Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi on Saturday dismissed as ludicrous the unprecedented charges of sexual harassment against him and said a bigger force appeared to be behind a conspiracy to destabilize the judiciary and unsettle him ahead of important cases next week.
CJI Gogoi-headed special bench comprising Justices Arun Mishra and Sanjiv Khanna assembled at 10.45 am in response to a request by solicitor general Tushar Mehta, who pointed to four web portals – Wire, Leaflet, Caravan and Scroll- publishing the dismissed woman employee’s allegation against the CJI to argue that the court take cognizance of the matter of “great public importance”.
Justice Gogoi responded to the charge with anger and anguish in a 15 minute-long intense monologue, asking “if this (the allegations) was just reward for a person who has selflessly served as a judge of the constitutional court and is going to retire with a bank balance of Rs 6.8 lakh and a career-long PF accumulation of Rs 40-odd lakh? I would not stoop so low to even deny the charges”.
The CJI-led bench is scheduled to hear BJP MP Meenakshi Lekhi’s petition seeking initiation of contempt proceedings against Congress president Rahul Gandhi for allegedly distorting the apex court’s last order on Rafale controversy; a challenge to the Election Commission ban on Prime Minister Narendra Modi biopic; and a petition alleging large-scale bribing of voters in Tamil Nadu to seek deferment of elections in the state.
Citing the public perception of his clean and incorruptible image, the CJI said: “Nobody can catch me on the money part, so they found this to damage my reputation and destabilize the judiciary. From the questions sent by the portals, there appears to be a common thread between them.”
Dismissing charges of sexual harassment against him, CJI Ranjan Gogoi said, “I don’t think a junior court assistant is behind this. Two offices are absolutely independent, that of PM and CJI. They want to destabilize the CJI considering the important cases coming up for hearing next week in the election month.”
He added, “The independence of the judiciary is under severe threat. If the judges are to be vilified like this, why would any good person want to become a judge? Who will want to become a judge and retire with a bank balance of Rs 6.8 lakh,” he said. However, the CJI expressed his resolve that “regardless of what has happened, I will decide cases in the rest of my tenure of seven months. Nobody can stop me.”
Having given vent to his feelings, the CJI recused himself from the bench when it came to pass orders on the issue mentioned by the SG. Mishra and Khanna then said, “Having considered the matter, we refrain from passing any judicial order at this moment leaving it to the wisdom of the media to show restraint, act responsibly as is expected from them, and accordingly decide what should or should not be published as wild and scandalous allegations undermine and irreparably damage reputation and negate independence of the judiciary.”
During the hearing, Mehta, attorney general K K Venugopal, and Supreme Court Bar Association president and senior advocate Rakesh Khanna were present, and all said this was an attack on the independence of judiciary and part of a concerted design to malign and destabilize the judiciary.
Prior to this, the CJI gave a fairly detailed rebuttal of the dismissed woman employee’s allegations — made in an affidavit to 22 SC judges — that she was dismissed after she rebuffed his sexual advances, that her husband and brother-in-law, both head constables with Delhi Police, were suspended in connection with a criminal case; and she was taken into police custody for a day. Gogoi said, “All I would say is this particular employee was in the CJI’s residential office from August 27 till October 22. The incident she alleges is of October 11.