Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley on Sunday said it was time to stand united after allegations of sexual harassment were levelled against Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi. He said lending a shoulder to “completely unverified allegations coming from a disgruntled person with a not-so-glorious track record” only help in destabilising the institution of the Chief Justice of India.
A 35-year-old woman, who used to work as a junior court assistant at the Supreme Court, wrote to 22 judges of the court on Friday, alleging that Gogoi had made sexual advances on her at his residence office in October. The woman alleged that after she rebuffed the chief justice, she was moved out of his residence office, where she had been posted in August 2018. Two months later, she was dismissed from service. One of the three grounds for dismissal, as detailed in the inquiry report, was that she had taken casual leave for one day without approval.
In his post, Jaitley accused the complainant of trying to sensationalise the case. He said such complaints are usually referred to appropriate committee. “However, when the complainant distributes copies of her representation to other judges of the Supreme Court and the media in order to sensationalise her allegations, it ceases to be routine,” he wrote. “When four digital media organisations [Scroll,in, Caravan, The Wire and The Leaflet] with an unparalleled track record of ‘institutional disruption’ send similar questionnaires to the Chief Justice of India, there is obviously something more than what meets the eye.”
Jaitley said the independent judiciary is a matter of pride for the country. “His [the chief justice’s] integrity, ethics, scholarship and fairness reflect the image of India’s judiciary,” said the finance minister. “He lives by example. For both the Chief Justice and the judicial institutions, credibility and respect are essential. Once the ‘Iqbal’ of judiciary is destroyed, the institution itself will crumble.”
Jaitley said “institution destabilisers” have consolidated over the last few years. “Many of these destabilisers represent Left or ultra-Left views,” he added. “They have no electoral base or popular support. However, they still have a disproportionate presence in the media and the academia… They use free speech to destroy the judicial institution.”
He added that some members of the Bar Council who are affiliated to the Congress party support these elements. “Frequent attempts are made to get some parliamentarians to sign motion of impeachment against judges and even the Chief Justice on unsustainable grounds,” he wrote. “What has always puzzled me is the Congress lending support to such fringe campaigns.”
In April 2018, Opposition MPs had submitted an impeachment notice against former Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra. At a press conference on January 11, 2018, four senior Supreme Court judges, including Gogoi, raised questions about the way Misra allocated cases. The impeachment motion was rejected by Rajya Sabha Chairperson M Venkaiah Naidu.
Jaitley said the “liberal attitude of the courts has emboldened the institution disruptors”. He said an independent judiciary and free media are both essential for the democracy. “In order to co-exist, both must respect the respective rights of each of these institutions,” he said. “One cannot take upon itself the task of destroying the other.” He added that the print media had greater editorial control. “But of late, the rat race for grabbing eyeballs or viewership has begun. For the ‘institutional disruptors’ there are no red lines.”
He concluded, “...Let it be remembered that this is not the first case of the ‘institutional destabilizers’ nor will it be the last. If those who peddle falsehood to destroy the institution are not dealt with in an exemplary manner, this trend will only accelerate.”