20th of April saw the beginning of a debate that will question the credibility of the Indian Judicial system for a very long time. Online portals on this day started circulating excerpts of an affidavit prepared by a former SC staffer, copies of which were sent to all the Supreme Court judges. In the said affidavit, she alleged the Chief Justice of India of sexual misconduct and upon resisting him, her family and she faced grave consequences. Right after these reports were published, the SC convened an urgent hearing with a bench of 3 members of the SC; and, one of the bench members was the CJI himself. The bench dismissed the affidavit as the CJI denied the allegations and asked the media to exercise ‘restraint’. This statement faced major backlash from the public, raising questions at the involvement of the CJI in the proceedings for a case against himself. The same evening, a Delhi based advocate, Utsav Bains, posted on Facebook that the allegations were a conspiracy to frame the CJI and filed an affidavit in the following days. Bains, in his affidavit on 22nd April, said that he was offered 1.5 crore rupees by SC fixers to wrongfully frame the CJI. The following day, the SC took the allegations to form a suo moto case which was looked after a special bench, and, an in-house panel was constituted by the CJI himself to probe the allegations against him. On 24th April, the woman complainant addressed a letter to Justice Bobde, showing concerns about the procedure being followed by the in-house panel. She also gave frightful statements about the comments passed by the judges, being worried about whether her complaint had been pushed away as false, without even listening to her. This is when the SC asked her to appear on the 26th of April. A special investigative team was brought together in order to analyse this conspiracy in-depth, headed by Justice Patnaik. The events took a turn when the woman withdrew her participation from the proceedings expressing her fear. The main reasons she gave for this withdrawal were:
She was denied the presence of her lawyer in spite of her nervousness and impaired hearing.
There were no video or audio recordings of the Committee proceedings.
The procedure being followed was not told to her.
She was not provided with a copy of the statements of the proceedings.
The proceedings however went forwards as ex-parte inspite of the complainant’s withdrawal. Finally, on the 6th of May, the SC Secretary General disclosed in a press conference that the in-house panel had given a clean chit to the CJI and that the contents of the report will not made public. This decision received severe backlash from people across the country, some protesting in from of the SC too. The woman complainant stated that she had lost all faith in the country’s justice system and that she was even more frightened for her family and herself now. The entire case has left the biggest democracy of the world in a state of self-doubt, questioning the credibility of its apex court.
Written by: Manasvi Nag