“Sometimes the most difficult things to write about are also the most essential. I feel this is especially true when many people, much more scholarly than oneself, have already said and written a lot around the issue, and yet your own experience does not seem to fit into the wide net that they’ve cast.” So goes the introduction to the now-famous blog ‘Through my Looking Glass’ by Stella James in the Journal of Indian Law and Society, November 6, 2013
Fools rush in where angels fear to tread. This is exactly as I propose to do. Whatever I say on Justice Ganguly’s alleged indiscretion and what he should do to counter intern Ms James’s charge is liable to be misconstrued by either of the two parties in the contentious debate that is now raging across legal circles. We need an immediate resolution to the problem that has marred the otherwise generally fair image of our judiciary. Anyone who saw the debate on our most ‘loud’ TV news channels a few days ago would certainly have been appalled at the depths to which public discourse in our country, on a sensitive subject, has descended. The deliberate leakage of Ms James’s deposition before the Supreme Court committee probing the issue has only aggravated matters. Charges and counter-charges flew with abandon on the occasion, and embarrassed many of us who are convinced that the whole episode would have a deleterious effect on some among the younger generation looking for a career in law.
There is overwhelming support in favour of the demand for the judge’s head. It seems reasonable that he should exit from the West Bengal HRC on his own and without the government having to invoke the due process of law. Such a move suo motu would bring down the heat of the debate and partially assuage hurt public feelings. That Justice Ganguly has resolved to hang on, does not help him or the cause of justice. Stepping down from his position does not for a moment suggest he is guilty of the deed attributed to him. Establishing his guilt is an elaborate process that would take several months.
A serious charge has been made against Justice Ganguly, and the SC committee’s findings buttress it. The committee comprised three senior judges of impeccable repute. This is enough for their former colleague to respond without demur. If he is still stubborn that he will not quit, it gives the feeling that he fears he cannot prove his innocence as an ordinary citizen. This is distressing. What about the plight of the 1.2 billion Indians like us who are thrown to the wolves when accused of criminal misdemeanours, rightly or wrongly? How will they defend themselves?
Also what is at stake here is personal honour and a reputation built over several decades, and not a mere titular position. If Justice Ganguly emerges unscathed at the end of even a possible criminal prosecution, he salvages his honour, although he may not get back his current job.
It is most intriguing and questionable why the Delhi police has not moved in to register a case to probe what is certainly a cognizable offence. This baffles many dispassionate observers. Neither has the alleged victim come forward to lodge a complaint with the police. Would such a ridiculous situation occur in the case of an ordinary citizen? The Delhi police comes directly under the jurisdiction of the Lt Governor and the Union Ministry of Home Affairs. All three agencies owe an explanation to the common man as to why they are dragging their feet on the issue. I will not be surprised if they continue to be mute, particularly because the whole issue has acquired political overtones. In normal circumstances the SC cannot go beyond what it has already done. It may not give any further direction, which alone, it seems, will prod the Delhi Police into action.
Many senior lawyers in the Madras HC Bar tell me that Justice Ganguly enjoyed a very good reputation here. They are surprised at the turn of events. There is therefore a field day for speculations and conjectures that favour the unfortunate judge. We however have to ignore them, as they are not relevant to the further course of events in a sordid episode that has huge significance for the whole criminal justice system.
Meanwhile, who is going to persuade TV channels to exercise some moderation in presenting the controversy? Does Justice Markandey Katju have a role here? He is unusually reticent these days, and it would be worth our while to ask him to give his views on the quality of the media coverage.
The writer is a former Director, CBI, New Delhi