Before anybody had heard of a threat to the independence of the judiciary in India, in an exhaustive report on 20 April, a few web news agencies came out with allegations of a former Supreme Court staffer, starting from when she began working for Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi to the alleged victimisation of her and her family after the incident in question. The report mentioned also the affidavits sent by her to other Supreme Court judges by seeking an inquiry upon such allegations of sexual harassment.
Precise allegations listed out in the affidavits sent to the other Supreme Court judges were that
- On October 11, 2018, Chief Justice Gogoi “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,” the woman alleged in her affidavit.
- The woman says she rebuffed Gogoi at the time. According to her affidavit and the covering letter, what followed was a series of developments that saw her transferred out of Gogoi’s office and dismissed from service soon after. Later, her husband and two brothers-in-law also lost their government jobs.
- Though she says she apologised and even prostrated and rubbed her nose at the feet of Gogoi’s wife, the woman alleges that the victimisation continued afterwards, with a case being filed against her in March 2019 referring to accusations of cheating that date back to 2017.
That very morning, when the above news items were circulated, the Supreme Court Registry issued a notice informing about the constitution of a special bench sitting to deal with a matter of great public importance touching upon the independence of (the) judiciary, on a mention being made by Tushar Mehta, solicitor general.
Along with the entire legal fraternity, people wondered about the nature of such “public importance touching upon the independence of (the) judiciary”.
When the sitting of the bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi started, he informed the law officers and other counsels present at the court about the issue involved for taking an unprecedented move to constitute special bench on a day of court holiday.
This is the statement made by the chief justice inside the court: “Independence of (the) judiciary is under very, very serious threat. If the judges have to work under these conditions, good people will never come to this office, The lady who made allegation has a criminal background, there are two FIRS against her, I don’t think that this can be a plot of (the) junior assistant. There is (a) bigger plot, they want to deactivate the office of CJI. After 20 years of selfless service, it is unbelievable, with a bank balance of 6,80,000, that is my bank balance in my account, this is my total asset, When I started as a judge, I have much hope, on the verge of retirement I have 6 lakhs.” Right, Justice Ranajn Gogoi is one of the non-corrupt judges of this country, no doubt about it. But the matter does not stop there.
[pullquote]Did any judge face the consequence of the verdict on the 2G spectrum case or that on the allocation of coal blocks?[/pullquote]
Finally, in a bizarre procedural outcome, there was an order signed by two of the judges, barring the judge who presided over the matter. In sum and substance, it is nothing other than the topmost sitting judge of the country trying to give an unconvincing explanation against the allegation levelled by a former staff through a self-arranged court proceeding. But what is more shocking and baseless is the narration given by the Chief Justice that independence of the judiciary is under threat, as the allegation is an indirect attack against the entire judiciary.
Normally, one saw such kind of explanations from politicians and not from a judge — taking umbrage at allegations personal in nature and calling it an attack on the entire institution.
No, my lord, the allegation is not against the whole institution, it is specifically against an individual, that is the current Chief Justice of India. He is one among other 27 judges of the apex court. Many judges will go and come but this institution will not suffer from the absence of any particular judge.
CJI Ranjan Gogoi is going to retire after a few months, too. What will happen to this institution after his retirement? There will not be any important decision from this court? No, nothing will happen to this court after the retirement of any judge, either on superannuation or on pre-mature retirement. Thus, the Chief Justice of India, while making such kind of an unsubstantiated statement of a threat to the judiciary, must understand that the institution is bigger and it is not an individual.
Again, the statement that the allegation is to keep the court from making important decisions sounds funny and bizarre as, in the past, this country had witnessed various important and bold verdicts from the apex court which had gone against the interest of the powerful and mighty.
[pullquote]CJI Ranjan Gogoi is going to retire after a few months. What will happen to this institution after his retirement? There will not be any important decision from this court?[/pullquote]
No, there was no attempt to hurt the institution when this court took up more important matters in the past. In its order dated 2 September 2012, for example, the apex court had declared 122 2G spectrum licences as “unconstitutional and arbitrary” by sending a shock wave across the then ruling dispensation. Many prominent politicians were jailed as a consequence of that judgment. No allegation was, however, made against any of the judges in any fallout of the verdict or before the verdict.
Further, bold judges of this court never faced any threat when they kept the executive away in matters of appointments, despite the Constitution’s clearly contrary mandate and Parliament passing laws with absolute mandates. On 17 October 2015, when the court delivered its verdict in the Supreme Court Advocates-on-Record Association v. Union of India, no sir, no one even dared to influence the judges even though mighty political power was against that particular verdict.
The instances are many. Nobody dared to make any allegation against the sitting judges in the manner in which the junior court assistant did against the Chief Justice of India. If he is innocent, he is not supposed to worry at all, but he has to prove his innocence by the prescribed procedure and not in the manner mostly seen in khap panchayats or kangaroo courts.
Till then, we would like to believe that Indian judiciary is not under threat, but if the proceedings dated 20 April in the Supreme Court is not recalled and set aside, we will be forced to presume that something serious is required to be done for complete justice.