Updated: February 19, 2021 1:26:54 am
Observing that the Justice A K Patnaik inquiry committee, constituted to examine if there was a conspiracy behind the sexual harassment charges against then Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi, had said that “the existence of a conspiracy cannot be completely ruled out,” the Supreme Court Thursday closed the case it had initiated in 2019 in the wake of the controversy.
Stating that it had gone through the Justice Patnaik committee report and had found it to be “quite comprehensive” in terms of “the scope of the enquiry, the materials and the findings and the conclusions along with the list of annexures and articles”, the bench of Justices S K Kaul, A S Bopanna and V Ramasubramanian said: “The learned Judge has recorded in the final paragraph that the Director of IB in his letter dated 05.07.2019 has stated that on account of the then Chief Justice of India taking serious tough decisions like in the case relating to National Register of Citizens (NRC), there was strong reason to believe that persons who were unhappy with those decisions hatched a conspiracy against the then Chief Justice of India. A reference has also been made to certain tough administrative decisions taken to streamline the process in the Registry.”
“The report has also taken note of the limited investigative powers and access to records which it had and based on those materials and evidence before him, it has been opined that it is not possible to find corroborative material qua the allegations of Mr Utsav Singh Bains made in the affidavit. Simultaneously, the report also acknowledges that the existence of a conspiracy cannot be completely ruled out and this has been so opined as Justice A K Patnaik has not been able to obtain various records including electronic records of WhatsApp, Telegram etc,” the bench said.
Keeping the developments in mind, the bench said: “We are also of the view that two years having passed and the possibility of recovery of electronic records at this distance of time is remote, especially since the scope of the enquiry and the power of the learned Judge is limited, no useful purpose will be served by continuing these proceedings… the proceedings are accordingly closed and the Suo Motu petition is disposed of.”
The order made it clear that “the remit of the Committee was not to enquire into the merits of the allegations made by the complainant” woman “against the then Chief Justice of India and this aspect has been noted in the report itself. The learned Judge has thus recorded in the report that he has confined his examination to only one aspect i.e. the veracity of the version put forward by Mr Utsav Singh Bains”.
Utsav Bains, a lawyer, had approached the court, alleging that CJI Gogoi was the target of a lobby of corrupt corporates, fixers and disgruntled and dismissed employees of the court. The court had asked the CBI Director, IB Director and Delhi Police Commissioner to help with the inquiry.
Bains came to the court following allegations levelled by a former court staffer against CJI Gogoi. The woman, who joined the Supreme Court in May 2014, claimed she was victimised for resisting advances when she was posted at the residence office of CJI Gogoi in October 2018. She claimed she was later transferred and then terminated from service.
The Supreme Court held an “extraordinary” sitting on April 20, 2019 with CJI Gogoi himself heading it. He called the allegations an attempt by a “bigger force… to undermine the independence of the judiciary and deactivate the office of the CJI”. He said “this is unbelievable” and that “I should not stoop low even in denying it”.
“The judiciary is under very serious threat. We will not allow this to happen,” CJI Gogoi had said, adding that he would not give in and would complete his tenure. He had left it to the two other judges on the bench to pronounce an order in the matter.
The suo motu case was registered with the title “Matter of great public importance touching upon the independence of judiciary” following a mention by Solicitor General Tushar Mehta who pointed to a larger conspiracy to damage the independence of the judiciary through allegations against the CJI.
An inquiry into the woman’s complaint by an In-House Committee, comprising Justices S A Bobde (the current CJI), Indu Malhotra and Indira Banerjee, “found no substance” in her charges and gave a clean chit to CJI Gogoi. The complainant was subsequently reinstated in service by the Supreme Court.
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