‘Judge’s elevation cleared by collegium sans procedure’

The Centre has maintained that the apex courts collegium had recommended elevation of principal district judge P K Bhat to the Karnataka High Court, without following due procedure in a complaint of sexual harassment by a woman judicial officer against him.

The government also contended that it could sit over the file on the elevation of the judge as there was no timeline to decide on the recommendations as per the Memorandum of Procedure, sources in the government said.

The law ministry has, however, not come out with an official statement so far.

In a letter to the CJI and 22 other apex court judges, Justice Chelameswar 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. He sought a full-court sitting on judicial side to consider the matter related to executive interference.

Refuting Justice Chelameswars charge, the government sources said the law ministry had twice returned the file relating to the elevation of 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 Bhats elevation was sent back to the collegium, the complainant wrote to the Rashtrapati Bhavan and the prime ministers office (PMO).

So, following a standard procedure, the department of justice wrote to the registrar of the Karnataka HC to look into 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 Presidents office have to be sent to the department concerned, 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.

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