CJI Ranjan Gogoi is going to retire on November 17. Yesterday was his last working day and it won’t be an exaggeration to say that the way he conducted himself on his last working day really summed up the illustrious career as the head of the Indian judiciary. In what shows his commitment and dedication towards the highly respected institution, viz. Indian judiciary, the outgoing CJI said, “Although I won’t be a formal part of this extraordinary and much respected institution any longer but a part of me will always remain with it and will always wish the best for it.”
CJI Ranjan Gogoi also declined requests for interviews through a common letter to journalists which read, “I am keen that you would appreciate that the ordinary freedoms are finely balanced in our institutional functioning – while you have the Bar whose members can exercise their freedom of speech to the extent of even pushing the boundaries of such freedom, the bench requires its judges to maintain silence, while exercising their freedoms.” He added, “This is not to say that Judges do not speak. They do speak, but only out of functional necessity, and no more. Bitter truth must remain in memory.” He also stated, “I chose to belong to an institution whose strength lay in public confidence and trust earned not through good press, but through our work as Judges on the bench,” and added, “In fact, our work-places are, by our functional necessity, required to be public places as justice is ordained to be delivered in presence of ordinary citizens to ensure that it is never far removed from them. In that view, our institutional connect and interface with the citizenry is proximate.”
CJI Gogoi has upheld the values of judicial discipline on his last working day and had also remained committed to the values of remaining proximate with the citizenry due to the very nature of the institution of judiciary. He remains committed to the values of providing expeditious justice to the citizens of the country and upholding public confidence in the institution until the very end of his eventful tenure. It is thus only imperative that we take a look at his unforgettable tenure as the Chief Justice of India.
CJI Gogoi’s tenure has gone down as one that is full of landmark verdicts and his name has therefore been etched forever in the Indian jurisprudence. His judicial pronouncements are going to be defining moments in the Indian jurisprudence that will serve as binding judicial precedents and valuable insights for the upcoming generations of judges, judicial officers, practising advocates and lawyers. The verdict which has made him a household name in India forever has to be the Ayodhya verdict. The Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court headed by CJI Ranjan Gogoi recently decided the 134-year old legal dispute in the favour of the Hindu parties, paving way for construction of a temple at Lord Ram’s birthplace in the historic city of Ayodhya. The verdict strongly based on settled legal principles, equity, justice and good conscience, took a very balanced view of the entire dispute. While it was held that Hindu parties have a better title to the disputed site, the Muslim parties were also given relief in the form of five acres of alternate land in Ayodhya as the Supreme Court exercised its powers under Article 142 of the Consitution of India to do complete justice in any cause or matter pending before the apex court. The apex court ensured that none of the sides was left remediless. After all, it is a settled principle of law that where there is a right, there is a remedy. The verdict was completely in line with this settled principle.
Moreover, the recent verdict of another five-judge bench headed by CJI Gogoi ruled that the office of the Chief Justice of India is a public authority under the RTI Act, is a major precedent even for other wings of the government, viz. the legislature and the executive to remain committed to the principles of transparency. With this verdict, the CJI-headed Constitution Bench has effectively brought the office of CJI within the ambit of the RTI Act. Reading out the majority verdict, Justice Sanjiv Khanna stated, “Transparency does not undermine judicial independence.” A CJI headed bench bringing the CJI within the purview of the RTI Act indeed sets a strong example for other institutions not to shy away from practising transparency in the discharge of their official functions.
The majority verdict of the Supreme Court in yet another five-judge bench headed by CJI Ranjan Gogoi also referred the review petition in the sensitive Sabarimala matter to a seven-judge bench, which would also decide certain important questions of law, including whether any religion can impose a ban upon the entry of women to enter places of worship and whether the Courts should get into what is an essential religious practice to decide if such practice is valid, or the Courts should take a practice as essential and then proceed in accordance with the constitutional provisions. While CJI Gogoi retires tomorrow, he has at least laid the foundation for the Sabarimala matter to be decided by a larger bench and also the decision on certain important questions of law having far-reaching implications upon the Indian jurisprudence.
Apart from the landmark verdicts, CJI Ranjan Gogoi’s name will be written in golden words for initiating some crucial judicial reforms. In his very first speech as the CJI in the Supreme Court, he had spoken about his commitment to improving the judicial process. The CJI had said, “We are trying to reduce the time between filing and listing of cases. We are trying to introduce a system by which the cases will not be dropped from the list. If we succeed, a large segment of mentioning would go away.”
On his very first day in the Supreme Court, CJI Ranjan Gogoi had made an impressive announcement of putting an end to the morning ritual of ‘mentioning’. He had said that ‘mentioning’ exercise would be done only in exceptional cases by the advocates on records or their junior associates. CJI Ranjan Gogoi was quoted as saying, “No mentioning! We are working out the parameters… if someone is being released today, then yes… if someone is being hanged today, then yes… if somebody is being evicted today, then yes… if there is risk of demolition, yes….beyond that, No!”
CJI Gogoi had set another example of judicial discipline and commitment by presiding over the vacation bench’s most critical period between May 25 and May 30, that is, in the days following the Lok Sabha election results when petitions could have been expected to be filed in case, there were disputes arising out of government formation. This was a path-breaking development because even though the Supreme Court constitutes a vacation bench every year, the Chief Justice of India doesn’t usually preside over it.
CJI Gogoi has thus ended his tenure on a very high note. His judicial conduct, commitment and discipline is a great example not only for those serving in the judiciary but for public functionaries across all walks of life.