The Supreme Court on Tuesday expressed reluctance to entertain a petition filed by a former District Judge from Madhya Pradesh challenging the disciplinary proceedings initiated by the MP High Court over the sexual harassment allegations made by a junior judicial officer.
"He is a senior judicial officer. His conduct should have been more appropriate while dealing with a lady officer junior to him", Senior Advocate Ravindra Srivastava, appearing for the Madhya Pradesh High Court said and read out before a bench headed by the Chief Justice of India the WhatsApp messages sent by the petitioner to the complainant lady officer.
Agreeing with this, the CJI orally said, "To flirt with a junior official is not an acceptable conduct for a judge". "Yes, if that is permitted, the atmosphere will be too in-conducive for judicial work", the HC's lawyer concurred with the CJI's observation.
The petitioner's counsel, Senior Advocate R Balasubramanium, submitted before the bench that the lady officer has withdrawn her complaint under the Prevention of Sexual Harassment Act, and therefore the disciplinary proceedings by the High Court are not maintainable. The bench, also comprising Justices AS Bopanna and V Ramasubramaninan, observed that the woman might have withdrawn the complaint "because of some embarrassment" and that will not preclude the High Court from initiating separate departmental proceedings on its own.
"Petitioner admits and says he was flirting with the lady. What kind of judicial officer is this? We don't understand", Srivastava exclaimed.
"This matter before the Gender Sensitization Committee has come to an end with the lady refusing to participate. Now HC wants to proceed. It is duty bound to proceed also, in a departmental enquiry. Is there any law which can prevent the HC from proceeding with enquiry? Right to departmental enquiry? Right to departmental enquiry is an inherent right of the employer even if there is no provision in the service law", the CJI said.
"We find the WhatsApp messages quite offensive and improper", the CJI continued. The petitioner's counsel submitted that the complaint was made when his name was about to be considered for elevation as a HC judge. In response, the CJI said that though it is a 'ubiquitous' phenomenon to raise complaints against a man when he is about to get a position, there cannot be any generalization and each case has to be seen on its own merits.
"We are likely to make some sweeping observations. We would recommend you to withdraw it and contest the proceeding", the CJI suggested. The counsel sought a week's adjournment to consult his client regarding the withdrawal of the petition. Accordingly, the bench posted the matter next week.