New Delhi, India: Justice NV Ramana, one of the three judges of the Supreme Court’s in-house panel to look into sexual harassment allegations against Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi, opted out today following objections from the woman who has complained.

In a letter to the Supreme Court last night, the complainant — a former employee of the top court – said Justice Ramana should drop out as he is a “family friend” of the Chief Justice and close to him. The panel, she added, should have more women judges.

As per a report by The Hindu, in a four-page response addressed to the court on a notice issued to her to appear before the committee on Friday, the woman claimed that as she was once posted in the CJI’s (Chief Justice of India) residence office, she knew that “Justice Ramana is a close friend of the CJI and is like a family member to him.”

“Honourable Justice Ramana is a frequent visitor to the residence of the CJI. Because of this I fear that my affidavit and evidence will not receive an objective and fair hearing,” she said in her April 24 reply.

The panel was formed on Tuesday after a meeting of the full court, attended by all judges except the Chief Justice.

Justice SA Bobde – next in seniority to Justice Gogoi — had picked the members. He is to head the panel; the third judge is Indira Banerjee.

About the selection of the other two members of the panel, Justice Bobde had said, “I picked Justice Ramana because he is next to me in seniority and Justice Banerjee because she is a woman judge”.

Advocate Indira Jaisingh, who has been appearing in the matter as a senior member of the bar, said she was happy with Justice Ramana’s decision.

The former employee of the top court had made the allegations last week in an affidavit sent to several judges.

Chief Justice Gogoi has denied the allegations, saying the independence of the judiciary is “under threat” and it was being made a “scapegoat”. Alleging a conspiracy, he said, “There has to be bigger force behind this, they want to deactivate office of Chief Justice”.

In a parallel development, a top court bench which is looking into the affidavit of lawyer Utsav Bains, which claims there is a conspiracy against Chief Justice Gogoi, today said his “bench fixing” allegations are so serious that it requires investigation”.

The court has named retired judge Justice AK Patnaik to investigate the matter.

A former junior court assistant of the Supreme Court has accused Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi of sexually harassing her. In a letter addressed to 22 Supreme Court judges on April 19, the victim alleged that Justice Gogoi made sexual advances on her at his residence office on October 10 and 11 last year.

As per a report by Deccan Chronicle, the affidavit was first published by online websites on Friday, and the Supreme Court held an emergency sitting on Saturday. The victim, 35, allegedly that:

“He hugged me around the waist and touched me all over my body with his arms and by pressing his body against mine and did not let go. He told me ‘hold me’, he did not let go of me despite the fact that I froze and tried to get out of his embrace by stiffening and moving my body away.”

Stay tuned for more updates!