Top court convenes emergency session.
In a move that has few precedents, the Supreme Court on Saturday convened an emergency special session where it lamented about “attempts to undermine the independence of the judiciary”, following reports on some online portals of allegations of sexual harassment by a former woman employee of the apex court against Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi.
Though the court refrained from passing any judicial order, a three-member bench comprising Gogoi himself said it hoped the media would ensure the independence of judiciary was not affected by such “baseless” charges. Sitting with Justices Arun Mishra and Sanjiv Khanna, the CJI termed the allegations against him as a “conspiracy to destabilise the office of the CJI… there has to be bigger force behind this and they want to deactivate office of Chief Justice”.
On Friday, a 35-year-old former junior court assistant at the Supreme Court had alleged that Gogoi had sexually harassed her at his home office in October 2018. The woman had written to 22 Supreme Court judges and requested them to constitute a special inquiry committee of its retired judges to inquire into the “charges of sexual harassment and consequent victimisation.”
During the hearing that lasted nearly 30 minutes, Gogoi, however, made it clear that he had no plan to resign in the wake of the allegations. He clarified that he would preside over the CJI court and discharge his judicial functions without any fear. “The judiciary of this country is under very serious threat. We will not allow this to happen. I will decide the cases in the seven months (of his remaining tenure as the CJI). I will do that,” he said.
The CJI said the allegations had cropped up as he was scheduled to hear “very-very important cases” and also when the Lok Sabha elections were being held in the country.
Though the CJI headed the bench, he left it to Justice Mishra to take a call on passing a judicial order. Agreeing with the CJI, Mishra also said, “People have faith in the system, in the judiciary. If such unscrupulous, scandalous allegations are raised, how will courts function?”
Solicitor-General Tushar Mehta said the allegations appeared to be a blackmail technique.
Gogoi was one of the four ‘rebel’ top-most Supreme Court judges who had held a press conference on January 12 last year, citing lack of accountability and integrity in the apex court. In a strongly worded letter signed by them against the then CJI Dipak Misra, they had accused him of selectively placing sensitive matters before preferred benches.
Gogoi further said: “This is unbelievable. I don’t think I should stoop low even to deny these allegations. Nobody can catch me on money, people have to find something and they have found this… Nobody can catch me on money. This is the reward a CJI gets after 20 years of selfless service,” the CJI, who was heading the three-judge bench, said during the hearing. He made it clear that he had a bank balance of Rs 6.80 lakh apart from around Rs 40 lakh in provident fund, after being in service for around two decades.
The court left it to the “wisdom of media” to show restraint and act responsibly so that the independence of the judiciary was not affected. The top court said that the media should not publish the woman’s complaint without verifying its truth. It said further judicial orders would be passed at a later stage.
The office of the Supreme Court Secretary General had earlier in the day denied the charges against CJI, terming them “absolutely false and scurrilous”.