Indian judiciary & government

Fall of the last bastion

Politics

March 20, 2020

/ By / Mumbai

Indian judiciary and government

On Thursday Ranjan Gogoi took oath as a Rajya Sabha member

One of the most important pillars and guardians of Indian democracy, the judiciary has been under a cloud as judges cross numerous red lines.

On Thursday, as Ranjan Gogoi took oath as a Rajya Sabha member, barely three months after demitting the office of the Chief Justice of India, Congress and Left party members started shouting slogans like ‘Shame on You’ and ‘Deal’. But Gogoi didn’t seem to have been bothered by criticism that has been showered on him not just by the opposition parties and media, but also several of his fellow former judges of the Supreme Court. It did seem to be part of a long-planned quid pro quo arrangement.

It is indeed unprecedented and highly questionable for a former judge of the Supreme Court, let alone a former CJI, to take up a government appointment barely three months after retirement. Gogoi would not have forgotten his own words on the issue when in 2018, while presiding over a five-judge constitution bench Gogoi had said that post retirement appointment of judges in tribunals is a “scar” on the “independence of judiciary”.

Gogoi’s decision to accept the nomination to the Upper House of Indian Parliament was lambasted by many, including his former colleagues of the SC bench, notably Justice M B Lokur, who was one of the four, along with Gogoi, to have raised the questions about independence of judiciary.

For Gogoi, the Rajya Sabha membership seems to be simply a logical extension of the dramatic about-face by the honourable CJI who in 2018 had been part of an unprecedented move by sitting judges of the Indian Supreme Court saying that the independence of the judiciary was under attack.In 2018, four senior judges of the Supreme Court, including Gogoi, had mounted a revolt against the then chief justice Dipak Mishra and had raised concerns, listing a series of problems they said were afflicting the Supreme Court and that could destroy the Indian democracy. However, as soon as Gogoi took the mantle of the CJI, his own conduct and decisions he took put him under an even darker cloud than any of his predecessor.

The big change in Gogoi and his attitude became apparent soon after a woman worker of the Supreme Court alleged that Gogoi had sexually harassed her. The woman alleged that when she rejected the advances, she was fired from her job. Gogoi’s handling of the case was highly questionable.

He claimed that the allegation was an attack on the entire judiciary and constituted a bench that he himself presided over, massacring the basics of jurisprudence where the accused himself presided over his case. This act was an astonishing judicial impropriety that he pompously called ‘A Matter of Great Public Importance Touching Upon the Independence of the Judiciary’.

Also, very mysteriously, when the allegations surfaced, the woman’s husband and brother-in-law were charged with old cases that had been resolved and both were suspended from their jobs.

From this moment, there was a pronounced difference in Gogoi’s statements and decisions. He began giving a lot of slack to the government on various issues and faced a barrage of accusations about his neutrality.

And from here began the journey of Gogoi as a well-wisher of the government. The moment people started noticing the decisions of the government that were either against its citizens or against one particular community that’s when the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) found the man who would make the decisions for their party ‘legally’. Gogoi did seem to live up to their expectations as in the last few weeks of his tenure, he took over numerous cases, many of them crucial for the government, and declared that he would render judgement in these matters before he hung his boots. There were at least half a dozen cases which were decided in a matter of days, even if some had been pending for years, if not decades.

One such case was the Ayodhya land dispute that relates to the demolition of Babri Masjid and the dispute between Hindus and Muslims over the control of land occupied by the mosque. In a bizarre ruling, the Supreme Court held the mosque’s demolition illegal but handed the plot of land to Hindus, who believe the site is the birth place of Lord Ram, a much venerated god-king. The court directed that another plot in Ayodhya be provided to a Muslim group that contested the case.

Gogoi was in such a hurry that just three days left before his retirement he decided to deliver several important verdicts on almost everything he had on his plate. From the Sabrimala review plea, the Rafale review petition to the Finance Act 2017 and the government takeover of tribunals and the transparency of the office of CJI under RTI, the fate of such big judgements were passed in just three days. At the same time, Gogoi turned a complete blind eye to the events in Jammu & Kashmir where hundreds of political leaders had been imprisoned, without charge for months and the SC did not even deem fit to hear the numerous cases of habeas corpus, filed since August 5 when the government abrogated the special status of the state of J&K.

In another very controversial case, the matter of purchase of 36 Rafale jets, Gogoi gave a clean chit to the Modi government, ignoring several clear pieces of evidence that the government kept crucial elements away from the court during the hearing. Not done with it, Gogoi also dismissed review petitions filed in the matter.

What is perhaps the worst about Gogoi is the legacy that he would be leaving behind and the floodgates that the former CJI may have opened of judges seeking favours from government in return for favourable judgements and blurring the extremely crucial red line that separates the judiciary from the executive.

Already, Justice Arun Mishra, a member of the SC bench, raised eyebrows by his lavish praise of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, describing him as an “internationally acclaimed visionary” and a “versatile genius.” Even though Justice Mishra was criticised by several retired judges, senior lawyers and politicians, the job was done.

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