New Delhi: In what may aggravate the storm around sexual harassment allegations against Chief Justice of India (CJI) Ranjan Gogoi, senior lawyer Prashant Bhushan has claimed that the advocate whose affidavit formed the basis for a Supreme Court-ordered probe into a wider “conspiracy” behind the allegations may have met the CJI twice before he filed his affidavit.
The advocate, Utsav Bains, denies the charge, while CJI Gogoi and the court’s secretary general are yet to reply to The Wire’s email seeking a response to this allegation.
Hours after four media houses, including The Wire, published stories on the former SC employee’s allegations of sexual misconduct and victimisation against the CJI, Utsav Bains, a 32-year-old advocate, claimed that the woman’s charges were part of a “larger conspiracy”.
Initially, he claimed on Facebook (FB) at 6:50 pm on April 20 that “a lobby of disgruntled judges, SC fixers, corporate scamsters and a few corrupt politicians” was behind this “conspiracy”.
Later, in his affidavit sworn on April 22, 2019, he named gangster Dawood Ibrahim, Jet Airways owner Naresh Goyal and Romesh Sharma, allegedly a corporate fixer, as those who may have been involved in the plan to malign the CJI. However, he did not name any “disgruntled” judge or “corrupt” politician in his affidavit – a discrepancy which Attorney General K.K.Venugopal pointed out at the SC hearing on this matter last week.
Bains was heard in court by a special bench headed by Justice Arun Mishra, which also summoned the heads of the CBI, IB and Delhi Police for a closed-door meeting. The bench later ordered an inquiry into Bains’s allegations and tasked retired SC judge Justice A.K. Patnaik to head the probe.
A separate internal panel headed by Justice S.A. Bobde, which includes two female judges of the court, has also begun examining the woman’s allegations.
Speaking to The Wire, Bhushan said Bains had called him on April 20 – soon after the story was reported and before the young lawyer published his accusations on Facebook, to say that “he had met the CJI the previous night (April 19, 2019)” and that Justice Gogoi could still be “saved”.
The senior lawyer said he had known Bains for the last few years as someone who was interested to work with him in human rights cases.
“When he told me about his conspiracy theory, I told him that I did not think there was any conspiracy and that the lady’s account appeared to be correct,” Bhushan said.
“Bains then said that he would meet me and tell me about this conspiracy,” the senior lawyer said.
Later in the day, Bains put out his post claiming the existence of a wider conspiracy to target the CJI.
On seeing his post, Bhushan said that he texted Bains to say that he “had lost all respect for him”. He also said that Bains then kept saying “he would meet me and convince me about the conspiracy”.
Interestingly, Bains in his FB post invoked Bhushan’s name twice.
One, when he said that he wanted to meet Bhushan and senior advocate Kamini Jaiswal after he unsuccessfully tried to meet the CJI at his residence on the evening of April 19 to apprise him of the situation.
And two, when he asserted his independent credentials. “In SC, until now I have only associated in SC with the likes of Prashant Bhushan and Kamini Jaiswal and with Anupam Gupta in PB HRY HC (Panjab, Haryana High Court), all who are known for standing against financially corrupt and morally corrupt judges and against judicial nepotism, fearlessly,” Bains wrote on FB.
A phone call with unclear, inconsistent assertions
Following Bhushan’s text message, Bains kept asking the senior lawyer to meet him so that he could convince him of his claims.
“On the evening of Sunday, April 21, when I was sitting at the office of (a senior advocate), along with advocate Vrinda Grover and her colleague, Bains called me on WhatsApp again,” Bhushan told The Wire.
“He asked me whether he could annexe an IB report with his affidavit that he was about to file in the court. I recorded part of this conversation. On my persistent questioning, he said that the IB report pointed to some larger conspiracy which also involved an attempt to prevent sitting judges from becoming CJI.”
In the partly recorded conversation, which The Wire has reviewed, Bains is speaking about an IB report but does not mention how he got it. But he says that “this IB report is coming from people who the government will call ‘anti-nationals’.”
