The public information officer of the Supreme Court has refused to disclose details of a report filed by retired Supreme Court judge, Justice AK Patnaik, on the investigation into a “larger conspiracy” behind the allegations of sexual harassment against former Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi, Live Law reported on Thursday.
Journalist Saurav Das had filed a Right to Information application, seeking details of the report. Das had submitted that no public authority can choose to deny information after the enactment of the RTI Act.
“The nature of information sought is exempt under Section 8(1)(b), 8(1)(j) and Section 11(1) of the Right to Information Act, 2005,” the public information officer said in his response.
Section 8(1)(b) exempts disclosure of information “which has been expressly forbidden to be published by any court of law or tribunal or the disclosure of which may constitute contempt of court”. Section 8(1)(j) prohibits disclosure of details which would cause unwarranted invasion of the privacy of the individual, while Section 11 exempts disclosure of third party information.
The public information officer also held that the journalist was not part of the judicial proceedings, adding that he can seek details only by moving an application under the Supreme Court Rules, 2013.
On February 18, a bench of Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul, AS Bopanna and V Ramasubramanian had closed a suo motu case initiated in 2019 to examine the conspiracy allegations. The court had observed that enquiry panel headed by Patnaik had already submitted a report. “There are strong reasons to believe that some kind of conspiracy might have been undertaken against the then CJI Gogoi,” the bench said, while quoting the report of Justice Patnaik.
The report had surmised that certain tough stances taken by Gogoi during his tenure could have triggered the allegations, the court noted. It had also referred to an Intelligence Bureau input that several persons were unhappy with the former CJI’s stand on preparation of the National Register for Citizens in Assam.
The Supreme Court also closed the proceedings saying that it would be difficult to retrieve the electronic evidence to establish conspiracy now. “No useful purpose will be served by continuing these proceedings,” it added.
Gogoi is presently a Member of Parliament.
Sexual harassment allegations
In April 2019, a woman who had earlier worked as a junior court assistant at the Supreme Court, alleged in an affidavit that Gogoi had made sexual advances on her at his residence office on October 10 and October 11, 2018. She had sent a complaint to 22 judges of the Supreme Court on April 19, 2019, and called for an inquiry into the actions of Gogoi, who she said not only harassed her, but was also responsible for her subsequent victimisation and that of her family.
Gogoi had denied the allegations during a special hearing he called on April 20, 2019. The ex-chief justice had said he did not “deem it appropriate” to reply to the allegations but claimed they were part of a “bigger plot”, possibly one to “deactivate the office of the CJI”.