Sexual harassment cases cannot be swept under carpet, says SC; asks ex-District judge to face inquiry

The Supreme Court Friday said it cannot allow sexual harassment cases to be “swept under the carpet” and asked a retired District Judge of Madhya Pradesh to face “in-house departmental inquiry” instituted by the high court on the allegations levelled against him by a junior woman judicial officer.
“We cannot allow sexual harassment cases to be swept under the carpet like this,” a bench headed by Chief Justice S A Bobde said.
The bench, also comprising justices A S Bopanna and V Ramasubramanian, rejected vehement submissions of senior lawyer R Balasubramanium, appearing for the former judge, that the woman judicial officer had withdrawn her earlier complaint and had categorically stated that she wanted “conciliation”.
In the proceedings conducted through video conferencing, the bench made clear that it is not going to interfere with the Madhya Pradesh High Court order of an inquiry and said that as on date the former judge stood “convicted” and there may be a chance of his acquittal if he chooses to face the inquiry.
“You are walking on a very thin ice you can fall any time. You may have a chance in the inquiry they conduct you may acquitted,” the bench said, asking him to join the inquiry.
The counsel for the former judge then withdrew the appeal against the high court’s order.
Earlier, the top court had observed that “to flirt with a junior official is not acceptable conduct for a judge”.
It, however, had taken note of submission of Balasubramanium that sexual harassment allegations were levelled against the former judge only when he was in the zone consideration for elevation as a high court judge.
“This is a ubiquitous phenomenon to raise complaints…all kinds of allegations are levelled in such cases,” the bench had said, adding that the issue before it was whether the high court was empowered to order the departmental enquiry.
The bench had said it was of the view that the high court was always competent to order the departmental enquiry and the former judicial officer must face it.
It had said the complainant might have withdrawn the complaint because of “some embarrassment” but it will not preclude the High Court from initiating separate departmental proceedings.