By India Legal Bureau
Justice to the Judge, the autobiography of Ranjan Gogoi, a former Chief Justice of India and a sitting nominated Rajya Sabha member, was launched at a glittering release by his successor CJI Sharad Arvind Bobde on Wednesday.
Answering questions at the Rupa event, Gogoi looked back at the decisions he had taken, including the case of sexual harassment against him instituted by a Supreme Court staffer. Gogoi conceded, reports said, that in hindsight, he should not have been part of the bench hearing the case. Gogoi justified the in-house inquiry instituted by himself and said in-house probes have a long history in the Supreme Court.
Gogoi maintained independence of the judiciary meant only judges will probe charges against themselves and not outsiders. It must be recalled that both Attorney General K.K. Venugopal and Justice D.Y. Chandrachud had pushed for external members on the panel probing the charges.
Gogoi, who had headed the bench which gave the verdict in the Ayodhya title suit, had also given a clean chit to the government in the Rafale deal. He was also the judge who ruled on the National Register of Citizens and was part of the Sabarimala ruling bench.
Though publisher Rupa has said it was a “no-holds barred memoir”, reviewers, including senior lawyers and law faculty in law universities, have underlined the judicial impropriety on Gogoi’s handling of the sexual harassment charge against him.
Gogoi’s court was also one of the prominent adapters of the sealed cover procedure. Though the former CJI had not instituted it, he claimed at the book launch that it was much older than him.
Senior Advocate Sanjoy Ghose writes in Bar and Bench, “On the judicial side too, the Court conducted several hearings under the aforesaid lofty title of “Re Matter of Great Public Importance etc. etc”. Here too, great injustice has been meted out to Mr Gogoi as he was deprived of an opportunity to get his accusation – that the charge of sexual harassment was motivated and actually aimed at attacking the ‘independence of the judiciary’ – publicly established. The Court had appointed one of its finest and most independent judges, Justice AK Patnaik, to inquire into Mr Gogoi’s charge. And yet when Justice Patnaik submitted his report, the Court decided to let it remain in a sealed cover and chose to drop the proceedings!”
Kaveri Haritas, Associate Professor, OP Jindal Global University, writes in scroll.in: “While the mere presence of a clerk interested in the case prompted the King’s Bench to set aside the conviction, the order of a committee set up by the chief justice of India to decide on a complaint against him, still stands to this day. Clearly, all pretences of justice have been dropped.
What is significant about this dictum is that not only does justice matter, perception matters just as much. It is perhaps this perception of justice that this autobiography seeks to change. While the acquittal despite the lack of procedural justice may have let the former chief justice off the hook, public opinion indicated otherwise as it was perceived not as justice but as injustice. The autobiography thus seeks to influence and change this perception in his favour.”
For a judge, who was part of the troika that went to the press against former CJI Dipak Misra for the independence of the judiciary, the controversies along his tenure had left Gogoi’s CV blackened and that could possibly explain the title as an attempt to salvage it. And now, he is in no position to influence the fallout.