OPINION
AFTER JUSTICE RANAJAN GOGOI'S RETIREMENT
Does the higher judiciary have the necessary resilience to bounce back?
- VIPIN PUBBY
Does the higher judiciary have the necessary resilience to bounce back?



JUSTICE RANJAN GOGOI, who laid down the office of the Chief Justice of india, has left a controversial legacy that has dented the institutional credibility of Supreme Court and has raised questions that have remain unanswered. Several of his actions and the procedures adopted by him would continue to be debated and their impact would be felt for a long long time.

He would also be remembered for a spate of judgements at the fag end of his career which dealt with important and long pending issues. The hurry to deliver some judgements and the tendency to ignore some other very contentious issues would also be discussed for a long time to come.

Justice Gogoi kicked off controversies even before he was appointed at the chief justice of India when he led three other judges to hold an unprecedented press conference (in pic) against the then Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra. Many thought at that time that he had taken a major risk for his own appointment by taking on the sitting Chief Justice. However, some observers even at that time were of the view that he had deliberately done it to cement his claim for the top post.

Justice Gogoi also had the dubious distinction of being charged with sexual harassment of a court official and also by the manner in which the higher judiciary dealt with the case.

Activists and lawyers staged a protest against CJI sexual harassment case outside the Supreme Court

 
Instead of the accused stepping aside and let the normal procedure take place, that is, to let the mandatory sexual harassment committee look into the complaint independently, he took the issue in his own case and formed a three-judge committee. The committee did not allow the alleged victim to take help of any lawyer and she subsequently boycotted the proceedings.

How the case was closed is a matter of investigation by some future journalist, but the fact is that the complainant mysteriously disappeared from public and actual facts related to incidents remain buried. It also includes the charge that the entire episode was a set up. 
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Also read some earlier write-ups by VIPIN PUBBY:
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But apart from this incident, justice Gogoi’s tenure would be long remembered not only for the controversial judgements but also the manner adopted by him and refusal to pay attention to the set provisions of law.

He can take credit for fast tracking the contentious Ayodhya judgement and ordered a day-to-day hearing of the case to come out with an unanimous five judge judgement on the issue. The merits and demerits of the judgement would be discussed at length in the future but it appears it is not the last we have heard on the case. The judgement is set to be challenged by a section of the parties involved on the grounds of several contradictions in the judgment. It may not be the last we have heard on the issue.

A spate of other judgments like the one on bringing the office of the Chief Justice under the right to information act, Sabarimala issue to be heard by a larger bench, Rafale deal and then one dealing with disqualified MLAs will also be remembered and debated for long.
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Higher judiciary did come under strain during CJI Gogoi’s stewardship and time would tell whether it left a lasting impact or that the judiciary has the necessary resilience to bounce back.
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However, some of the procedures adopted by him and positions taken by him were also seemingly violative of the spirit of the law. One was his frequent orders to supply information in ‘sealed cover’. Such a method was adopted very rarely in the past and only for the protection of national secrets or privacy of individuals. It otherwise negated the transparency of judgements. However justice Gogoi used it often to take a call on various issues. 
 
He went a step even further by calling up officers for personal verbal hearings to decide cases. He did so on the Rafale deal case when he summoned Air Force officers for consultation but didn’t put their observations on record.
 
Even before the Ayodhya case judgment was to be delivered, he called the Uttar Pradesh chief secretary and the director general of police to ascertain what arrangements had been made to check law and order situation after the delivery of the judgement. It was unprecedented and out of the scope of judicial review. He also declined to hear a spate of habeas corpus petitions to seek production of persons arrested in the wake of Kashmir crisis.

Even on the administrative side, his actions were questionable. He picked up a junior judge for appointment to Supreme Court on the grounds of merit. Yet some among those who were superseded were made chief justices of high courts. This indicated that those superseded were also equally deserving.

He also succumbed to government pressure to cancel the appointment of the Chief Justice of Madhya Pradesh and instead transferred him to Tripura. If the judge was not good enough or capable for one court, he could not have been capable for any other court. In the past the chief justices have been resisting such pressures.

The higher judiciary did come under strain during his stewardship and time would tell whether it left a lasting impact or that the judiciary has the necessary resilience to bounce back.

 

*(The author, a freelance journalist, is a former Resident Editor of Indian Express, Chandigarh, and reported on the political developments in Jammu and Kashmir, North-Eastern India, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Haryana and Punjab in his long, illustrious career.) 



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