Sexual harrasment case: Govt, SC lock horns over Karnataka judge‘s elevation

The government will not clear the appointment of a Karnataka district judge against whom a subordinate judge has levelled charges of sexual harassment till a proper inquiry is conducted, a top functionary in the government said on Monday.

The said judge was cleared for elevation to Karnataka high court in 2016 by the Supreme Court collegium, a body of top judges that makes appointments to the higher judiciary, after a discreet probe by two Karnataka HC chief justices absolved him of the charges of sexual harassment.

Clarifying the government’s stand, days after law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad had written a strongly-worded letter to Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra on April 5, the functionary said, “The government will not relent on this. In allegations of this nature, a discreet inquiry is no inquiry at all.”

Prasad, in his letter that has been accessed by HT, has said the manner of inquiry raises serious questions. “The available records do not show that the complainant, a judicial officer subordinate to the officer complained against, was provided a judicious and fair opportunity to defend her allegations… These norms the Supreme Court itself has laid down well in the well-known Vishakha case,” Prasad wrote.

The law minister’s letter also went on to remind the CJI that it is incumbent upon “both the high judiciary and executive to apply the highest standard of transparency and judiciousness in making such recommendations and appointments.”

The government functionary also defended its move to directly refer the matter to the Karnataka HC by saying that a fresh complaint was made to both the Prime Minister and the President in December 2017 which was then sent by these offices to the law ministry’s department of justice.

“If a subordinate judicial official complains to the CJI, Prime Minister and President of India there has to be something serious,” the ministry official said.

Supreme Court judge Justice J Chelameswar had shot off a letter to the CJI last month objecting to the law ministry sending the woman officer’s complaint directly to the Karnataka HC chief justice. He had slammed it as executive interference.