Higher echelons of judiciary were today hit by allegations of sexual harassment of a senior woman judicial officer by a high court judge with the Chief Justice of India (CJI) R M Lodha describing it as a "very serious issue" which would be dealt with "appropriately".
A woman additional district and sessions judge in Gwalior has quit her job after accusing a judge of the Gwalior bench of the Madhya Pradesh High Court of sexual harassment, a charge he has rejected and offered to face death penalty if found true.
Justice Lodha told PTI, "It is a very serious issue. All versions will have to be taken into account. Let me go through it."
He said the matter has not come up before him yet but the registry has informed him that it has received emails on the issue. He would deal with the issue appropriately when the papers are placed before him as "the matter cannot be left like this".
The woman judge concerned has sent a nine-page representation to the CJI stating that the high court judge had some months ago started showing "more than normal interest" in her work and had gradually started making "coloured remarks" about her.
The complaint narrates an incident in February this year at the marriage ceremony of a judicial officer where the high court judge had allegedly told her in the presence of her 16-year-old daughter that her work was excellent but "you are more beautiful than your work".
In December last year, the wife of a senior judicial officer had telephoned her to tell her that the judge was eager to see her perform a dance on an item song at his marriage anniversary, she said.
Having refused to fulfil "the illegal and malicious aspirations" of the high court judge, she was subjected to a great deal of harassment after she was transferred last month in the middle of the academic session of her daughter to a remote place, according to her complaint.
After her representation against the transfer did not succeed she had resigned on July 15 "in compelling, humiliating and disgraceful circumstances to save my dignity, womanhood, self esteem and career of my daughter", she said.
The high court judge sent a letter to the Chief Justice of the Madhya Pradesh High Court today describing the allegations as "totally false" and expressing his willingness to face probe by the CBI or any other agency.
"If any allegation is proved I am ready even to face death penalty," the judge said although he added he did not want to face any trial by any court.
The high court judge's letter has been forwarded to the CJI by the Chief Justice of the MP High Court.
Meanwhile, a group of women activists led by former additional Solicitor General Indira Jaising called a press conference in New Delhi to demand impeachment of the high court judge and a thorough investigation into the complaint.
The activists, who included advocate Vrinda Grover and historian Uma Chakraborty, demanded that the woman judge's resignation should not be accepted and that the high court judge should be barred from work from tomorrow.
They appealed for bi-partisan support from political parties in their campaign for impeachment against the high court judge.
Meanwhile, in Jabalpur the Madhya Pradesh High Court today termed as "distorted version" the news report that the Lady Judicial Officer posted in Gwalior had sought an appointment with the High Court Chief Justice to apprise him about factual position and it was declined.
"It has been reported that when the Lady Judicial Officer sought appointment with the Chief Justice to apprise him of the factual position, the same was declined. This is a distorted version," a release issued by the High Court's Registrar General, Ved Prakash said.
It further clarified, "As a matter of fact, she sought appointment telephonically through Principal Private Secretary (PPS) to Chief Justice after she had already tendered her resignation which was forwarded to the state government for necessary action.
"In the given situation, she was informed by the PPS to submit a formal representation, if advised, in the matter. However, no representation has so far been made by her," the release said.
It also said, "In the context of the news item, the concerned High Court Judge faxed a confidential letter to the Chief Justice which was received on 4th August, 2014 in the morning. The Chief Justice has forwarded a copy of the said letter to Chief Justice of India with comments."
"The lady Ex-Judicial Officer, who was posted at Gwalior since August 2011 was transferred in July 2014 to Sidhi on administrative grounds. Her two representations seeking cancellation of the transfer on the ground of her education of her daughters were duly considered and rejected by the concerned Administrative Committee of the High Court.
"She has not represented about the alleged misbehaviour or harassment caused to her by anyone," it added.