New Delhi, February 26: The Supreme Court on Friday underlined that sexual harassment complaints cannot be brushed under the carpet while hearing a retired Madhya Pradesh district judge’s plea against an inquiry against him for allegedly harassing a judicial officer.

A Gender Sensitization Internal Complaint Committee (GSICC) in April 2019 did not find substance in the officer’s complaint that he had sent her lewd messages on WhatsApp but recommended disciplinary proceedings against Shambhoo Singh Raghuvanshi, the judge.

The court was not inclined to entertain Raghuvanshi’s petition as it did not wish to come in the way of the inquiry.

A three-judge bench, headed by Chief Justice of India SA Bobde, noted that soon after the allegation surfaced, a discreet inquiry conducted by the Madhya Pradesh high court had recorded an adverse finding against the petitioner.

The bench told R Balasubramanian, who appeared for Raghuvanshi: “You are walking on very thin ice. As matters stand now, you are convicted. During the (disciplinary) enquiry, you may have a chance to be acquitted.” The bench, also comprising Justices AS Bopanna and V Ramasubramanian, was willing to pass a short order to this effect. But acting on the advice of the court, the petitioner’s lawyer was allowed to withdraw the petition, the Hindustan Times reported.

The GSICC, in its final report, said, “There is nothing available on the record to hold that any of the charges levelled by the complainant against the respondent are made out.” During the proceedings, the complainant moved an application for conciliation and to end the inquiry without proceeding further. However, this application was dismissed by the Committee.

The petitioner wondered how despite recording a finding of “no evidence”, the Committee did a volte-face by recommending disciplinary action. This mandate was not available to the Committee under the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, his petition stated.

The High Court, represented by senior advocate Ravindra Srivastava, informed the top court that the disciplinary proceedings are independent of the GSICC proceedings. He added the proceedings have been initiated to probe grounds of misconduct. Even if the complainant does not wish to pursue the complaint, the High Court is at liberty to conduct these proceedings, Srivastava added.

On an earlier date when the case was taken up, Srivastava read portions of the WhatsApp messages. “This atmosphere of work is not conducive for judicial functioning,” Srivastava said. Even the bench agreed, saying, “Such conduct on part of a judge with a junior officer is not acceptable.”

The petitioner claimed to have an unblemished service record of 32 years and argued that when he was due for elevation to the High Court, the sexual harassment allegation was levelled against him.

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