Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi Saturday convened an “extraordinary” sitting of the Supreme Court following reports in some online portals about a former woman staffer’s sexual harassment complaint against him. And called her charges part of a “bigger force…to undermine the independence of the judiciary and deactivate the office of the CJI”.
“This is unbelievable. I should not stoop low even in denying it,” the CJI said at a hurriedly convened “special sitting” of the court at 10.30 am to address the controversy of which he was at the centre.
The reference was to reports that appeared Saturday in The Wire, Scroll, Leaflet and Caravan, about contents of a representation submitted by the woman employee – who was dismissed from service – to the judges of the top court seeking setting up of a committee to look into her allegations against CJI Gogoi.
“There has to be a bigger, bigger force behind this. There are two offices — one of the Prime Minister and one of the CJI. They (people behind this controversy) want to deactivate the office of the CJI,” Justice Gogoi said at the special sitting, before asking, “Is this the reward a CJI gets after 20 years of service?”
An official notice said the sitting was convened on a mentioning by Solicitor General Tushar Mehta “to deal with a matter of great public importance touching upon the independence of the judiciary”. Later during the hearing, CJI Gogoi was emphatic: “The responsibility of convening this session is mine. I have taken this unusual and extraordinary step because things have gone too far. The judiciary cannot be made a scapegoat.”
Sitting with Justices Arun Mishra and Sanjiv Khanna, CJI Gogoi gave vent to his anguish and hinted at a political angle to the controversy, stating that the charges were being made because he was hearing sensitive cases next week. “The judiciary is under very serious threat. We will not allow this to happen,” he said.
He stated that he would not give in and would complete his tenure – which ends in November this year – discharging his duty. “I will continue to act without fear and decide whatever cases I have to decide. Nobody can stop me,” he said. He added, “I have Rs 6,80,000 in my account after 20 years. Anyone can check the balance…Even my peon has more money than me… Nobody can catch me on money. They have to find something else and they have found this.”
On allegations raised by the women staffer, the CJI said she was in his home office for a month and a half and the allegations pertain to a period when his personal secretary made a report of inappropriate behaviour and forwarded it to the Registry. Thereafter, she was removed and subsequently, unsolicited phone calls were received from her husband seeking help from the CJI to put her back into service, which were reported to the Delhi police, he said.
“The lady has a criminal background. There are two FIRs against her…”, he said adding she was arrested in the second FIR which related to seeking bribe from a person for employment in the Supreme Court. “After her release she has been threatening the complainant in the case and police have moved an application seeking cancellation of bail of the lady and the hearing in the matter is today in the Patiala House court. Two cases are pending against her husband and her brother-in-law,” he observed.
During the hearing, Justice Gogoi said when she was employed with the apex court, an FIR was pending against her. “How can she become a Supreme Court staff when an FIR was pending against her?” the CJI said, adding that two criminal cases were also pending against her husband.
The CJI said he had “received communication from four online publications, Caravan, Leaflet, Scroll and The Wire wanting to know of my response on the allegations. They gave me less than 12 hours to respond. A response was sent to these publications by the Secretary General denying the allegations”. Scroll said that it sent the questions at 10 am Friday, gave him until 7 am Saturday for a response and published the report at 9.30 am.
Attorney General K K Venugopal said there were two precedents, one involving charges against retired Justice Swatanter Kumar and the other against senior advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi, and in both cases, media was restrained from publishing developments related to it.
The AG said he, however, wanted the day’s proceedings to recieve “widest publicity”.
Though the contents of the complaint were not discussed in the court, Venugopal said even “under the law on sexual harassment, the name of the accused or victim cannot be published” but in the instant case, “the report (appearing in the online news portals) had totally and brazenly” published names.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta said the charges were coming from an “unscrupulous” person and were “rubbish”. He wanted the court to register a complaint in this regard and inquire into it. The bench said it would look into it.
Voicing concern, Justice Mishra said the judiciary would not be able to function independently if such “unscrupulous allegations” were levelled against judges and that it would have implications on people’s trust in the judiciary.
Justice Khanna too expressed reservations and said when a case is decided, it goes in favour of one and against another. He added that as far as employees of the court are convened, there is a special procedure.
Said the CJI: “No judge is going to decide…It’s not necessary to decide…They will say (case is) adjourned and (ask the parties to) come on another day…Why would any sane person want to become a judge? Reputation is the only thing we have. And that too comes under attack.”
The CJI made it clear that he did not want to be part of any judicial order and left it to Justices Mishra and Khanna to pronounce the order.
“Having considered the matter, we refrain from passing any judicial order at this moment leaving it to the wisdom of the media to show restraint, act responsibly as is expected from them and accordingly decide what should or should not be published as wild and scandalous allegations undermine and irreparably damage reputation and negate independence of judiciary. We would therefore at this juncture leave it to the media to take off such material which is undesirable,” the order signed by Justices Mishra and Khanna said.