The Supreme Court-mandated inquiry into “allegations of a conspiracy to frame the Chief Justice of India”, and on “fixing of benches” in the top court, will submit its report in the first half of September.
The probe, being conducted by Justice A K Patnaik, a retired judge of the Supreme Court, is set to question advocate Utsav Bains on August 20, after some crucial information and records that the single-judge inquiry committee sought from the Registry of the Supreme Court are made available to it on August 18.
Sources said the inquiry is focussed on securing “actionable and specific details” to substantiate allegations of bench-fixing and the serious charge of there being a “conspiracy” against the CJI. The inquiry was ordered on April 19 by a special bench comprising Justices Arun Mishra, R F Nariman and Deepak Gupta. In its order, the bench said: “Considering the factual gamut and the affidavits filed by advocate Utsav Singh Bains, we are appointing Justice A K Patnaik, retired judge of this court, to hold inquiry into the allegations levelled in the affidavit filed by Bains.” The bench had clarified that Justice Patnaik “would not deal with the allegations of misbehaviour by the CJI”. As directed by the Supreme Court, chiefs of the CBI, IB and Delhi Police have been meeting Justice Patnaik to go ahead with a detailed investigation into the matter.
Rows and the spotlight
Since January 2018, when the four most senior SC judges went public against the then CJI, especially on allocation of cases, controversies have kept the higher judiciary under the spotlight. The allegation of sexual harassment against the present CJI, his exoneration by an in-house committee and the complainant’s protests have returned the spotlight to the Patnaik panel’s probe, well ahead of its findings.
The one-judge committee was formed in the wake of allegations of sexual harassment made by a member of staff of the Supreme Court against the Chief Justice, and after a Facebook post and an affidavit by advocate Utsav Bains claimed he had been offered money to hold a press conference to defame the CJI.
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In an interview to The Indian Express after he was appointed to probe allegations by Bains, Justice Patnaik had said he would be proceeding, only “after” the in-house committee on allegations of sexual harassment against the CJI would complete its work.
The in-house committee, led by Justice S A Bobde and constituted by a full court on April 24, completed its report on May 7 and cleared the conduct of the CJI.