New Delhi: Serious differences have arisen between the Centre and its chief law officer, attorney general K.K. Venugopal, over the way the sexual harassment allegations against Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi have been handled by the senior Supreme Court judges.
The Wire has learned that the AG wrote a letter to all judges of the Supreme Court a week ago strongly recommending that external members be brought on to the special in-house committee set up to inquire into the charges of harassment brought by a former junior court assistant.
The AG, though present during the highly controversial special mention of the case by solicitor general Tushar Mehta – who defended the CJI on behalf of the Centre – subsequently wrote a letter to all the Supreme Court judges stating that any committee which sought to investigate the woman’s allegations must have external members, preferably retired women judges, to satisfy the principle of transparency and fairness. This point was also reiterated in a separate letter by Justice D.Y. Chandrachud.
After the AG sent his views in writing to all the Supreme Court judges, the Centre expressed its disagreement with Venugopal and pressed upon him to declare that his letter was personal, and did not constitute the views of the government. This led to the AG writing another letter to the judges, saying his views were personal and did not represent those of the government.
With such a serious difference of opinion having arisen on a substantive issue between the AG and the government, sources say Venugopal may be constrained to step down soon to preserve his own longstanding reputation as a jurist and constitutional expert. At 88, the AG is senior in the legal profession by more than 20 years to every judge on the Supreme Court.
Given the respect he has always commanded in the legal profession, Venugopal did disappoint his admirers by the unusual position he took recently on behalf of the government when he said voters need not know how political parties are being funded in the context of the secrecy surrounding electoral bonds. The AG was also a bit out of character when he recently argued that the documents relating to the Rafale deal published by The Hindu were “stolen” but later clarified that they were photocopied.
It seems the AG may now have decided to draw his own red line in the alleged sexual harassment case, in which the Centre is determined to project itself as a saviour of the CJI – even if it means compromising on fairness and due process. If the AG resigns in the next few days, he would also signal that all is not well with the way the government has handled this issue, which has grave implications for the credibility of the apex judiciary.