Justice NV Ramana Explains Why He Opted Out Of Panel On Chief Justice

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Justice NV Ramana said the concerns of the woman complainant are "wholly misconceived".

New Delhi:

Justice NV Ramana, one of the three judges of the Supreme Court's in-house panel to look into sex harassment allegations against Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi, opted out today following objections from the woman who has complained, and said the apprehensions are "wholly misconceived". In a letter to the Supreme Court last night, the complainant — a former employee of the top court – said Justice Ramana should drop out as he is a "family friend" of the Chief Justice and close to him. The panel, she added, should have more women judges.

Writing to Justice SA Bobde – the senior-most judge after the Chief Justice who is heading the panel – Justice Ramana has denied concerns raised by the woman.

"My visits to the residence of Chief Justice of India cannot suggest any proximity than what is absolutely normal under the circumstances. Thus, the apprehension expressed by the complainant in this regard is wholly misconceived," he wrote.

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Justice Ramana says his recusal is based on an intent to avoid suspicion that this institution will not conduct itself in keeping with the highest standards of judicial propriety and wisdom.

"Let my recusal be a clear message to the nation that there should be no fears about probity in our institution, and that we will not refrain from going to any extent to protect the trust reposed in us. That is, after all, our final source of moral strength," Justice Ramana's letter said.

After Justice Ramana's withdrawal from the panel, Justice Indu Malhotra was selected as his replacement this evening.

The panel was formed on Tuesday after a meeting of the full court, attended by all judges except the Chief Justice. The third member of the panel is Indira Banerjee.

About the selection of the other two members of the panel, Justice Bobde had said, "I picked Justice Ramana because he is next to me in seniority and Justice Banerjee because she is a woman judge".

The former employee of the top court had made the allegations last week in an affidavit sent to several judges.

Chief Justice Gogoi has denied the allegations, saying the independence of the judiciary is "under threat" and it was being made a "scapegoat". Alleging a conspiracy, he said, "There has to be bigger force behind this, they want to deactivate office of Chief Justice".

Full text of Justice NV Ramana's letter for his recusal:

Let me at the outset state that I recuse myself from the above referenced matter. I was asked to be a part of the said Committee by your Lordship which was duly approved by the Full Court. This involves an extraordinary obligation which ought not to be avoided unless there are extreme circumstances. I set forth, in brief, a broad outline of my reasons for recusing from this Committee.

The complainant, in the letter dated 24th April, 2019, has raised objections to my being a part of the Committee, on the grounds that, firstly, I may have pre- judged the matter based on a selective extract of my speech on the occasion of Centenary Celebrations of the High Court Building at Hyderabad, and, secondly,I am a close friend of the Chief Justice of India and like a family member to him. These grounds, according to the complainant, raise fears that her affidavit and evidence will not receive an objective and fair hearing.

I categorically reject these baseless and unfounded aspersions on my capacity to render impartial judgment in this matter, in consonance with the best traditions of judicial propriety and the integrity of this Honourable Court. The grounds cited by the complainant ought not to be taken as evidence of a legitimate doubt for the following reasons:

(i) The topic of the speech – "Judicial Journey – The Road Ahead" – delivered by me on the occasion of the Centenary Celebrations of the High Court Building in Hyderabad, was decided at least two weeks prior to the receipt of the complaint in the instant matter. As a part of a broad analytical and factual discussion of the topic, which included discussions about pendency of cases, use of technology and issues relating to the Bar, I also spoke about personal attacks against members of the judiciary seeking to cast aspersions on their ability to render impartial judgements. If anything, the implicit assumption of that portion of my speech was that our conduct as judges ought to be exemplary so as to protect the dignity of the judicial institution from these frequent attacks. Judges, therefore, ought not to be cowed down in upholding the dignity of the judiciary. The dignity of the judiciary, first and foremost, flows from the capacity of judges to render impartial justice. The fact that this assertion, on the need to protect the dignity of the judiciary, is now being used to allege bias is a sad reflection of the state of affairs; and

(ii) As regards to the second apprehension raised by the complainant, I am, like any other judge of the Honourable Supreme Court, required to attend official meetings at the home office of the Chief Justice of India. We, the judges of Honourable Supreme Court, regularly meet each other – including socially – and also the Chief Justice of India. In fact, we call ourselves a "family" – to encapsulate that fraternity and collegiality. The same, inter alia, are essential for an honest appreciation of differences of opinions among fellow judges, which in turn, is vital for the intellectual growth of a judge. It helps us become wiser. The Chief Justice of India is primus inter pares, who allots a variety of administrative duties and responsibilities to the Judges. Thus, the judges often meet Chief Justice of India in connection with the same. My visits to the residence of Chief Justice of India cannot, therefore, suggest any proximity than what is absolutely normal under the circumstances. Thus, the apprehension expressed by the complainant in this regard is wholly misconceived.

In light of the above, I unequivocally reject the aspersions expressed by the complainant.

However, let us not be under any impression that the situation is not extraordinary – both in terms of the nature of the complaint and also the events that have transpired subsequently. The growth of every institution is necessarily based on iterative steps and a re-evaluation of the same with the courage to make changes based on our best sensibilities – intellectual and emotional. Wisdom does not flow from unbending assertion of authority, but recognition of frailty and the need to safeguard institutional integrity.

My decision to recuse is only based on an intent to avoid any suspicion that this institution will not conduct itself in keeping with the highest standards of judicial propriety and wisdom. It is the extraordinary nature of the complaint, and the evolving circumstances and discourse that underly my decision to recuse and not the grounds cited by the complainant per se. Let my recusal be a clear message to the nation that there should be no fears about probity in our institution, and that we will not refrain from going to any extent to protect the trust reposed in us. That is, after all, our final source of moral strength.

It is true that justice must not only be done, but also manifestly seem to be done.

Let me also caution, at this stage, that it is also equally true that no one who approaches the Court should have the power to determine the forum and subvert the processes of justice. Let not my recusal in the instant matter be taken to mean, even in the slightest of measures, that we have transgressed either of these principles.

I wish to say nothing further.

Thanking all my Sister and Brother judges, who by reposing faith and confidence, unanimously chose me to be a Member of the Committee.

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