A self-confessed swami, who was a Bigg Boss participant and claimed to have 50 crore followers globally, was slapped a cost of Rs 10 lakh on Thursday for filing a petition which the Chief Justice of India said smacked of a “popularity stunt”. The matter was serious — of citizens filing frivolous petitions and blocking the court’s time — but there was laughter in court, courtesy Swami Om Baba’s replies to the bench’s questions.
The timing of the proceeding, perhaps, could not have been more off. The plea came before CJI J S Khehar and Justice D Y Chandrachud hours after they had dealt with the weighty subject of citizens’ privacy. Om Baba’s petition was about the selection of the CJI. Unfortunately for him, the current CJI has only one working day left in his tenure.
Why he hadn’t agitated the matter earlier, the judges asked. Om Baba replied that his state of agitation wasn’t new. He had been petitioning the President and Vice-President for over a year. “I have been agitating the matter since your appointment,” Om Baba told the CJI in Hindi, causing an eruption of laughter.
CJI Khehar was unamused. “We feel this is a popularity stunt,” he said. Om Baba, however, wasn’t inclined to give up. “By the grace of God, I don’t need popularity. I have 50 crore followers all over the world,” he said, not knowing the remark would come back to bite him.
Explaining his point, Om Baba said that under Article 124(2) of the Constitution, the President of India was not required to consult the sitting CJI for the appointment of the next one. CJI Khehar told him: “You can’t take the Supreme Court lightly… This habit is increasing. It has to stop.” Om Baba clarified that he was “not levelling any allegation against anyone.” The Chief Justice retorted: “That is the problem…. If you don’t satisfy us, we can impose a cost on you.”
The CJI also clarified the Article says the President can consult judges. “I’m also a judge of the SC,” he said. The bench then asked Om Baba if he had read any legal literature before filing the petition. “I’m not a lawyer, only a layman,” he replied. The court wanted to know how he made a living. He said he gave religious lectures and survived on donations.
Did he consult lawyers? “I spoke to many lawyers, but they all said they don’t want to get their licence cancelled,” Om Baba said. As more questions flew at him, he said: “My mouth is dry, you have scared me so much.” Om Baba said his co-petitioner Mukesh Jain had not been allowed to enter the court, which the CJI then facilitated.
The petitioner said some journalists had warned he would be put behind bars. “You mean, people come to you by themselves on seeing you?” Chief Justice Khehar asked. “I was in the Big Boss show. After that I don’t have to introduce myself ,” Om Baba said, triggering laughter.
The court dismissed the plea and imposed a cost of Rs 10 lakh each on Om Baba and Jain. Om Baba said: “I don’t have even Rs 10, let alone Rs 10 lakh.” The CJI replied: “You have 50 crore followers. You can get Re 1 from each.”