Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi has his task cut out before him as the 46th head of Indian judiciary as the prelude to his appointment was overshadowed by his own reputation as a no-nonsense administrator, and the recent revolutionary Supreme Court judgments upholding civil liberty and citizens' rights.
As Justice (retired) Dipak Misra handed over the baton to Gogoi, crucial and politically important cases like the Ayodhya land title dispute, the plea challenging the special status of Jammu and Kashmir, and Assam's National Register for Citizens case are pending to be taken to their conclusion. All eyes will remain on whether Gogoi focusses on their resolution before the 2019 Lok Sabha poll.
Then there is the thorny administrative matters of running the country's highest judicial body, the ones in which Gogoi himself had criticised the former Chief Justice of being arbitrary and unfair. Here is a breakdown on what awaits CJI Gogoi in his almost 13 month long stint, due to end on 18 November, 2019.
Master of the roster?
Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi, then the second-senior-most member of the Collegium, had participated in an unprecedented press conference of Supreme Court judges where he raised several problems that in his opinion were ailing the judiciary. However, at the heart of the matter remained the friction over allocation of key cases, and how then CJI, Misra decided the roster.
The Supreme Court, later held that the CJI was indeed master of the roster and was entitled to allocate cases to whichever judge he presumes fit as part of his administrative duties.
However, several questions were raised on the transparency or the so-called arbitrariness of the process, with the four dissenting judges insinuating that the senior-most judges were being kept away from key cases.
Gogoi himself was vocal about the way a controversial case relating to the death of a CBI court judge BH Loya was allocated to a Supreme Court bench. It will be interesting to watch if at all Gogoi attempts to reform the set process or introduce any more transparency in the process.
Massive backlog in cases
Chief Justice Gogoi has indicated that one of the few things he looks forward to reform in the judiciary is the huge backlog of cases pending hearing.
Speaking at a session on Monday, Gogoi said that pendency of cases is bringing a disrepute to the system.
"This is a problem. I would request each of you to kindly give a thought to this and see how you can overcome this difficulty. I don’t think the task is really …. I have a plan and will unfold it and you are welcome to take part in that and participate in the process.”
While he is yet to reveal his 'plan' to bring down pendency in the courts, which stands at around 3.18 crore cases, he has had a resounding success in bridging the gap between the government and the public in terms of welfare schemes' distribution. As executive chairman of National Legal Service Authority (NALSA), Justice Gogoi spearheaded the program to hold legal service camps across the country wherein government departments set up stalls to highlight various welfare schemes and also made them available for the masses. A recent report released by NALSA said that around 43 lakh people have benefited from the camp.
Moreover, his administrative experience as Chief Justice of Punjab and Haryana High Court might also help him tackle the issue of piling backlogs.
During his stint at the Gauhati High Court, he had clubbed similar cases and heard them together, thus disposing of nearly 10,000 cases at a stretch. That could be one of the many ideas he has in mind, The New Indian Express reported.
Ayodhya title suit
Gogoi is also expected to take over Misra's court in the heavily politicised Ram Janmbabhoomi-Babri Masjid title suit hearing, which is expected to commence from 29 October. Gogoi will decide the three-judge bench which will hear the Ayodhya case, even if he himself chooses not to hear the matter which is always under intense media glare. Justices Ashok Bhushan and Abdul S Nazeer who heard the case along with former CJI Misra, by convention, could be part of the new bench, but Gogoi reserves the power as the master of the roster, to change the constitution of the bench.
Article 35A of the Indian Constitution is an article that empowers the Jammu and Kashmir state's legislature to define “permanent residents” of the state and provide special rights and privileges to those permanent residents. A matter which carries immense significance not only in the strife-torn Valley but rest of India, will come up for hearing under Gogoi's tenure as CJI. Given the sensitivity of the matter, Supreme Court taking one view over another can significantly change voters' perception ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, wherein the ruling NDA is likely to use the issue as a political agenda.
Justice Gogoi has been heading the special Supreme court bench that is monitoring the updation of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) meant for identifying illegal immigrants residing in Assam. Going forward, he will now have to ensure effective monitoring of the case. He will decide whether to allow ration cards to be adduced as evidence of citizenship of those excluded from the draft NRC. The case has high siginificance on Indian polity and the basic rights of Indian citizens.
While politicians can already be seen using the NRC at election rallies to evoke emotions, their are thousands whose right to Indian citizzenship rests merely on the efficacy of the Supreme Court-monitored exercise.
Appointment of Lokpal and fast-track courts to try tainted politicians and their functioning will be some of the issues for consideration before Gogoi.
Gogoi had said that he will deal with public interest litigations (PIL) filed only by the poor, signalling his intention to roll-back judicial activism of recent years. He had also said that his priority would be to reduce the pendency of cases in the Supreme Court.
Interestingly, as the CJI, Gogoi will also be heading the bench of the top court that, for the first time in its history, will face a camera inside the courtroom for live-streaming of the proceedings.
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Updated Date: Oct 03, 2018 14:21:31 IST