The Supreme Court on Thursday ordered the reinstatement of a former judicial officer, who quit in 2014 alleging sexual harassment by a high court judge in Madhya Pradesh. A bench of Justices L. Nageswara Rao and BR Gavai said the officer’s resignation following her abrupt transfer cannot be held voluntary and that it deserves to be set aside.
Significantly, the accused high court judge has since retired and is practising in the Supreme Court as a senior lawyer.
The bench clarified that the officer would not be entitled to back wages and that the court is “not commenting on merits of the decision taken by the high court on the administrative side refusing her reinstatement.”
The high court opposed the reinstatement, saying an “amicable solution of the matter is not possible” and that all judges are of the unanimous view that resignation once made and accepted cannot be taken back.
Following the officer’s allegations of sexual harassment, 58 members of the Rajya Sabha sought to move a motion to impeach the High Court judge. The report of an inquiry panel set up in 2015 was tabled in Rajya Sabha in December 2017 and concluded that the allegations of sexual harassment could not be “proved beyond reasonable doubt”. The panel, comprising Supreme Court judge R Banumathi (now retired), then Bombay high court chief justice Manjula Chellur, and senior advocate KK Venugopal (now Attorney General), added the decision to transfer the officer “mid-session” was “not justified”.
After the high court declined to reinstate her, the officer moved Supreme Court in 2018, citing the findings of the panel. Senior counsel Indira Jaisingh and advocate Astha Sharma represented her in the top court.
The Supreme Court earlier urged the high court to consider her case on humanitarian grounds. But all the judges in the high court decided unanimously against reinstating her through full-court decisions.