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New Delhi: Former chief justice of India (CJI) Ranjan Gogoi, speaking at the launch of his book Justice for the Judge, conceded that he should not have been on the special bench that was constituted suo motu after a Supreme Court staffer accused him of sexual harassment, but dismissed the woman’s charges.
In an address and during an interaction with journalist Rahul Kanwal, Justice Gogoi – who is now a Rajya Sabha MP nominated by the government – made wide-ranging remarks covering his controversial tenure as the country’s top judge. Justice Gogoi discussed the sexual harassment allegations against him, allegations of the executive’s interference in judicial matters, the Ayodhya judgment and his nomination to the Rajya Sabha, among others.
Legal website Bar and Bench shared live updates from the event.
Speaking about the allegations against him, Justice Gogoi said, “In hindsight, I should not have been a judge on the bench. It might have been better If I was not part of the bench. We all make mistakes. No harm in accepting it.”
In a special sitting on April 20, 2019 titled In Re: Matter Of Great Public Importance Touching Upon The Independence Of Judiciary, Justice Gogoi denied the sexual harassment charges levelled against him by a former Supreme Court employee, saying this was part of a “bigger plot” to “deactivate the office of CJI”.
The hearing was constituted a day after three news organisations – The Wire, Caravan, Scroll and the legal website, The Leaflet – reported the allegations against the judge. Gogoi came under criticism with lawyer Dushyant Dave telling The Wire, “No one can be a judge in his own cause, not even the CJI. Judicial power can’t be used in this fashion.”
Speaking at the book launch, Justice Gogoi said he sat on the bench because the reputation that he had built as a lawyer and judge for 45 years “was being spoiled”, according to Bar and Bench.
An in-house inquiry committee was constituted to look into the allegations, comprised of Justices S.A. Bobde, N.V. Ramana and Justice Indira Banerjee. While the proceedings were criticised by the woman for causing her “further fear, anxiety and trauma”, Justice Gogoi denied that they were not “toothless”.
“Any Tom, Dick and Harry making a complaint does not get it investigated. It’s only at the discretion of the full court. It’s laid down by a judgment. In house proceeding is not toothless. If found guilty they step down and [the] president approves impeachment,” he said.
He alluded that Justice Bobde, who was next in line to succeed Justice Gogoi and was heading the in-house committee, had reason to find him guilty for personal gain. Justice Bobde would have been “happy to hang” him “and get extra seven months of … tenure”, Gogoi said.
The former CJI also claimed that the employee was reinstated during his tenure and not during that of CJI Bobde. “The lady got reinstated during my tenure. She wrote a letter to Justice Bobde seeking appointment on humanitarian grounds. He (Justice Bobde) asked me (on what to do) and I said ‘deal with it’. Justice Bobde reinstated her with compassion. He reinstated two other employees,” Justice Gogoi said, according to Bar and Bench.
The Wire revealed in July this year that the woman and a battery of her family members were placed on a list of potential targets of surveillance through the Pegasus software, days after she made the allegations against Gogoi.
Ayodhya and Rajya Sabha nomination
The judge’s nomination to the Rajya Sabha soon after his tenure was completed, raised questions about the separation of the executive and the judiciary. With Gogoi heading benches that delivered judgments in cases that were crucial to the government – such as the Rafale matter, the dismissal of Central Bureau of Investigation director Alok Verma, the Ayodhya dispute – opposition parties described the move as quid pro quo.
Justice Gogoi once again dismissed these accusations, saying, “I am least convinced about the allegations that Rajya Sabha seat was offered to me as quid pro quo for the Ayodhya judgment. These are all made up by media and newspapers.”
He also claimed that he did not “resurrect Ayodhya”, saying it was a responsibility his predecessor gave him and alloted a date. “I have two options to run or to fight. CJI Bobde said I come from a family of warriors, I fought,” he said, according to Bar and Bench.
Interference with the judiciary
The judge also rubbished concerns regarding interference of the executive in judicial matters, saying, “Nil. Who would dare come and ask Ranjan Gogoi to do something? (Solicitor Ggneral Mehta) Tushar… Will you?”
He claimed that he was given a “special hotline” to speak directly to the prime minister and the law minister but he “threw it” away.
However, the judge claimed that former Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi sought a judicial favour. “But why speak about him, he is no more… requested my mother to meet him, spending her pension taking a flight. And the CM asked her to speak to me to give judgment in his favour…She told me after the judgment,” Justice Gogoi said.
“Executive interference in judicial functioning is not everyday matter. It’s all perceptions,” he added.
Speaking about the press conference in 2018 in which he and three other sitting judges said “democracy will not survive without a free judiciary“, he said, “We had to call the [press conference] because we were unable to persuade the then CJI Dipak Misra regarding allocation of cases to benches. I hope it was the first and last occasion that judges had to address the press.”
He said that he believed addressing the press conference was the right thing to do but did not believe that democracy was in danger.
AFSPA and Nagaland
The former CJI also spoke about the killing of 14 civilians in Nagaland, terming the incident “as a mistake” and describing the deaths as “unfortunate”. However, referring to demands for the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) to be repealed, he said “hasty decisions” are not needed.
The 1958 law is an Act of Parliament that grants special powers to Armed Forces to maintain public order in “disturbed areas”.
“The demand for repeal (of AFSPA) has been going for long. The incident (deaths in Nagaland) was a mistake. Accidents are unfortunate. Stringent laws may be required. Hasty decisions are not needed,” he said.
“At times you feel the requirements, but in times of accident, you feel the need for repeal. Truth goes both ways,” the judge said.