The Supreme Court collegium had disregarded a complaint of sexual harassment made by a woman judicial officer against her superior, while considering his name for elevation to the Karnataka high court on two occasions, senior government functionaries said on Friday.
Rejecting Justice J Chelameswar's recent charge that the executive was stalling the judiciary's recommendations on appointments, they said the government was in no hurry to take a call on the recommendation of the collegium to elevate principal district judge P K Bhat.
The comments came in the wake of Justice Chelameswar's charges earlier this month in a letter to the Chief Justice of India. He had urged the CJI to consider convening a full court to take up the issue of alleged executive interference in judiciary, cautioning that 'the bonhomie between the judiciary and the government in any state sounds the death knell to democracy'.
Reacting to the charge that the government was in no hurry to take a call on the colleagium's recommendations, a functionary said 'we are free to sit on the file. There is no timeline mentioned in the memorandum of procedure -- a document that guides the elevation and posting of HC and SC judges'.
Refuting Justice Chelameswar's charge, the functionaries, who requested anonymity, said the law ministry had twice returned the file relating to the elevation of principal district judge P K Bhat because the collegium did not comply with the Vishakha guidelines.
They said the collegium in particular and the judiciary in general, did not follow the guidelines on sexual harassment laid down by the Supreme Court itself.
"When on the second occasion the file of Bhat's elevation was sent back to the collegium, the complainant wrote to the Rashtrapati Bhawan and the PMO. So, following a standard procedure, the Department of Justice wrote to the registrar of Karnataka HC to look at the complaints. The government cannot ask a chief justice to probe. That power is not with us," a functionary explained.
He said complaints forwarded from the PMO or the President's office have to be sent to the concerned department seeking their views.
"This is the procedure every government department has to follow," he said.
The discreet inquiry report cleared by the previous chief justice of the Karnataka HC did not place on record anything to suggest that the complainant was allowed a fair chance to explain her allegation, the functionaries said.
The Supreme Court collegium had reiterated the elevation Bhat in April 2017 after the then chief justice of Karnataka high court called the complaints against him 'incorrect and concocted' on the basis of the discreet inquiry.
"The probe has to follow the Vishakha case guidelines. It cannot be discreet," one of the functionaries said.
Justice Chelameswar's unprecedented letter, copies of which were also sent to 22 other apex court judges, had questioned the probe initiated by Karnataka high court chief justice Dinesh Maheshwari against Bhat at the instance of the law ministry, despite his name being recommended for elevation twice by the collegium.
"Someone from Bangalore has already beaten us in the race to the bottom. The Chief Justice of Karnataka high court is more than willing to do the Executive bidding, behind our back," he wrote in the six-page letter.
Justice Chelameswar, who had held the unprecedented January 12 press conference along with three other senior judges questioning the allocation of cases by the CJI, referred to the 'unhappy experience' where the government sat tight over the files even after the Collegium recommended names for appointment in the higher judiciary.
"For some time, our unhappy experience has been that the government's accepting our recommendations is an exception and sitting on them is the norm. 'Inconvenient' but able judges or judges to be are being bypassed through this route," he had claimed.