Former Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi, who headed benches that heard important and sensitive cases such as the Ayodhya land title dispute, the Rafale case, the Assam NRC issue and the Sabarimala matter, was nominated to Rajya Sabha by the government Monday.
The nomination comes four months after his retirement on November 17, 2019. His tenure as CJI was marred by allegations of sexual harassment levelled by a Supreme Court woman employee — he was cleared of the charge by an in-house panel before he demitted office.
In a notification, the Ministry of Home Affairs announced his nomination to Rajya Sabha: “In exercise of the powers conferred by sub-clause (a) of clause (1) of article 80 of the Constitution of India, read with clause (3) of that article, the President is pleased to nominate Shri Ranjan Gogoi to the Council of States to fill the vacancy caused due to the retirement of one of the nominated members,” the notification said. The vacancy was created following the retirement of K T S Tulsi.
Gogoi is the second CJI to become a member of the Upper House. Former CJI Ranganath Misra was nominated to Rajya Sabha by the Congress and served from 1998 to 2004. Former Supreme Court judge Fathima Beevi was appointed Governor of Tamil Nadu from 1997-2001. CJI P Sathasivam was also appointed Governor of Kerala from 2014-2019. While Justice K Subba Rao contested the fourth Presidential elections, Justice Mohammad Hidayatullah became Vice President from 1979 to 1984.
Justice Gogoi’s nomination announcement drew sharp reactions. Congress spokesperson Randeep Surjewala, on his Twitter handle, juxtaposed the report of the nomination with an article on India’s judiciary facing an increasing lack of trust by the public.
AIMIM leader and Lok Sabha MP Asaduddin Owaisi tweeted: “Is it “quid pro quo”? How will people have faith in the Independence of Judges? Many Questions.” Former Union Minister Yashwant Sinha too took to Twitter: “hope ex-cji Ranjan Gogoi would have the good sense to say ‘NO’ to the offer of Rajya Sabha seat to him. Otherwise he will cause incalculable damage to the reputation of the judiciary.”
Incidentally, in one of his tweets in 2013, BJP leader and current Union Minister Piyush Goyal had said: “We have gone too far in creating post retirement avenues for judges. Desire of a post retirement job influences pre-retirement judgments.”
The first CJI from north-east India, Justice Gogoi headed a five-judge bench that ruled on the Ayodhya title dispute, awarding it unanimously to parties in favour of building a Ram temple on the site where the Babri Masjid stood before its demolition in December 1992.
In the NRC case, CJI Gogoi presided on the bench that directed and oversaw implementation of the NRC that involved the question of ethnicity in Assam and citizenship — he himself is an Assamese. The process concluded under his watch in Assam was rejected by the ruling BJP in the state. His nomination comes at a time when the proposed nationwide NRC and the new citizenship law have sparked protests across the country.
In the Rafale aircraft deal matter — the Opposition Congress used it as its main campaign issue in the 2019 elections — a bench headed by Justice Gogoi declined to order a probe into alleged irregularities in the deal. The verdict came as a massive respite to the Modi government. The bench also initiated criminal contempt proceedings against Congress leader Rahul Gandhi for wrongly attributing to the apex court his “chowkidar chor hai” remark against Prime Minister Narendra Modi in connection with the Rafale case.
His tenure as CJI was rocked by allegations of sexual harassment by a Supreme Court woman employee. The court’s handling of the issue also drew criticism. After the complainant sent a letter to all judges of the Supreme Court, CJI Gogoi convened an extraordinary hearing on a Saturday and said the allegations were an attempt to target the independence of the judiciary. An in-house committee that looked into the allegations gave him a clean chit. The complainant, however, was reinstated after his tenure ended.
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