The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) has saved itself from scathing criticism and huge embarrassment by appointing Justice Ranjan Gogoi as the 46th Chief Justice of India. Justice Gogoi had been under a cloud for joining three other senior fellow-judges on January 12 last in addressing a media conference on the issue of selective assignment of sensitive cases to certain judges in the Supreme Court. That this was a controversial decision to go public with grievances and was the first of its kind had led some legal luminaries to speculate that, treating this as an act of indiscipline, the Modi government at the Centre may override his seniority and appoint another chief justice instead as had been done during Mrs Indira Gandhi’s regime earlier on two occasions. However, it now appears that with the Opposition baying for a pretext to take on the government chose to take the path of least resistance. As it now stands, with current Chief Justice Dipak Misra endorsing Gogoi’s name by recommending the next senior most Supreme Court judge, and the government having cleared the recommendation, the stage is set for Justice Gogoi to assume office from October 3.
In a recent lecture, Justice Gogoi had said the country needs independent journalists and “noisy judges”. The benches led by Justice Gogoi have dealt largely with the issue of corruption in politics and public life. In fact, Justice Gogoi had led the Bench which ordered the Centre to set up special courts to “exclusively” try MPs and MLAs as a means to de-criminalise politics. Justice Gogoi’s bench had also pronounced the scathing judgment against a Uttar Pradesh State law, which had allowed former chief ministers to retain their bungalows, staff and other perks. Among the important cases heard by a bench led by Justice Gogoi are the appeals filed by the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case convicts for remission of their life sentences. Justice Gogoi is currently heading the Bench monitoring the sensitive Assam National Register of Crime (NRC) case.
With general elections only a few months away, Justice Gogoi will be watched for how he steers through sensitive cases like the Ayodhya title suit, the NRC in Assam, the admissibility of Aadhaar as identity proof, among others. With the no-nonsense reputation that he enjoys, he can be expected to eschew political biases. Justice Gogoi would also be judged on how he deals with the contentious issue of appointment of judges which is hanging fire for long. Since the time the National Judicial Accountability Commission was struck down by the apex court, the government has been clamouring for a more equitable method of appointment.