Bains also said that his “narrative is very serious” but when Bhushan asked whether what he was claiming is based on the IB report, he said, “No, the narrative is not based on the IB report”. Bains added in the phone call that the IB report is an old one and is only a part of this conspiracy but it “does not exonerate the Chief Justice. That does not say he is innocent. It is a larger conspiracy.”
Throughout the conversation, Bains remained unclear and did not answer a single question directly. He kept stressing that he was convinced the conspiracy against the CJI was hatched by people many of whom Bhushan had “fought against” and who were “dead against” him.
However, in one instance, when Bhushan asked whether there was a conspiracy against the CJI, Bains replied, “…It is not against the Chief Justice, it’s against some judges who will be appointed as the Chief Justices of India.”
Bains then hangs up after saying that the woman’s allegations against the CJI were an attempt to “destabilise the SC and judiciary”. He went on to tell Bhushan that he will meet him the next morning, i.e. Monday, at 7 a.m. once he was done writing his affidavit. He also said that once Bhushan reads the affidavit, he will be “convinced”.
However, Bhushan said that Bains never came to meet him. “I told him to come before 10:30 p.m. that night or the next morning at 9 a.m. However, he didn’t come and sent me a WhatsApp message asking me where I was in the morning.”
Bhushan said that Bains sent two messages – one at around 9 a.m and another at 11.30 a.m to ask where he was so that he could meet him.
“I replied to his first message that I was at home and then told him that I was in my SC chamber when he texted next. But he did not turn up even once.”
Following this, Bhushan told The Wire that he sent Bains a message that he “needn’t meet” him now and that he “should stop communicating” with him.
“I also told him that if he were to ever use my name in connection with him, I would publicly embarrass him. I thereafter blocked him on WhatsApp, being totally perturbed by his constant calls with requests to meet,” Bhushan said.
Did Bains meet the CJI before filing his affidavit?
Bhushan said that a senior advocate, Nina Gupta Bhasin, told him that she saw Bains outside gate E of the SC on the afternoon of April 22. “She told me that while she was waiting for a car to pick her up, a Jaguar taxi had blocked all other cars. The taxi was stuck there as the security personnel did not allow it entry into the court premises as the car did not have an SC sticker.”
Bhushan told The Wire that when Nina Gupta enquired with the security guards, she saw Bains come out of the taxi. She heard him tell the guards that he had permission to enter.
“Bizarrely”, Bhushan said, “the security people thereafter made some phone calls and after a minute they said that he had been invited inside and he should be allowed in. His taxi was then escorted in.”
Later in the day, Utsav is reported to have filed his affidavit. “Later that night,” Bhushan said, “the Supreme Court registry notified that his affidavit was listed for hearing the next morning at 10:30 a.m. before a special bench.”
“This was strange as the registry normally does not accept an affidavit without an application,” Bhushan said.
The Wire contacted Nina Gupta to verify Bhushan’s claims. She confirmed that she, along with two of her colleagues, had indeed seen Utsav Bains outside the court premises.
“I saw him on Monday. It was around 1:15 in the afternoon. I was not alone. I was with two of my colleagues,” she said.
She said when she was going out of the court premises, she saw a white Jaguar car with a “yellow number plate” blocking her car. “Bains was telling the security guards that sir had called him, and that they could confirm that inside. Then, one security guard there said that he had called someone inside and then told Bains that ‘Haan haan, sahab bula rahe hain aapko (Yes, yes, sir is calling you)’ and that he could go in.”
She said that since she was getting delayed, she got out of her car. “Bains also came out of his car. I told him ‘Can you please remove your car as you are blocking my way’.”
“Bains came and told me, ‘Ma’am, one second. I will put it (car) on one side. The security guard also told him that he could move his car so that I could go out,” she said.
“I saw him getting the permission (to enter the SC),” Gupta said.
Only recently, senior advocate Indira Jaising had also protested against Bains’s car entering the court’s premises without an “SC sticker”, equating the permission to him as “special privileges” to an advocate. SC is a high-security zone and entry in the premises is strictly monitored. Usually, a vehicle requires an SC sticker or a special pass to enter the court premises.
Bhushan to file an affidavit
Bhushan said that he will soon file an affidavit and present it to Justice A.K. Patnaik, appointed by a special bench of the Supreme Court to probe Bains’s allegations.
