A committee headed by former Supreme Court judge AK Patnaik will investigate the claims of a lawyer that he was offered money to help frame Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi in a sexual harassment case. The panel was set up by a three-judge bench that was hearing the claims of the lawyer, Utsav Bains.
The bench made it clear that the committee’s inquiry will not interfere in the investigation by another panel into the allegations of harassment against Gogoi. The court asked the Central Bureau of Investigation, the Intelligence Bureau and the Delhi Police to provide all assistance to the committee.
The matter will be listed after the panel submits its report.
Earlier in the day, the bench, comprising Justices Arun Mishra, Rohinton Nariman and Deepak Gupta, had said it will not allow the “rich and powerful” to run the country with money. Mishra raised concerns about the way the Supreme Court was being treated for the last few 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 then asked him to file an additional affidavit on Thursday to corroborate his claim, and said it will go to the root of the alleged conspiracy. Among other things, Bains submitted CCTV footage, which he claimed will “reveal many things”.
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.