Justice Indu Malhotra will be replacing Justice NV Ramana, who earlier in the day opted out of the Supreme Court's three-judges panel, set up to look into the sexual harassment allegations against Chief Justice of India (CJI) Ranjan Gogoi. Ramana withdrew himself from the inquiry panel headed by Justice SA Bobde following objections of the woman involved in the case, saying he was a family friend of CJI Gogoi.
In a letter to the Supreme Court panel, the former woman employee, who levelled the allegations against the CJI, expressed reservation over the inclusion of Justice Ramana on the ground that he is a close friend of the CJI and a regular visitor to his house. The woman was supposed to appear before the panel on Friday.
Additionally, the woman had raised question over the presence of only one woman Supreme Court judge - Indira Banerjee - in the panel to examine her allegations against the CJI which is not in accordance with the Vishaka Guidelines.
As per the guidelines laid down by the Supreme Court in the Vishaka judgement, for holding inquiry into the allegations of sexual harassment at work place, the committee must have a majority of women.
"I would humbly suggest that since I was posted in the CJI's residence office, I know that Justice Ramana is a close friend of the CJI and is like a family member to him," she wrote. "Justice Ramana is a frequent visitor to the residence of the CJI. Because of this I fear that my affidavit and evidence will not receive an objective and fair hearing," the letter read.
Indu Malhotra, who is the second woman judge in the Supreme Court after Justice R Bhanumathi, was elevated in April, 2018. Prior to this, she was a senior counsel practising in the same court for the past thirty years. Malhotra was the second woman to be designated as Senior Advocate by the Supreme Court in 2007.
In the wake of allegations made against Justice Gogoi, a three-judge bench headed by CJI had held an unprecedented hearing on Saturday. Describing the allegations of sexual harassment against him as "unbelievable", the CJI said a larger conspiracy was behind it and he would not stoop so low even to deny these allegations.
Justice Gogoi had said some "bigger force" wanted to "deactivate" the office of the CJI.
After the Saturday's hearing, lawyers' organisations and jurists had criticised the CJI for constituting the bench comprising himself, though he had recused himself in the middle of the hearing leaving it for justices Mishra and Khanna to pass the order.
On Tuesday, the CJI had set up a fresh bench comprising justices Mishra, RF Nariman and Deepak Gupta to adjudicate the matter relating to sexual harassment levelled against him.
The former woman top court staffer had levelled the allegations against the CJI which was brought into public domain by some news portals on April 20. She had worked at Justice Gogoi's home office in Delhi and the allegations were carried by these news portals based on the affidavit by the woman.
In her affidavit, the woman described two incidents of alleged molestation, days after Justice Gogoi was appointed CJI last October and her subsequent persecution. She alleged that she was removed from service after she rebuffed his "sexual advances", adding that her husband and brother-in-law, both of whom were head constables, were suspended for a 2012 criminal case that had been mutually resolved.