Bhushan also claimed that Bains had of late become “overly concerned” about the security of communications and “used to carry 3-4 mobile phones.”
“Over the last few months, he sent me messages saying that he was renouncing law and going off into the hills and that he had given up all his possessions. I was a little concerned,” Bhushan said, as he often spoke of personal problems.
Bhushan also said he and a few other lawyers like Kamini Jaiswal, Vrinda Grover and his father Shanti Bhushan, had helped the former SC employee file her affidavit against the CJI. The senior lawyer also facilitated her to get in touch with media platforms.
He said he helped the woman only after he was convinced of her accusations. He then sought advice from retired judges too. He added that the woman was in a miserable condition and has also lost hearing in one of her ears owing to emotional stress.
When The Wire contacted Bains, he denied having met the CJI. But he accepted that he entered the SC premises on the afternoon of April 22.
“I went to his residence (on April 19) to inform him of the conspiracy around 7 p.m. His staff told me he’s not at his residence. I have never met Hon’ble CJI ever in my life including his relatives ever. If anyone can prove that I have ever met the CJI or his relatives or even distant relatives, I’m ready to be hanged outside SC,” he told The Wire.
He also said that he “did not meet” the CJI at the SC on the afternoon of April 22. He added that he had never asked the CJI for any appointment nor did the CJI give him any appointment “ever or on 22nd April”.
He said that he took the taxi and “an auto” before that to “conceal his identity” as “his life was under immense danger because of the people” he was about to name that day in his affidavit.
“Around 3 am (on April 22), I was a kilometre from a friend’s place, took an auto, checked into a hotel, prepared the affidavit, took a Jaguar taxi, informed the SC registry that my life is in under danger and that I be given protection of being a witness under the SC directions on witness programme, a case I had argued in SC, and I be allowed to get my vehicle inside and then I was allowed,” he told The Wire while explaining how he got entry without a sticker.
Bains filed his affidavit the same day soon after his car was let in. On the same evening, the SC registry listed his affidavit for hearing next morning before a special bench.
On whether he called Bhushan a day before he filed his affidavit, he said, “Yes, I called Prashant sir to say that there is a conspiracy to frame CJI hours after the news was published. Since I believe he’s a person who would stand for truth, no matter what.”
Bains had mentioned in his FB post that he had unsuccessfully gone to meet the CJI on the evening of April 19. However, Bhushan claimed that Bains told him that he met the CJI that evening.
Bains also claimed in his affidavit that “he might be killed in a planned road accident or poisoned by untraceable poison…”
His claims have since garnered a lot of attention. However, a few observers have pointed out alleged discrepancies in his version of events. Attorney-General K.K.Venugopal too had pointed out inconsistencies in his affidavit and questioned, “How can a person file an affidavit of this nature but not produce any evidence and then claim privilege?”
At the SC hearing, Bains also told the court that three disgruntled employees had conspired with corporate lobbyists to frame the CJI falsely. The bench had then asked him to file an additional affidavit elaborating on the accusation against former SC employees.
The Wire sent queries to the CJI and Secretary-General of the SC asking whether the CJI met Bains on and April 19 and 22. The story will be updated if and when their responses come.
Soon after the story was published, Utsav Bains contacted The Wire to respond to the allegations against him.
“The story is imagination of Prashant Bhushan sir (sic). I never told him I met CJI, I told him it’s a conspiracy. Please ask him to prove that I told him that I met the CJI,” he said.
Bhushan, however, told The Wire that Bains had categorically said he met the CJI when he first called him on April 20, before he published his Facebook post.
Bains also said that when Bhushan asked him to not be in contact with him on April 22, he told him, “You are a suspicious person and I don’t wish to be in touch either.”
After reading the story, Nina Gupta told The Wire that Bhushan’s statement, as originally quoted in this story, that she told him she heard Bains tell the security that he was called by the CJI was incorrect.
“CJI was not mentioned in the conversation that I heard. I heard Bains telling the security that he had permission to go inside the SC premises,” she said.
The story has been edited to accurately reflect what Gupta says she heard.