Supreme Court panel on charges against me was cleared by all judges, says Gogoi
“Why Gogoi? Why only Gogoi all the time? Is it because Gogoi comes from the North-East and not from mainstream India?” asked former Chief Justice of India and currently a Rajya Sabha MP, Ranjan Gogoi, as he talked about his memoir – Justice for the Judge.
Launched on Wednesday, the former CJI’s book contains 14 chapters setting down various known and unknown details about his childhood, his journey to judgeship, and the spate of controversies that he got embroiled in during his 13-month tenure as the head of judiciary between October 2018 and November 2019.
In an interview , justice Gogoi said that the decision to set up in-house committee to enquire into sexual harassment charges against him was approved by all the judges of the Supreme Court, and that the complainant woman employee was reinstated not after his retirement but during his tenure as the CJI.
You are the first former CJI who has come out with a memoir. What prompted you to write the autobiography?
I am the also the only CJI who needed to place correct facts for people to know. The peaceful life that I had anticipated after my retirement in November 2019 did not materialise. There were half-truths, untruths and incorrect statements floating around. I thought the correct facts need to be placed before the country. But I am not in the people’s court. I am very clear in my mind that whatever I did as a judge, on the judicial side or on the administrative side, they were correct decisions in my wisdom and in my conscience. I don’t need sympathy of anyone. I don’t need recognition. But I need people to know what are the correct facts.
There is a perception that you were the judge in your own cause when you constituted a committee that eventually gave a clean chit to you in the sexual harassment case. In the book, you say that the committee was set up after approval of all the judges.
In respect of the person against whom the allegations were enquired into by the committee, I could have no role in any step of decision-making. The whole matter was entrusted by me to justice Bobde. So, it really was for justice Bobde and the other judges to decide whether the fact that the committee was constituted by the full court of the Supreme Court should be put out in the public domain. It was their decision not to make this information public. Therefore, it has now come in my book.
The book says that the complainant was reinstated during your tenure by justice Bobde on humanitarian grounds. At the time the allegations in April 2019, you called it a serious attack on independence of judiciary. How do you view her reinstatement?
The employee wrote to justice Bobde, who was the senior most judge, requesting for her reinstatement on humanitarian ground. Justice Bobde placed that letter before me because only the CJI can pass such administrative orders. I requested justice Bobde to deal with the matters since the CJI could not function in this matter. Justice Bobde, in his discretion, thought that reinstatement should happen. Compassion is an integral part of administration. If justice Bobde wanted to show compassion, its fine. I must have all respect to his decision since the power was delegated to him by me.
At one point in the book, you say: “Some of my colleagues, while putting up a facade of support and sympathy which I did not seek, actually worked against me behind my back.” Do you believe that some of your colleagues were either behind the controversy or stoking it? \
Yes. This is a fact. I have written this book for truths to emerge. Every sentence of the book is correct. I have not speculated about anything. But I would not speculate on who had what in mind; who works with what motive, one cannot fathom. What I have said in the book is that there was a brother judge who tried to be kind on face of it but behind my back, he was no kind.
You write in your book that the then CJI, justice Dipak Misra, threatened “to resign if justice KM Joseph was not appointed” to the Supreme Court by the government. He was finally appointed in August 2018.
For one reason or another, justice Jospeh’s elevation was not coming through. As the CJI, justice Misra had to put his foot down. I came to know that he had to apply a greater degree of pressure on the government. Full marks to justice Misra for doing this! He performed the true role of a CJI. Eventually, the ultimate word lies with the judiciary in matters of judicial appointments. When the judiciary is right and fair but the executive is obstinate, the judiciary must have its way.
What do you have to say about joining the January 2018 press conference with three other senior judges?
The judges at that point in time felt there was no alternative since justice Misra was not inclined to listen to the senior judges about the issues relating to listing of matters etc. At that time, the press conference was certainly required. And it did produce certain positive results. Hopefully, such occasions do no arise in future. But it is an experience from which the institution has learnt something.
You were often criticised as the innovator of sealed cover envelopes in the Supreme Court.
Even the hearings of the PIL in Jain Hawala Diary case was conducted by the Supreme Court in-camera (confidentially) in 1990s. Forget the materials produced, even the hearings were done minus everybody. Sealed cover has been adopted in 2G, coal block allocation cases; all investigation reports are submitted in sealed cover. Even an activist lawyer submitted his own report in Shaheen Bagh protest case in a sealed cover. Why Gogoi? Why? Justice SK Kaul writes an order (in Rafale) but it becomes Gogoi’s judgment. Sealed covers have been there in the Supreme Court since 1990s but Gogoi becomes the innovator of sealed cover. Why Gogoi? Is it because Gogoi comes from North-East and not from mainstream India?
You belong to Assam. It is said that you could not have heard the case of National Register for Citizens (NRC) dispassionately and therefore, you should not have passed orders for rolling out NRC in Assam?
I have said it in my book that the incapacity to hear a case must be felt by the judge himself. Is it that because I am from Assam, I should not take cases from Assam? And these cases from Assam affect the nation is what the Supreme Court said in Sarbananda Sonowal Case (2005). There is a case which has come before me that concerns Assam but touches India. Is Assam not a part of India? Should I ignore national interest just because I am from Assam? Is that the meaning of the oath I have taken as a judge? I refuse to understand the meaning of my oath in this manner. Do you know that I also had to apply for NRC, prove my linkage to my ancestors, give supporting documents like everybody else?