Flirting messages on WhatsApp by a judge to a junior officer draw SC warning

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Tuesday made sharp observations on the conduct of a district judge from Madhya Pradesh, who sent offensive and inappropriate messages to a junior officer and justified this conduct as mere “flirting”.

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A former district judge from Madhya Pradesh moved the top court challenging the disciplinary proceedings initiated by the Madhya Pradesh High Court over the sexual harassment allegations made by a junior judicial officer.

Senior advocate Ravindra Shrivastava along with advocate Arjun Garg, representing Madhya Pradesh High Court, read out several WhatsApp messages sent by the District Judge to junior lady officer. Shrivastava said he is a senior judicial officer; hence his conduct should have been more appropriate with the lady officer.

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A bench headed by Chief Justice S. A. Bobde and comprising Justices A.S. Bopanna and V Ramasubramanian said: “WhatsApp messages are quite offensive and improper. For a judge this conduct with junior officer – not acceptable.” The bench queried that if they have some understanding with each other, is it good to go ahead? However, the bench added that the petitioner has already learnt a lesson and pointed at a settlement between the parties.

Shrivastava replied that the woman officer wanted a settlement, but the High Court committee probing this matter did not accept it. He added the petitioner has admitted that he was flirting with the lady. “What kind of judicial officer is this? We don’t understand”, added Shrivastava exclaimed. At this stage, the Chief Justice said it agrees with Shrivastava’s submissions.

Senior advocate R Balasubramanian, representing the district judge, submitted that the lady officer has withdrawn her complaint under the Prevention of Sexual Harassment Act, therefore the disciplinary proceedings by the High Court are not maintainable.

The bench queried Balasubramanian, the woman may have withdrawn the complaint, but the larger question is that whether the inquiry should be conducted by the High Court.

Balasubramanian, reiterated that the retried judicial officer told the High Court that the lady officer withdrew her complaint, yet departmental proceedings have been initiated against his client.

Chief Justice noted he may have thought that it is a private conversation, and the matter before the gender sensitisation committee came to an end after the lady declined to participate. The bench reiterated: “High Court wants to proceed, and it is duty bound to do so limited to disciplinary proceedings. What is there in law which can prevent High Court proceedings?”

Shrivastava submitted that the High Court is proceeding with the matter even after the retirement of the petitioner, as it wanted to “send a strong message”.

Balasubramanian argued that these charges were levelled during his client’s promotion just to spoil his chances of being promoted. The Chief Justice replied that this phenomenon is ubiquitous. “All kinds of allegations come during promotion. We cannot generalise it. In this case there is allegation”, observed the bench.

Concluding the hearing, the Chief Justice said, ” we are likely to make some sweeping observations in this case, you withdraw and contest the enquiry.” After a detailed hearing in the matter, the top court adjourned the matter for a week.

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