Either the 46th Chief Justice of India (CJI) Ranjan Gogoi is guilty of allegedly behaving inappropriately with a 35-year-old woman typist-cum-librarian whom he transferred to his residence-cum-office before hounding her out of a job. Along with her handicapped brother-in-law whom he inducted as a court attendant using his discretionary quota and then allegedly sacked unceremoniously. Or he is innocent.
If he is innocent, the woman has spun a fairy tale and must go to jail after a trial. But the facts speak for themselves. And the affidavit filed by advocate Utsav Bains alleging the woman was a pawn used by sinister forces bent on forcing the CJI to resign will not detract from the facts. Was the woman aware someone had approached Utsav Bains? Is she aware of his existence? Or has somebody framed her in an attempt to prove the CJI was framed?
The second seniormost judge of the Supreme Court, Justice N V Ramana, had to exit the three-judge panel set up to examine the woman and her complaint of sexual harassment and misuse of public office, after he gave a clean chit to the CJI. Justice Ramana is a controversial judge because in 2017, the so-called “rebel” judge, Jasti Chelameshwar had written to the then CJI J S Khehar pointing out the unwarranted proximity between Justice Ramana and the Andhra chief minister N Chandrababu Naidu who is the son-in-law of the late N T Rama Rao.
Justice Ramana’s letter to the CJI objecting to the elevation of six lawyers as high court judges in Andhra Pradesh and Telengana strangely had nearly identical wording as that of N Chandrababu Naidu who was allegedly his benefactor. Justice Ramana is slated to become the 48th CJI after Justice Sharad Bobde from Nagpur retires on April 23, 2021.
Lawyers become advocates-general in their 40s before being elevated as high court judges. That is why Justice Chelameshwar knew what he was talking about. He himself was an advocate general of Andhra Pradesh before being elevated as a high court judge. And Justice Ramana has not covered himself with glory by dismissing the complaint of the hapless 35-year-old woman in Hyderabad without hearing her out.
This woman has alleged Justice Ramana is a “close family friend” of the CJI. She should know because she was an employee at the CJI’s office-cum-residence. And it was the CJI himself who transferred her there – not the corporate tycoon who had to appear in the Supreme Court when the two staffers he may have bribed were sacked for manipulating an order requiring his presence. This corporate house is well-known for its money-power and chicanery.
But now, the woman’s complaint has been attenuated by the judges focusing on a larger conspiracy of bench-fixing and cash-for-judgments scam which was doing the rounds after Kalikho Pul, the former Arunachal Pradesh chief minister named a few Supreme Court judges in his suicide note dated August 8, 2016.
The woman was a typist-cum-librarian in the Supreme Court from 2014 to 2018
CJI Ranjan Gogoi himself transferred her to his office-cum-residence.
The CJI used his discretionary quota to induct the brother-in-law of the woman as a court attendant whom he later allegedly terminated.
The woman alleged the CJI made overtures towards her which she rebuffed and he dictated a note for her to sign that she wanted to behave inappropriately with him.
woman was dismissed from service after she allegedly did not turn up for work on a Saturday which is disproportionate to her offence.
The CJI claimed she was dismissed for alleged “inappropriate behavior” which prima facie is what the woman herself alleges by reversing the roles of culprit and victim.
The woman’s husband and his brother who were head constables in the Delhi Police were dismissed without allegedly being given a chance to defend themselves.
A security guard from Jhajjar lodged an FIR against the woman for taking Rs 50,000/- from him by promising him a job in the Supreme Court.
The CJI set up a three-judge bench where he pontificated about being framed by the woman because “they” could not get him on a charge of financial impropriety. But heading a three-judge bench to exonerate himself in the woman’s absence, violates natural justice, the Vishaka guidelines and the Prevention of Sexual Harassment at Workplace Act.
Justice N V Ramana quits the 3-judge panel after giving the CJI a clean chit. The woman alleges he is a “family friend” of the CJI whose house he visits regularly.
A 32-year-old advocate Utsav Bains alleged in an affidavit filed in the Supreme Court that he was offered Rs 1.50 crore to represent the woman who framed the CJI because he cracked down on agents who promise litigants (like the late Kalikho Pul) benches and judgments of their choice. Pul had alleged he was asked to pay Rs 84 crore for a favourable order from the Supreme Court.
Whether the woman is part of a larger conspiracy to frame the CJI or her complaint is genuine has to be verified. If her complaint is genuine, the CJI will have to resign. If not, she will be arrested and jailed.
There is no doubt that the CJI who draws a salary of Rs 280,000 per month is not as well-off as senior Supreme Court advocate and Union finance minister Arun Jaitley, who owns a fleet of luxury cars, swanky flats in Delhi, Gurgaon in Haryana, Gandhinagar in Gujarat and Amritsar in Punjab worth nearly Rs 28 crores.
Never mind his bank balance of Rs 35.23 crores all totaling Rs 113 crore. He comes behind senior advocate Harish Salve whose net worth is Rs 200 crore. But even if the CJI did not amass wealth as a judge like Arun Jaitley and many other Supreme Court advocates, this does not imply his aesthetic sense may not be tickled by feminine allurements.
For men remain men even if they becomes judges, as was evidenced by two law interns alleging sexual advances by Justice Alok Kumar Ganguly in 2013 and Justice Swatanter Kumar in 2014. Both judges suffered little damage to their reputations but the law interns faded into oblivion.
As the head of the entire judicial family in India, the CJI will have to sanction an FIR being lodged against himself if the woman’s complaint is found genuine. This is because all judicial officers from the lowest magistrate’s court to the Supreme Court are immune from criminal proceedings without sanction of their chief justices.
It is unlikely the CJI or even his seniormost judge, Justice Sharad Bobde, will expose the entire judiciary to global ridicule by allowing an FIR against the 46th CJI. And so, it is more likely, this scandal will die a natural death.
Olav Albuquerque holds a PhD in Media Law. He is a journalist-cum-lawyer of the Bombay High Court.