A day after former Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi was nominated to Rajya Sabha by the government, retired Supreme Court judges Justices A K Patnaik, Kurian Joseph and J Chelameswar joined Justice Madan B Lokur in both questioning and expressing disappointment on the decision, saying the nomination and its acceptance have “certainly shaken the confidence of the common man” and “will raise a lot of doubt about the independence of the judiciary”.
Justice Patnaik, who was appointed by the Supreme Court to inquire whether there was a ‘conspiracy’ to frame Justice Gogoi following allegations of sexual harassment against him by a woman employee of the court, said: “In my opinion, a former CJI or even a judge of the Supreme Court should not accept nomination to Rajya Sabha or even contest for Rajya Sabha. Such nomination or contest will raise a lot of doubt about the independence of judiciary.”
“It may have happened earlier, but should be given up now, as political parties are so badly divided. It is imperative for a judge, and the Chief Justice certainly, to be seen as neutral, objective and having impartial views,” he said.
“Why would a Chief Justice, at the peak of the judicial system, at all accept such a nomination and why would a government offer this to him? If they want real experts, then nominate experienced lawyers like K Parasaran was, (Fali) Nariman was or K T S Tulsi. They could have gone for legal academicians like Upendra Baxi, why a Chief Justice?” Justice Patnaik said.
“The Rajya Sabha is doing a great job, there is no doubt about it, but it is a different approach. There is separation of powers and functions, the top of the judicial system cannot go for this and a Chief Justice should not have thought of this way forward,” he said.
Justice Kurian Joseph, a former colleague of Justice Gogoi, said he was “surprised” to see how the latter had “compromised the noble principles on the independence and impartiality of the judiciary”.
“According to me, the acceptance of nomination as member of Rajya Sabha by a former Chief Justice of India has certainly shaken the confidence of the common man on the independence of judiciary, which is also one of the basic structures of the Constitution of India,” he said.
Justice Chelameswar, also a former colleague, said; “There never was a democracy that did not commit suicide.”
He was quoting John Adams, second President of the United States, who said: “I do not say that democracy has been more pernicious on the whole, and in the long run, than monarchy or aristocracy. Democracy has never been and never can be so durable as aristocracy or monarchy; but while it lasts, it is more bloody than either. . Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide.” Adams was commenting on base passions of men, “vanity, pride, avarice, or ambition, for their easy gratification” that run across forms of governments, monarchies and democracies.
In January 2018, Justices Gogoi, Lokur, Joseph and Chelameswar, the most senior judges then in the Supreme Court, in an unprecedented step, called a press conference to question the conduct of then CJI Dipak Misra, especially on the allocation of important cases.
“‘We have discharged our debt to the nation’ was the statement made by Justice Ranjan Gogoi along with the three of us on 12th January 2018. I am surprised as to how Justice Gogoi, who once exhibited such courage of conviction to uphold the independence of judiciary, has compromised the noble principles on the independence and impartiality of the judiciary,” Justice Joseph said.
Pointing out that “our great nation” continues to be firmly grounded on the basic structures and Constitutional values mainly because of the independent judiciary, he said: “The moment this confidence of the people is shaken, the moment there is a perception that a section among judges are otherwise biased or looking forward, the tectonic alignment of the nation built on solid foundations is shaken.”
“I came out in public in an unprecedented move along with Justice Chelameswar, Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justice Madan B Lokur to tell the nation that there was a threat to this foundation and now I feel the threat is at large. This was also the reason why I decided not to take up any post after retirement,” he said.
On Monday night, Justice Lokur told The Indian Express: “There has been speculation for sometime now about what honorific would Justice Gogoi get. So, in that sense the nomination is not surprising, but what is surprising is that it came so soon. This redefines the independence, impartiality and integrity of the judiciary. Has the last bastion fallen?”.
Meanwhile, Justice Gogoi, who is scheduled to leave Guwahati for Delhi Wednesday, told Pratidin Time, an Assamese TV channel and website: “I have accepted the offer of the nomination to Rajya Sabha because of strong conviction that the legislature and judiciary must, at some point of time, work together for nation-building.”
He said he had given it ample time and thought before taking the decision. He said his presence in Parliament “will be an opportunity to project the views of the judiciary before the legislature and vice-versa”.
“Let God give me the strength to have an independent voice in Parliament,” Justice Gogoi said, adding that he would speak in detail once he takes oath in Rajya Sabha.
— With Abhishek Saha in Guwahati
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