The Supreme Court on Thursday insisted it will not allow the “rich and powerful” to run the country with money while hearing allegations by a lawyer that there was a conspiracy to frame Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi on sexual harassment charges, Bar and Bench reported. A three-judge bench of Justices Arun Mishra, Rohinton Nariman and Deepak Gupta was hearing Utsav Bains’ claims that he was offered money to help frame Gogoi for such allegations.

The bench decided to set up a committee headed by former Supreme Court judge AK Patnaik to investigate Bains’ claims.

Also read: SC sets up judicial inquiry into claims of ‘fixers’ trying to frame CJI for sexual harassment

During the hearing on Thursday morning, Justice Arun Mishra raised concerns about the way the Supreme Court was being treated for the last three to four years. “People of this country should know the truth,” he said. “Do the powerful of this country think they can run this country?”

“Don’t play with fire,” the court, added, according to the Hindustan Times. “We want to send a message to the people of the country, the rich and powerful, that they cannot control or run this court.”

“Every day we hear of bench fixing. Can [the] Registry be allowed to be managed by muscle and money power,” Justice Arun Mishra asked. “This institution has been built by Nani Palkhivala, Attorney General Fali Nariman, etc. We [judges] come and go.”

During the hearing on Wednesday, the court had asked Bains to corroborate his claim that three former employees of the top court had come together to frame Gogoi in sexual harassment allegations with the help of some powerful lobbyists.

Bains had first made the claims in a Facebook post on the weekend, and filed an affidavit in a sealed cover to the court on Wednesday. But Attorney General KK Venugopal had pointed out that in his affidavit, Bains had omitted a mention he had made in his Facebook post, about a “lobby of disgruntled judges” who he blamed for orchestrating the allegations against Gogoi.

The court had then asked Bains to file an additional affidavit to corroborate his claim, and said it will go to the root of the alleged conspiracy. Among other things, Bains has submitted CCTV footage, which he claimed will “reveal many things”.

“He [Bains] has said that there are fixers,” Justice Arun Mishra had said on Wednesday. “We need to find out who are these fixers. We will inquire and inquire and inquire and take it to logical conclusion.”

On Wednesday, the bench had summoned the chiefs of the Central Bureau of Investigation, the Intelligence Bureau and the Delhi Police after perusing documents submitted by Bains.

The case and Gogoi’s reaction

The complainant, who used to work as a junior court assistant at the top court, wrote to 22 of its judges on April 19, alleging that Gogoi had made sexual advances on her at his residence office on October 10 and 11. In the affidavit, the woman said that after she rebuffed the chief justice, she was moved out of his residence office, where she had been posted in August. Two months later, on December 21, she was dismissed from service. One of the three grounds for dismissal, as detailed in an inquiry report, was that she had taken casual leave for one day without approval. She has alleged that her family is being persecuted after the incident.

Gogoi denied the allegations during a special hearing on April 20. The chief justice said he did not “deem it appropriate” to reply to the allegations and that they were part of a “bigger plot”, possibly one to “deactivate the office of the CJI”. Gogoi said the woman has a criminal background, with two cases against her.