One can believe the darkest hour in a democracy to arrive when the judiciary ceases to be independent. It now seems the days of India’s neutral and independent judiciary are coming to an end. In a surprising turn of events, the Chief Justice of India, Ranjan Gogoi has been accused of sexually harassing an employee of the Supreme Court.
The employee was a former Court officer who worked as a junior assistant in the Supreme Court. As part of her role at the home office of the CJI, she had no direct interaction with him. In the affidavit the former employee sent to all the judges of the court on April 19, 2018, she has alleged that she was sexually harassed by Ranjan Gogoi on 11th Oct, 2018; thereafter which she was dismissed from the service.
Four media publications, Leaflet, The Wire, Caravan and Scroll had emailed the CJI, inquiring about the allegations made by the accuser. The secretary-general on the Chief Justice’s behalf sent a reply to the media houses denying all claims, stating that they are “completely and absolutely false and scurrilous and are totally denied”.
It is pertinent to note herein that the accuser is a person who has 2 criminal cases pending against her. Moreover, after she was dismissed from her service after 1 ½ months of employment in a routine manner, she started making unsolicited calls and messages to the office of the CJI, due to which a complaint had been made by the registry of the Supreme Court. According to the reply of the general secretary, in all those calls there were no complaints made by her of the nature now being alleged. It is not only mischievous but a complete afterthought of her to make these false allegations at this time.
After receiving the accusatory email, a special sitting was constituted in the Supreme Court to deal with the matter. The Bench comprised of Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi and Justices Arun Mishra and Sanjiv Khanna. During the sitting, CJI Ranjan Gogoi emphasized the judiciary of this country is under threat by stating that less than 10 hours were given to him to respond by the media. “This is unbelievable. I should not stoop low even in denying it. A bank balance of Rs. 6 lakh 80 thousand is all I have as bank balance. They cannot catch me on money, so they have brought up this. This is the reward a CJI gets after 20 years and a bank balance of Rs. 6,80,000.” He stating that the allegations leveled against him forms a “bigger issue”, he said, “Things have gone too far. Judiciary cannot be made scapegoat.”
Exactly what the esteemed judge is implying by using terms such as “bigger issue” and “scapegoat” and stating that “they could not catch me on money”, came to light with his subsequent statement. He said, “Considering the very very important cases that are due to be heard next week, they want to destabilize the office of the CJI. Independence of judiciary is under a very very serious threat. This is pathetic.”
Topping the list of the important cases to be heard next week is Rahul Gandhi’s case involving contempt of court. After the Supreme Court had admitted fresh documents in the Rafale review petition, Rahul Gandhi believed it to be ratification by the Supreme Court of his claims and unable to contain his excitement had stated, “The SC has made it clear that chowkidarji was involved in the theft”. This was a clear case of contempt of the court since the apex court had stated anything but that. On the basis of a criminal contempt petition filed by BJP MP Meenakshi Lekhi, the bench had asked for clarification of the matter stating, “We deem it proper to ask the respondent for his explanation which will be laid before us on or before 22.04.2019”.
Apart from the contempt case, the Supreme Court, in an effort to judicially deal with the issue of release of the Modi biopic, had ordered the EC to watch the full biopic and subsequently submit its decision on the ban by April 19th, 2019. Thereafter, the bench comprising of the CJI and Justices Deepak Gupta and Sanjiv Khanna was to consider the EC report and hear the matter on April 22nd.
It is quite ironic to observe the list of cases scheduled to be heard merely 2 days after the controversy, without any evidence has erupted. Perturbed by what CJI Ranjan Gogoi is facing, the attorney general, AG KK Venugopal couldn’t hold his silence anymore when he stated on this, “I am an officer of this Court, I was also under attack for defending the government”.
Whether it is sheer co-incidence to see the commonality of the nature of the cases and the people involved in it, or an actual conspiracy; the fact remains that one of the most important institutions in the country is under threat on unjustified grounds.