI on October 3, 2018, will retire on November 17 this year.
Contending that "there is a larger conspiracy to destabilise the judiciary which has remained independent," the Chief Justice asked, "In view of such baseless charges, why would any person want to become a judge as reputation is all that the judges have, and that too, under attack?"
The Chief Justice requested Justice Mishra to take a call on passing a judicial order.
Dictating the order, Justice Mishra said, "Having considered the matter, we refrain from passing any judicial order at this moment, leaving it to the wisdom of the media to show restraint, act responsibly as is expected from them and accordingly decide what should or should not be published, as wild and scandalous allegations undermine and irreparably damage reputation and negate independence of judiciary.
"We would, therefore, at this juncture, leave it to the media to take off such material which is undesirable."
Anguished over the charges, the Chief Justice said, "The judiciary of this country is under very serious threat. We will not allow this to happen...Nobody can catch me on money. People have to find something and they have found this."
He said he has a bank balance of Rs 6.80 lakh and Rs 40 lakh in provident fund, after being in the judiciary for around two decades.
The three-judge special bench was constituted after a news portal reported on Saturday that a woman had levelled allegations in a sworn affidavit, copies of which were sent to the residences of 22 apex court judges.
Supreme Court Secretary General Sanjeev Sudhakar Kalgaonkar confirmed that a letter from the woman has been received by several sitting judges, but said the allegations are malafide and have no basis.
Kalgaonkar said there are "some mischievous forces" behind the allegation.
"It appears that these false allegations are being made as a pressure tactics to somehow come out of the various proceedings which have been initiated in law against her family, for their wrongdoings. It is also very possible that there are mischievous forces behind all this," he said in an email response.
Giving details of the nature of employment of the complainant, Kalgaonkar said the woman was posted at a level equal to a lower division clerk as a routine exercise regarding postings at the home of the Chief Justice of India.
The registry said the complainant was not the lone appointee in the Chief Justice's home office, and there were additionally nearly five to six people in the office during her course of employment.
The Secretary General said the complainant worked as a part of the home office of Chief Justice only for a short period, and given the nature of her duties, she had no occasion to interact directly with the Chief Justice.
And, she was dismissed from service as per procedure for inappropriate conduct, he added.
The Secretary General said the complainant's allegation regarding the sacking of her brother-in-law, who was associated with Delhi Police, was unfounded.
"He was terminated due to unsatisfactory conduct and performance on duty, as he was a temporary employee," Kalgaonkar said.
A compliant has been registered by the registry of the Supreme Court against the woman for allegedly making unsolicited calls or uninvited approaches to the office of the Chief Justice after being dismissed for "inappropriate conduct".
The Secretary General said a criminal case is pending against the complainant for allegedly taking bribe to promise employment in the Supreme Court.
"It would be extremely relevant to mention that the concerned individual and her family have criminal antecedents," the Secretary General said in the email.
He said the complainant never raised the issue, or registered a formal complaint either during her tenure in the apex court or after the termination of her employment.
The Secretary General said the secretariat of the Chief Justice had reported regarding the complainant's misbehavior, which was cited for moving her out of the office.