The Supreme Court Chief Justice has been accused of sexually harassing a female assistant, and a special panel of judges, including CJI, called an emergency meeting on April 20 to address the allegations. The Secretary General of the apex court, in an email response to reports of sexual harassment, termed the allegations false and vindictive, as the services of the complainant were terminated due to inappropriate behaviour on duty. The woman, on the other hand, termed the action as too harsh.
The complainant was junior court assistant in october 2018. She alleged that CJI touched her inappropriately in October last year, and that her family, husband and brother-in-law, were singled out for retribution after she rebuffed him.
According to her affidavit, the ex-staffer said normal lapses in work-related responsibilities were cited justifying her termination on December 21, 2018. She said the punishment meted out to her was "absolutely disproportionate".
An inquiry was commissioned into her misconduct, and the report of the Inquiry Officer pointed at that: she protested the change in seating arrangement in the office as it made her insecure; that she approached the President of SC Employees Welfare Association and sought his intervention to restore her seating arrangement; and that she had taken unauthorized leave on November 17, as she had gone to attend an exhibition at her child's school.
These charges were equated with grave indiscipline, and her service was terminated in December last year.
The woman said in her response that the action of the apex court office was disproportionate and too harsh resulting in her dismissal from services on December 21, 2018.
The woman has been in service of Supreme Court since May 2014, and she claims that her track record is unblemished. Performance reports or Annual Confidential Reports (ACRs) have been endorsed with a grading "good" in the first year and "very good" in consecutive years.
Between August and November, 2018, she was transferred thrice.
She says in response to her termination that the charges against her in the inquiry report seemed to suggest insubordination. She was served with a memo of initiation of disciplinary charges on November 19, 2018.
Later, on November 27, she was placed under suspension and was served with 'Article of Charges' and 'Statement of Imputations'. She was reluctant to the change in her seating arrangement from Centre for Planning and Research to Administration Section.
"I informed the Branch Officer, Admin, about my my anxiety over being allotted three different postings in a short span of time", she said in her response.
The seating arrangement was made official on November 16. She questioned this "sudden shift". The authorities said that she "acted in a manner prejudicial to discipline". Later, she was charged with exerting pressure on the seating arrangement.
Finally, she took an unauthorized leave on November 17, which was considered equivalent to "insubordination, lack of devotion to duty and indiscipline".
The woman staffer apologized unconditionally, saying that "I realise this is a serious lack of judgement on my part".
In response against her termination, she also said the job was essential for the survival of her family. "I pray with folded hands to consider my case on humanitarian and sympathetic grounds", she pleaded.
The Inquiry Officer held that the "delinquent official had committed an act of insubordination and that she had acted in a manner unbecoming of a court servant and prejudicial to discipline".
The Disciplinary Authority accepted the findings recorded by Inquiry Officer and terminated her service under Rule 11(iv) of the Supreme Court Officers and Servants (Conditions of Service and Conduct) Rules 1961.
Under these rules, many penalties have been included -- censure, withholding of increments or promotion, reduction in rank, compulsory retirement, recovery from payment, removal from service which will not be a disqualification for future employment, and dismissal from service which will be a disqualification for future employment.
Termination is the most severe penalty for an employee. The Disciplinary Authority can hand over this punishment under exceptional or grave misconduct, according to the rule.
(Sumit Saxena can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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