Justice N V Ramana, who recused himself from the in-house inquiry panel set up to examine the allegations of sexual harassment against Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi, on Thursday termed as 'baseless and unfounded' the 'aspersions' cast by a former woman employee of the apex court on him.
Opting himself out of the three-member in-house inquiry committee, Justice Ramana said he has recused only to 'avoid any suspicion that this institution will not conduct itself in keeping with the highest standards of judicial propriety and wisdom'.
In a letter to Justice S A Bobde, who is heading the panel, Justice Ramana said his recusal was 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'.
The woman, in her letter to the panel on Wednesday, expressed objection to the presence of Justice Ramana in the committee on the ground that he is a close friend of the CJI and a regular visitor to his house.
She had also raised question over the presence of only one woman apex court judge -- Banerjee -- in the panel to examine her allegations against the CJI which is not in accordance with Vishaka Guidelines.
She had said that as per the guidelines laid down by the Supreme Court in the Vishaka judgement, for holding inquiry into the allegations of sexual harassment at work place, the committee must have a majority of women.
In her letter, she had also alleged that the CJI, by sitting in a bench on Saturday, had made certain statements without even hearing her which has "damaged" her character.
"My character was damaged as without any reason and without hearing me. It was said that I have criminal cases against me," the woman had said.
In his letter to Justice Bobde, Justice Ramana, however, made clear that his recusal has nothing to do with the 'aspersions' cast on him by the complainant woman.
"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," he said.
On the issue of his visit to CJI Gogoi's residence, Justice Ramana said, "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," he said.
"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," he said, adding, the apprehension expressed by the woman in this regard is 'wholly misconceived'.
Justice Ramana said that the situation is '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," he said.
"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," he said.
"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," he said, adding, "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".
Justice Ramana also referred to the objections of the woman with regard to his speech on the occasion of Centenary Celebrations of the high court building at Hyderabad.
"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," he said.
"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," he said.
Justice Ramana said his assertion, on the need to protect the dignity of the judiciary, was now being used to allege bias and it 'is a sad reflection of the state of affairs'.