At an emergency special session of the Supreme Court Saturday, a bench led by Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi expressed serious displeasure over allegations of sexual harassment in reports in some online portals against the CJI himself and called it an attempt to undermine the independence of the judiciary.
At the session which was convened at 10.39 am, hours after some news portals reported on the allegations by a former staffer, the CJI sitting with Justices Arun Mishra and Sanjiv Khanna said: “This is unbelievable. I should not stoop low even in denying it.”
Attorney General K K Venugopal and Solicitor General Tushar Mehta prodded the court to take up the matter seriously.
The CJI said that an attempt was being made to undermine the judiciary and to “deactivate” the office of the CJI by levelling the allegations and added “the judiciary is under very serious threat”. The CJI said all that was happening was because there were important matters coming up for the consideration of the court next week.
“This is the reward the CJI gets after 20 years?” he asked, adding he had “Rs 6,80,000 in my account after 20 years. Anyone can check the balance. Even my peon has more money”. He added he will not give in and will discharge his duty till his retirement.
Venugopal said there were two precedents: one involving charges against retired Justice Swatanter Kumar and other against senior advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi and in both cases, the media was restrained from publishing matters related to it.
He added that even “under the law on sexual harassment, the name of the accused and victim cannot be published” but in the instant case, “the report had totally brazenly” published names. The law officer said even he had been attacked on social media.
Police plea to cancel bail of ex-SC staffer to be heard on Apr 24
A Delhi court Saturday said it would hear on April 24, a police plea to cancel the bail of a former woman Supreme Court employee, who has accused Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi of sexual misconduct, in a cheating and criminal intimidation case, PTI reported. An FIR for the alleged offences of cheating, criminal intimidation and criminal conspiracy was lodged against the woman on March 3, after a complaint was filed by Naveen Kumar, a resident of Jhajjar in Haryana, at the Tilak Marg Police Station alleging that the former apex court employee had defrauded him of Rs 50,000, which he claimed she took as part of a bribe, promising him a job at the Supreme Court.
Joining the issue, the CJI said “the responsibility of convening this session is mine. I have taken this unusual and extraordinary step because things have gone too far”.
“Judiciary cannot be made a scapegoat,” the CJI said.
He pointed out that the allegations have coincided with the date of hearing the bail applications of the complainant in some criminal cases against her today.
Mehta said the charges were coming from an “unscrupulous” person.
Voicing concern, Justice Mishra said the judiciary will not be able to function independently if such “unscrupulous allegations” are levelled against judges and that it will 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.
The AG said judges would find it difficult to work if they are targeted.
Added the CJI: “no Judge is going to decide…It’s not necessary to decide…They will say adjourned and 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,” CJI Gogoi added.
The court refrained from passing any judicial order and said that it left it to the media to act in their own wisdom. The bench said it hopes the media would ensure that the independence of judiciary is not affected by such “baseless” charges.
“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,” it said.
The office of the Supreme Court Secretary General, meanwhile, said it had received “emails from 4 media houses, i.e. Leaflet, The Wire, Caravan and Scroll.in, requiring a response in less than 24 hours”. In response, the court “denied” the charges terming them “absolutely false and scurrilous”.
The CJI said, “I received communication from four online publications, Caravan, Leaflet, Scroll and Wire wanting to know of my response on the allegations. They gave me less than 12 hours to respond. A response was set to these publications by the Secretary General denying the allegations”.