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Posted at: Apr 25, 2019, 11:42 AM; last updated: Apr 25, 2019, 10:37 PM (IST)

Former SC judge Patnaik to probe 'conspiracy' against CJI Gogoi

Justice Indu Malhotra appointed to in-house panel after Justice Ramana's recusal
Former SC judge Patnaik to probe 'conspiracy' against CJI Gogoi
The court also rejected claim of privilege over certain information under the Indian Evidence Act, 1872. Tribune file

Satya Prakash
Tribune News Service
New Delhi, April 25

The Supreme Court on Thursday appointed former apex court judge AK Patnaik to probe into an alleged conspiracy to force Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi to resign by implicating him in a false sexual harassment case.

Meanwhile, Justice NV Ramana—who was a part of three-member panel headed by Justice SA Bobde—recused himself from an in-house inquiry into allegations of sexual harassment against the CJI on Thursday. 

A Special Bench of Justice Arun Mishra, Justice Rohinton F Nariman and Justice Deepak Gupta ordered the CBI Director, Intelligence Bureau Director and Delhi Police Commissioner to extend assistance to Justice Patnaik in the probe.
The Bench ordered advocate Utsav Bains—who had claimed that there was a conspiracy to force the CJI to resign and that he was offered a bribe of Rs 1.5 crore—to submit all the documents and material he had to Justice Patnaik.

The court also rejected his claim of privilege over certain information under the Indian Evidence Act, 1872.

Upholding the contention of the Attorney General and SCBA president Rakesh Khanna, the Bench made it clear to Bains that he might have to disclose information he claimed privilege over.

Senior Advocate Indira Jaising wanted to say something after the pronouncement, but the three judges immediately left the court.

Later, she spoke to the media and demanded that all administrative and judicial work should be withdrawn from CJI Ranjan Gogoi.

“He (CJI) can’t continue to be the master of roster,” she told reporters.

Earlier, the Bench had reserved its order in the pre-lunch session after hearing advocate Utsav Bains—who claimed there was a conspiracy afoot against the CJI.

Noting that there was a systematic attack and systematic game to malign the institution, the Bench asserted in the forenoon session that the rich and powerful can’t run the Supreme Court.

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

On Wednesday, the Bench had summoned the CBI Director, Intelligence Bureau Director and Delhi Police Commissioner for an in-chamber discussion and asked them to seize all relevant material mentioned by Bains to support his claim of conspiracy against the CJI.

“The way this institution is being treated for the last three-four years is as if this institution is going to die. People of this country should know the truth. Do the powerful of this country think they can run this country?” it said during arguments.

It went on, “Everyday we hear of Bench-fixing. Can the Registry be allowed to be managed by muscle and money power?

“This fixing allegation is so serious. The Supreme Court can’t be remotely controlled by any force....We are in anguish. This institution will not survive.”

Justice Mishra said, “This institution belongs to you (Bar). This institution has been built by Nani Palkhivala, Attorney General.... Fali Nariman, etc...We (judges) come and go.”

At the very outset of the hearing, Bains submitted an additional affidavit in a sealed cover to the top court.

“What about privilege part?” asked Justice Mishra after going through the affidavit submitted by Bains.

Venugopal read out Section 126 of Evidence Act, 1872, and painted out that Bains has said one Ajay came to him offered Rs. 1.5 crore.

“He doesn’t talk about any client. If there is no client, no privilege under Section 126 is available,” Venugopal told the Bench.

Opposing Bains’s claim of privilege over certain communication, he said under the criminal procedure code, courts can summon any documents they found necessary.

SCBA president Rakesh Khanna supported Venugopal’s submissions, saying there was no sacrosanct right to withhold documents.

The Bench said in any case the court had power to inspect the documents as courts were not debarred from perusal of any document.

As the court was about to pass order, senior advocate Indira Jaising started making her submissions.

Jaising took exception to the order passed by the top court on Wednesday.

She expressed apprehension that the Special Bench might go into the allegations of the dismissed woman SC employee.

Jaising demanded both the proceedings, i.e., Special Bench hearing and in-house inquiry, be clubbed together.

“We will clearly say that we won’t go into allegations of sexual harassment,” Justice Arun Mishra said.

“This person (Bains) doesn’t say that the complainant (dismissed woman employee of SC) had come to him but says one Ajay came to him and he sees a conspiracy. We will clarify it in our order,” the Bench said.

But Jaising continued to attack Bains by questioning his credentials.

“I have reconfirmed the entry of the car (in which Bains had come to the SC) without sticker. I have enquired about procedure for such entry. It cannot be done without knowledge of the court’s Registry.

She demands that credentials of Bains must be looked into and the court should make sure he approached it with clean hands.

Solicitor General Mehta again demands an SIT probe.

“Mr. Mehta, don’t provoke us to say many things,” Justice Mishra told Mehta.

“I am also saying exactly what Your Lordships are saying, institution should be protected,” Mehta submitted.

Justice NV Ramana recuses himself

Justice NV Ramana's recusal came a day after the dismissed top court woman employee—who levelled the allegations against the CJI—wrote a letter to the panel objecting to Justice Ramana’s inclusion in the panel on the ground that she will not receive an objective and fair hearing as he was a close friend of the CJI and a regular visitor to his residence.

 

The woman said she should be allowed to appear along with a lawyer and the proceedings of the committee be video recorded so that there can be no dispute about what transpired in the inquiry, sources said.

The complainant—who was supposed to appear before the panel on Friday—also raised question over the presence of only one woman judge—Indira Banerjee—in the panel. She said it was not in accordance with the Vishaka Guidelines on sexual harassment at work place which required the committee to have a majority of women.

Later, Justice Indu Malhotra was appointed in place of Justice Ramana in the in-house panel, sources said.

The in-house panel—which has no time frame to complete the inquiry—is expected to be re-constituted after Justice Ramana’s recusal, they added.

The allegations against the CJI became public after four news portals published stories on April 20 based on an affidavit sent by her to 22 judges of the Supreme Court.

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