The top court also asked Bains to furnish all material and evidence before the court on the alleged involvement of “fixers” and a corporate person in influencing court proceedings.
The Supreme Court on Thursday appointed former judge justice AK Patnaik to probe allegations of a larger conspiracy to frame Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi and fixing of benches in the top court. It also requested the directors of the CBI and the IB and the Delhi Police Commissioner to cooperate with him during the inquiry.
The one-man panel will complete his investigation and file a report in a sealed cover after which the matter will be heard again. The enquiry would primarily focus on material and affidavits provided by lawyer Utsav Bains, who has claimed to have proof of the conspiracy.
However, a bench led by justice Arun Mishra clarified that the one-man panel will not deal with the allegations of sexual harassment levelled by a former court employee against the CJI. It also said the outcome of the justice Patnaik inquiry will not affect the proceedings of the in-house committee, which was set up on Tuesday to deal with the sexual harassment complaint against Gogoi.
The top court also asked Bains to furnish all material and evidence before the court on the alleged involvement of “fixers” and a corporate person in influencing court proceedings. In a stern warning to those trying to “influence” the top court, justice Mishra said that, “we have to tell the rich and powerful of the country to desist from trying to control the Supreme Court”.
“We will tell them don’t dare attempt it. You will burn your fingers,” the bench said, adding, “it is 3-5% of lawyers who try to influence the registry whenever there is big case and bring a bad name to the lawyer community as well as judiciary”.
The bench added that “there is a systematic attack, systematic game to malign this institution. The way the institution has been treated in the last three four years, it is going to die. There is a systematic attempt/game”, the bench said, adding that “this country must know the truth. The SC cannot be run by money power or political power. When somebody tries to clean up the system, he is killed or maligned. This will stop”.
Supreme Court judge Indu Malhotra was on Thursday appointed as the third member of the in-house inquiry panel set up to examine allegations of sexual harassment against the CJI following the recusal of justice NV Ramana.
The complainant had written to the panel, headed by justice Sharad Arvind Bobde, expressing reservations over justice Ramana’s inclusion. She had said justice Ramana is a close friend of Gogoi and a regular visitor to his house.
The allegation that a larger conspiracy was on to frame Gogoi surfaced when Bains said he had been offered Rs 1.5 crore to represent the woman in the case. While the lawyer alleged that the sexual harassment charge against Gogoi was a conspiracy to unseat him and claimed that some sacked court staff had ganged up to target him, senior lawyer Indira Jaising had questioned his credentials. She also contended that any probe into roles of fixers and a larger conspiracy should not hamper the in-house probe against the CJI.
The ex-SC staffer who made sexual harassment charges against the CJI is scheduled to appear before the justice Bobde panel on Friday. She also pointed to the presence of only one woman judge — justice Indira Banerjee — on the panel. She asked the panel to allow her to appear before it with a lawyer and the proceedings be video recorded.
In the beginning, Attorney General KK Venugopal submitted that the lawyer cannot claim privilege and all the information has to be furnished to the court. Citing Section 91 of the CrPC, the AG said that the court could summon any document or other thing if considered necessary or desirable. “Sections 123 and 124 (of the Evidence Act) can prevail over Section 91 but 126 is not the bar,” he said.
Relying on Section 162 (a document summoned has to be produced notwithstanding any objection to its production or admissibility), SCBA president Rakesh Khanna also argued that the court has the power to direct the production to decide whether privilege can be claimed or not.