If an unnamed person had not been denied entry into the courtroom on 16 October 2019, the day when the Supreme Court reserved its verdict in the centuries-old Ayodhya land dispute, the hearing may have been disrupted and the unanimous 5-0 historic verdict in favour of Ram Lalla might not have been delivered on 9 November 2019. Former CJI and now Rajya Sabha MP Ranjan Gogoi has shared information about the incident, the knowledge of which was not in the public domain so far.
The incident mentioned in Gogoi’s autobiography Justice for the Judge, which was released yesterday by ex-CJI SA Bobde, had the potential to sabotage the Ayodhya land dispute proceedings before a constitution bench, which lasted for 40 days since it commenced on 6 August 2019. Gogoi reveals that the person, identified in the book as a representative of one of the litigants, was denied entry into the courtroom on his instructions as Justice Gogoi had sensed that “his objective was not well-intended but aimed at disrupting the hearing”.
The apex court had heard together 21 appeals, which had challenged the 2010 Allahabad High Court’s Ayodhya verdict that had divided the plot into three parties even though none had asked for only a part of the whole land, and a large number of intervention applications. “Had he been able to do that (gain entry into the courtroom), the court proceedings would have been affected and the case may have had to be adjourned,” Justice Gogoi said.
Like the unanimous Ayodhya verdict that unprecedentedly did not reveal the name of the judgment author, Justice Gogoi did not reveal the identity of the man. “I will never reveal his identity,” he said.
In his book, Justice Gogoi narrates the incident with all details except the name of the person. An hour and a half into the hearing on the last day of arguments before the bench also comprising Justices SA Bobde (who succeeded Justice Gogoi as CJI), DY Chandrachud, Ashok Bhushan and S Abdul Nazeer, CJI Gogoi says he had received a note “at about 11.30 AM or 12 noon” from then secretary-general (Sanjeev Kalgaonkar) stating that a representative of one of the litigants was seeking permission to enter the Supreme Court.
“I sent a handwritten reply to the Secretary-General saying that under no circumstances was the person to be allowed entry. A bona fide visitor to the SC in connection with his case is always entitled to a visitor’s pass through his advocate-on-record. Since this person was approaching the Registry or the secretary-general for the entry, I sensed that his objective was not well-intended but aimed at disrupting the hearing,” Justice Gogoi writes.
“Had he been able to do that (gain entry into the courtroom), the court proceedings would have been affected and the case may have had to be adjourned. The secretary-general acted as he was instructed,” he says. But the unidentified man appeared to have kept on renewing his request for entry into the courtroom, he adds.
Justice Gogoi shares: “During the lunch recess, he (the secretary-general) sought further instructions. I enquired whether he could maintain the status quo (keeping the man away from the courtroom) for another two hours. He assured me that he could. The hearing resumed at 2 o’clock and a little after three, I closed the hearing by saying ‘enough is enough’ and ‘judgment is reserved’. This is how the hearing of one of the longest disputes in legal history and one of the most fiercely contested cases in the Supreme Court came to an end.”
Justice Gogoi says, though he maintained a calm exterior during the stressful and surcharged arguments lasting months, it caused much of internal “stress, anxiety and trauma” and he twice refused to go to court. He said his wife Rupanjai, with whom he shared his discomfiture and stress, had persuaded him to go to court. On the second occasion, though she urged him to attend court, he refused to go to “budge from the chamber” after reaching the court. Justice Bobde called off the hearing, citing the CJI was unwell.
Another cause for the distress for the judges during the Ayodhya hearing was the publishing of “negative statements by activists and lawyers on one or other unrelated issue”, which Justice Gogoi surmises was “perhaps to disturb the peace which was required to decide a case of such magnitude”.
The continuous hearing and a unanimous verdict took a toll on Justice Gogoi, who writes, “I do not remember getting more than three to four hours of daily sleep during the entire period of the Ayodhya hearing. Negative comments on the feasibility of completion of hearing; statements by activists about the misplaced priority of the SC in taking up the case and wasting judicial time and, to top it all, the Damocles’ sword-like deadlines for completion of the different stages of the case kept reminding me what was at stake, the consequences to me and the institution, and its reputation if the case was to remain inconclusive before my retirement.”
“Even some of my colleagues were highly sceptical. Why has this madman put the reputation of the Supreme Court at stake, was the topic of several private conversations amongst the judges. But, the way things progressed and ended convinced me that there was a divine force which made the conclusion of the case, regardless of the way the judgment went, possible,” he wrote.