The much-talked-about elevation of district court judge P Krishna Bhat to the Karnataka High Court has once again witnessed another twist. Union Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad has shot off a letter to Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra citing that the inquiry, which was conducted to clear the judicial officer in an alleged sexual harassment matter, did not follow the Vishaka guidelines
The much-talked-about elevation of district court judge P Krishna Bhat to the Karnataka High Court has once again witnessed another twist. Union Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad has shot off a letter to Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra citing that the inquiry, which was conducted to clear the judicial officer in an alleged sexual harassment matter, did not follow the Vishaka guidelines. Earlier, Chief Justice of Karnataka High Court Justice Dinesh Maheshwari had written a letter to the CJI in March in which he stated that another inquiry by the High Court’s administrative committee had cleared Bhat of all charges after accepting his reply, according to The Indian Express.
What is the case?
The row over the appointment has been going on since 2016. Bhat’s name was recommended for elevation to the Karnataka High Court by the Supreme Court Collegium in August 2016. However, the recommendation was stalled after a woman judicial officer lodged a complaint against Bhat. Subsequently, in October and November 2016, the then chief justice of the Karnataka High Court, Justice S K Mukherjee, informed the CJI that his inquiry had found the allegations against Bhat “incorrect and concocted”. Again in April 2017, the Supreme Court Collegium had reiterated Bhat’s name. Late last year, Union Law ministry had directly communicated to the Karnataka High Court, saying it had received a fresh complaint from the woman judicial officer that Bhat had “managed” her earlier complaint.
As per the minutes record, the woman judicial officer alleged: “Atrocities and abuse of power on a lady officer during the period from 04.12.2013 to 19.05.2015”. The woman officer has alleged that on three specific instances — February 2014, April 2014 and August 2014 — she was summoned by Bhat after 10 pm at night. She said she refused the fourth time she was summoned late at night, reportedly in October 2014, and that after this she was discriminated against on her orderly entitlement.
As per the minutes of the administrative committee, the woman made the complaint after Bhat had submitted a report to the High Court on her conduct as his subordinate at Belagavi, leading to the filing of a vigilance case against her in February 2016. The woman judicial officer resigned in April 2016 but withdrew it in June 2016.
Bhat’s elevation has been stalled by the government despite the Supreme Court Collegium clearing it. A series of letters have been exchanged between the Law Ministry, CJI Misra, Justice J Chelameswar and Justice Maheshwari on the issue.
In March, the incumbent Karnataka High Court Chief Justice, Dinesh Maheshwari, opened the pending inquiry against Bhat, without informing the CJI. Justice Chelameswar, who is a member of the Supreme Court collegium, had sent letters to CJI and other judges of the top court. He had even asked for a meeting of the full court on the judicial side in the Supreme Court to discuss the government’s alleged “interference” in the appointment of judges to the high court.
Now, the two new letters — from the Karnataka Chief Justice and the Law Minister to the CJI — are likely to add to the brewing tension between the government and judiciary.