New Delhi: Former Supreme Court judge A.K. Patnaik has been appointed by the apex court to probe the affidavit which has alleged a conspiracy to frame Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi in a sexual harassment case.
It won’t be the first time Patnaik will be handling a high-profile case, both when he was a judge and after retirement.
Patnaik, a well-known critic of the collegium system of appointing judges to the higher judiciary, has been referred to as the man who gave new wings to the ‘caged parrot’ CBI.
He will file his conspiracy probe report in a sealed cover and will be assisted by the directors of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), the Intelligence Bureau (IB) and the commissioner of Delhi Police.
The top court’s decision came after an impassioned hearing where Justice Arun Mishra, who is heading the bench, said: “The way this institution is being treated…it is if this institution is going to die. People of this country should know the truth. Do the rich and powerful think they can run this country?”
Patnaik first became a high court judge in 1994, a high court chief justice in 2005, and a Supreme Court judge in 2009, serving till 2014. In these two decades, he delivered many high-profile judgments and orders. His work for the judiciary continued even after his retirement — earlier this year, the top court directed the Central Vigilance Commission to probe allegations against ousted CBI Director Alok Verma under Patnaik’s supervision.
While he was chief justice of the Madhya Pradesh High Court, Patnaik was on the in-house committee that probed the allegation of misappropriation of funds made against Calcutta High Court judge Soumitra Sen. The panel found Sen guilty of misconduct and recommended his impeachment. Sen thus became the first judge in independent India against whom the Rajya Sabha accepted a motion of impeachment. Sen, however, resigned before the motion passed.
In March 2012, CJI S.H. Kapadia made Patnaik part of a special bench to hear 2G scam cases. One of the bench’s most significant judgments came when it struck down the provision that required the CBI to take prior permission from the Centre to initiate any action — inquiry or investigation — against officials of joint secretary or higher rank.
The bench also struck down the relevant sections of the Representation of the People Act which protected lawmakers when appeals against their convictions were pending.
Patnaik was also part of the bench that directed the Centre to implement the ambitious project to interlink rivers in a time-bound manner. The bench appointed a high-powered committee to plan and implement this.
Patnaik also headed the bench that asked BCCI president N. Srinivasan to step down, beginning the Supreme Court’s ‘clean-up’ of the cricket body.
He was also part of the Constitution bench that stopped the Centre from imposing ‘mother tongues’ as the only medium of instruction in primary schools.
A critic of the collegium system
Patnaik has been a vocal critic of the collegium system. According to news reports based on an RTI response, Patnaik was superseded five times between 2007-2009 before he was elevated to the top court.
After he retired, in an interview, he said “competent people” have been overshadowed, while those with links to members of the collegium succeed as there was “no objective assessment”.
Recusal from a case
While Patnaik was an SC judge, he was accused of having close links with a murder suspect, Suresh Bijlani, in a case he was adjudicating. In order to avoid criticism, Patnaik recused himself and posted the case before another bench.
Why news media is in crisis & How you can fix it
India needs free, fair, non-hyphenated and questioning journalism even more as it faces multiple crises.
But the news media is in a crisis of its own. There have been brutal layoffs and pay-cuts. The best of journalism is shrinking, yielding to crude prime-time spectacle.
ThePrint has the finest young reporters, columnists and editors working for it. Sustaining journalism of this quality needs smart and thinking people like you to pay for it. Whether you live in India or overseas, you can do it here.