The spectre of "remote control" is back to haunt the corridors of law and order once again.
On 12 January, 2018, when the four most senior judges of the Supreme Court gathered at the lawns of the court to address the media, the event was dubbed "unprecedented". Justice J Chelameswar, the second most senior judge back then after the then chief justice of India Dipak Misra, had led the presser.
"The administration of the Supreme Court is not in order," he had said, alleging that there was apparent arbitrariness in the allocation of cases by then CJI.
After his retirement in December 2018, Justice Chelameswar, in an interview to The Economic Times, had said they had felt back then that Misra was being "remote controlled" from outside and was "allocating cases to judges with political bias".
A year later, the same apprehension of attempts being made to remote control the judiciary echoed in the Supreme Court on Wednesday, when a bench of justices Arun Mishra, Rohinton F Nariman, and Deepak Gupta assembled to hear advocate Utsav Bains.
Bains has claimed that the allegation of sexual harassment against CJI Ranjan Gogoi was a conspiracy to force him to resign from his post by framing him in a false case. He came up with a "sealed envelope" of evidence to prove his claims and submitted it before the bench, which had a glance at it. The lawyer claimed that the envelope contained CCTV camera footage that would throw light on many aspects of the alleged conspiracy.
The bench then asked whether a senior officer of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) or police could be called upon to look into the claims. Solicitor General Tushar Mehta submitted that the contents of the affidavit need to be investigated, suggesting having a Special Investigation Team set up.
However, when Attorney General KK Venugopal pointed out that there is a "significant departure" in the affidavit filed by Bains from the Facebook post in which he first talked about the alleged conspiracy, Bains countered the attorney general, saying that the "bar is divided" and he is "disgusted" by this. Venugopal then highlighted that the reference to a "lobby of disgruntled judges" made in his Facebook post was missing in his affidavit.
Bains also claimed that he has specific information on how this was planned and that he will file another affidavit. The court allowed him to do so, and then came an observation by the bench that brings back the allegations of an attempt to remote control, influence and intimidate the judiciary.
While taking note of the issue of the independence of the judiciary, Justice Arun Mishra also observed that no CJI had the courage to take action against certain elements, whereas CJI Gogoi wanted to clean up the system and was taking action without any fear.
It was a clear hint that Gogoi was being targeted for his attempt to clean the system.
With these developments, the entire episode will have two streams of inquiry. First, the three-member in-house committee of the Supreme Court — headed by Justice SA Bobde — that was constituted on Tuesday will investigate the allegations against Gogoi. The panel already held its first meeting on Tuesday, issued a notice and sought the presence of the woman, who levelled sexual harassment charges against the CJI, at the next meeting. The committee has also asked the secretary general of the Supreme Court to be present with the relevant records on Friday.
Given Bains' claims of a conspiracy against the CJI and the evidence he presented, the Supreme Court has summoned the CBI director, the Delhi Police commissioner and the chief of Intelligence Bureau to the next hearing.
Also, a Special Investigation Team may be formed to look into the "larger conspiracy" claims to target the higher judiciary by some people with vested interests.
As a result, there will be two parallel investigations — one by the in-house committee against the allegations of sexual harassment against the CJI and the other by a special team to investigate the "larger conspiracy" theory.
Meanwhile, at the Patiala House Court Complex in Delhi, Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Manish Khurana deferred the plea seeking to have cancelled the bail of the complainant in a case of fraud till May 23. The woman, a former Supreme Court staffer, is on bail in a fraud case in which an FIR was filed on 3 March and the arrest was made on 9 March. She was sent to judicial custody on 11 March and was released on bail the next day.
However, after the complainant in the fraud case alleged that he was being threatened by the woman and her associates, the Delhi Police moved the court to have her bail cancelled. However, the court of the chief metropolitan magistrate deferred the case and has sought the presence of the accused at the next hearing.
Postscript: When the bench reassembled at 3 pm, Utsav Bains submitted another sealed cover. The court told Bains that he had said that he will file another affidavit, to which he replied saying that he shall do it by 10.30 am on Thursday.
Meanwhile, senior counsel Indira Jaising made her submissions and stated that her sole concern is that an independent inquiry should be ordered in the affidavit filed by the complainant. The bench told her that this bench is constituted for a different purpose and it is not going to hear anything related to the “Saturday matter”, a reference to the allegations of sexual harassment against the CJI. The bench made it clear they are here to look into the merits of claims made by Bains in his affidavit.
Jaising told the court that she just hopes that one inquiry should not prejudice another. She meant the inquiry into “larger conspiracy” based on Bains affidavit and the inquiry of the in-house committee of the SC that will look into the allegations of sexual harassment against CJI.
Justice Arun Mishra said that the claims made by Bains are of a very serious nature as Bains had claimed that there are “fixers” and the court needs to find out who they are. For this, a thorough inquiry will be held. Also, Justice Mishra again referred to three “disgruntled employees” who were dismissed during the hearing.
The bench made it clear that while exercising its judicial powers, it will make sure that it does not affect any pending inquiry.
Updated Date: Apr 25, 2019 20:41:13 IST