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From St. Stephen’s to Supreme Court, India’s next CJI has never minced his words

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Ranjan Gogoi’s tenure as CJI will be crucial in terms of restoring credibility of judiciary that was dented after the open rift among senior judges.

New Delhi: Ending months of speculation, Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra has written to the government naming Justice Ranjan Gogoi, the senior most judge of the apex court, as his successor.

Justice Gogoi, 64, will assume charge as CJI on 3 October after his appointment warrants are issued by President Ram Nath Kovind. Gogoi will be the first person from the northeast to hold the coveted post.

Justice Gogoi’s tenure as CJI — he will retire on 17 November, 2019 — will be crucial in terms of restoring the credibility of judiciary that was dented after the open rift between senior judges, including Justice Gogoi and CJI Misra.

Also read: CJI Dipak Misra recommends Ranjan Gogoi as his successor in the Supreme Court

Justice Gogoi is outspoken but rarely indulgent. On 12 January, in the unprecedented press conference, he barely spoke but answered the most significant question directly — that the senior judges were concerned about the court’s handling of the Judge Loya case.

In June, delivering the annual Ramnath Goenka lecture, he famously said, “We need not only independent judges and noisy journalists, but even independent journalists and sometimes noisy judges” to defend democracy.

High expectations

The Supreme Court often assumes the character of its Chief Justice. While some former CJIs were known as relaxed and lenient such as Altamas Kabir or K.G. Balakrishnan, some CJIs such as R.M. Lodha or recently S.H. Kapadia ran a tight ship that reflected in the court’s handling of cases.

Many in the apex court are hopeful that Justice Gogoi, known as a no-nonsense judge, will set the house in order. Many sitting judges often criticise lawyers for not maintaining decorum in court, something which almost never happens in Justice Gogoi’s courtroom.

There have been several instances in which Justice Gogoi would simply stop even celebrity senior advocates if they were speaking out of turn or even narrating an anecdote not strictly related to the arguments. He is sometimes even brusque with advocates.

In 2015, he hauled up Markandey Katju, a former apex court judge, for contempt of court for making personal allegations against him. However, Justice Gogoi was criticised since he invited the former judge to critique his judgment but at the end of the hearing served him a contempt notice and asked security to escort the former judge out of the courtroom.

Justice Gogoi also has strong views against overcrowding of courtrooms and corridors. He usually lists not more than a dozen miscellaneous cases per day to avoid overcrowding and to ensure each case is allocated adequate time. Justice Gogoi’s courtroom has the most well-defined barricades and seating arrangement in the Supreme Court and the court staff is given special instructions to ensure lawyers or visitors do not stand along the walls.

Last month, he along with two other judges stepped out of their courtrooms to conduct a surprise inspection of the corridors.

Justice Gogoi, who delivered a judgment on the court’s practice of designating senior advocates subjectively on arbitrary grounds, is expected to restart the process. The Supreme Court has now evolved a fair mechanism to evaluate advocates and give them the ‘senior’ designation.

With almost six vacancies in the Supreme Court currently, Justice Gogoi’s handling of the tug-of-war with the government over judicial appointments will be critical.

Justice Gogoi is known to have little patience for government delays. While deciding a case relating to the appointment of a Lokayukta in Uttar Pradesh, which the Samajwadi Party-led government was delaying, Justice Gogoi told senior advocate Kapil Sibal to call up the chief minister within 10 minutes and seek instructions.

Education and career

Born in an illustrious family in Assam’s Dibrugarh, Justice Gogoi went to St. Stephen’s College in Delhi where he obtained both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in history. He later studied law in Delhi University and immediately moved to Guwahati in 1978 to set up his practice there.

His father, Keshab Chandra Gogoi, was a Congress leader who became chief minister of Assam for just two months in 1982.

In 2001, Justice Gogoi was appointed a permanent judge of the Gauhati High Court and was transferred to the Punjab and Haryana High Court in 2010. Two years later, he was elevated as a judge of the Supreme Court.

Also read: Guwahati advocate asks CJI Misra why Justice Gogoi, an Assamese, is hearing NRC case

Of the three judges in the press conference along with Justice Gogoi, Justices J. Chelameswar and Kurian Joseph were his colleagues in the Gauhati High Court while Justice Madan Lokur was a fellow Stephanian.

Justice Gogoi has been a judge of the apex court since April 2012 and in his six-year tenure he has more than 603 reported judgments to his name. At least 25 such judgments are constitution-bench rulings headed by five or more judges.

He was part of the bench that gave the verdict on the presidential reference in the Sutlej-Yamuna Link (SYL) Canal dispute. In the politically significant constitution bench case in which P.A. Sangma challenged Pranab Mukherjee’s election as President in 2012, Justice Gogoi dissented ruling against Mukherjee.

Justice Gogoi also delivered the ruling regulating government spending on advertisements and the ruling disallowing former chief ministers from getting government bungalows on taxpayers’ money. He is currently hearing the politically sensitive case related to the updating the National Register of Citizens in Assam.

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  1. Justice Ranjan Gogoi comes to his new responsibility with formidable credentials. May his tenure as CJI be remembered with respect and affection long after he retires.

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