Mess in the Supreme Court gets worse, who will fix it?

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Updated: May 13, 2019 5:59:55 AM

If three court orders have been changed to suit the interests of certain parties, this speaks poorly of how the SC is being run.

For the court’s reputation to be restored, credible action needs to be taken on this front as well. (Reuters)

It may or may not be true that the Supreme Court is being manipulated by certain ‘fixers’ in order to ‘manage’ judgments in exchange for cash, as was alleged by lawyer Utsav Bains in his affidavit in the case relating to the sexual harassment charges against Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi. In his affidavit, Bains is supposed to have mentioned a few names of persons who said they could fix the bench of the judges to get the judgment they want. That is why, the SC bench led by Justice Arun Misra and comprising Justice RF Nariman and Justice Deepak Gupta, said that the entire country would lose faith in the judiciary if the affidavit was not taken on record for further investigation. While this charge of fixing benches, linked to the charge that CJI Gogoi was framed by these very fixers, will be probed by retired Justice AK Patnaik, it would appear the mess in the Supreme Court—and perhaps other courts as well—goes beyond the allegation of fixing benches. Three disturbing instances have come to light in just the last month or so.

In the case of industrialist Anil Ambani who was asked to appear in the Supreme Court in connection with the Rs 400-crore Ericsson dues case, the Supreme Court website—where the orders/judgments are uploaded for everyone to see—said that a personal appearance was not required though the judges had said that it was required. When this came to light, two SC staffers were found to have been responsible and they were dismissed, and even arrested by the police; it is not clear if the investigation has made any progress but it is obvious the SC staffers were paid by someone to switch the orders. In other words, fixing has been taken to another level since, in such cases, it doesn’t matter what the court has ruled/ordered, a different result can be posted on the website. The three instances of the last month were caught out, but what of others that are not so high-profile and go unnoticed, or of possible changes made in the fine print of some judgments; who checks against possible abuse here?

In the case of the Rafale review petition and Congress president Rahul Gandhi’s contempt petition—for wrongly saying the SC had said there was corruption in the Rafale deal and that prime minister Modi had given Ambani orders worth Rs 30,000 crore—CJI Gogoi had, in open court, dictated that the two cases would be heard together on May 6. On May 6, when SC was hearing the matter and CJI Gogoi asked for the file in the contempt case, he was told that was listed for May 10, the last working day before the court breaks for summer vacations. Once again, someone benefitted from the Rahul Gandhi matter getting postponed, with a final decision likely to come after the elections were over, and got someone in the SC to try to ensure this. Even more bizarre is the case of Amrapali builders where directors of various firms who supplied goods to it were ordered by the SC to appear before forensic order Pawan Agarwal; the court order that was put on the website, however, directed that they appear before another forensic auditor Ravinder Bhatia; presumably that means one auditor was seen as more likely to uncover the truth. While the jury remains out on whether the handling of the sexual harassment case—and the various allegations made by the victim including her sacking along with her husband/brother-in-law—has hurt the SC’s image, it is clear that these three incidents have laid bare another part of the court’s underbelly. For the court’s reputation to be restored, credible action needs to be taken on this front as well.

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