The nomination has reignited the debate on post-retirement benefits for judges.
Many critics of Gogoi’s nomination as an MP also noted that, in 2018, he had himself remarked that post-retirement appointment of judges in tribunals was a scar on the idea of judicial independence.
While in the Supreme Court, Gogoi was part of several decisions that were seen to have worked out in favour of the Modi government one way or another. ThePrint takes a look at five such judgments:
In November 2019, a bench led by CJI Gogoi sought to end a decades-old dispute over the ownership of a plot in Ayodhya — while Hindus lay claim to the site as the birthplace of Lord Ram, Muslims see it as a place of worship because it hosted the Babri masjid until it was demolished by Hindu fundamentalists in 1992.
In its unanimous judgment, the court decreed the disputed land to infant deity ‘Ram Lalla’ while directing the central or state government to allot an alternative five-acre plot for the construction of a mosque in Ayodhya. The central government was asked to set up a trust within three months to help build the Ram Mandir.
Ram temple in Ayodhya has been at the core of the BJP’s Hindu nationalist politics for three decades.
Rafale review and contempt proceedings against Rahul Gandhi
The same month, another bench headed by Justice Gogoi had given a clean chit to the Narendra Modi government over allegations of irregularities in India’s purchase of 36 Rafale jets from France’s Dassault Aviation.
In doing so, the court dismissed a batch of review petitions seeking a probe into the purchase.
The bench had also initiated criminal contempt proceedings against Congress leader Rahul Gandhi for wrongly attributing his “chowkidar chor hai” remark, aimed at Prime Minister Narendra Modi in connection with the Rafale case, to the apex court.
These charges were later dropped, and Gandhi asked to be careful in the future.
Kashmir habeas corpus petitions
Following the Modi government’s decision to scrap Article 370, Gogoi came in for criticism over the handling of two habeas corpus pleas.
One was filed by Communist Party of India (Marxist) general secretary Sitaram Yechury, seeking the production of former party MLA from Kashmir, Mohammad Yousuf Tarigami, before the Supreme Court.
Another was filed by Mohammad Aleem Sayed, a law student, against what he feared was the illegal detention of his parents in Anantnag. He demanded that the authorities produce his family before the court.
However, a bench headed by Justice Gogoi did not consider the question of whether the detentions were legal. Instead, it allowed both Yechury and Syed to visit Kashmir to meet their friends and family.
In Yechury’s case, the court also said that his visit should not have any other purpose. Both Syed and Yechury were asked to file reports in the court after their return from Kashmir.
The orders drew considerable flak from several quarters over alleged delay as well as the court’s refusal to order the production of the people in question, which was seen as a defeat of the very purpose of habeas corpus petitions.
CBI action against private bank employees
In a judgment dated February 2016, over two years before his elevation as CJI, a bench comprising Justice Ranjan Gogoi held that the managing director and chair of a private bank were public servants under the Prevention of Corruption Act 1988.
The judgment permitted the CBI to continue with cases against two accused employees of a private bank under the Act.
A year later, the ruling was cited by the CBI to justify its decision to raid the offices of NDTV and its promoters.
The CBI had said that it had registered the case on the basis of a complaint filed by a shareholder of ICICI Bank and NDTV, on allegations relating to “the wrongful gain of Rs 48 crore to the promoters – Prannoy Roy, Radhika Roy, RRPR Holdings Pvt Ltd and a corresponding wrongful loss to the ICICI Bank arising from their collusion and criminal conspiracy”.
When NDTV raised questions about the CBI’s jurisdiction, saying ICICI was a private bank, the agency cited the 2016 Supreme Court judgement.
The seeds of NRC
Justice Gogoi was also a part of the bench that directed and oversaw the implementation of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam since December 2014 until its finalisation in August 2019. The NRC update in Assam sprang from a political demand to drive undocumented immigrants out of the state — an emotive issue among residents of the border state for years.
However, the NRC left out 19.06 lakh people, many of them Bengali Hindus, leading to much criticism of the exercise, including from the BJP. This is seen to have set the stage for the BJP to bring in the Citizenship Amendment Act, to ease citizenship for non-Muslim minorities from three Muslim-majority nations, and propose a nationwide NRC.
Former CJI slammed
Congress spokesperson and top lawyer Abhishek Manu Singhvi tweeted that the decision was “destruction of the most important ingredient of a public institution i.e. faith”.
"Pre-retirement judgements are influenced by a desire for a post-retirement job," – Late Shri Arun Jaitley proved to prophetic about the rampant lack of faith that would ensue with a motivated judiciary. #Gogoihttps://t.co/qIVsJde33R
— Abhishek Singhvi (@DrAMSinghvi) March 17, 2020
Supreme Court lawyer Karuna Nundy said the “brazenness” was “just so sad”.
It's just so sad. The brazenness of it. Destroying constitutional propriety for a measly Rajya Sabha seat. #RanjanGogoi
— Karuna Nundy (@karunanundy) March 16, 2020
Former Supreme Court judge Kurian Joseph, Gogoi’s contemporary in the court, also issued a statement, saying the latter had “compromised the noble principles on the independence and impartiality of the Judiciary”.
Justice Joseph and Gogoi were among the four Supreme Court judges — apart from J. Chelameswar and M.B. Lokur — who held an unprecedented press conference in January 2018 where they expressed concerns about the independence of the judiciary under then CJI Dipak Misra.
Gogoi hasn’t spoken on the matter since the controversy broke Monday night, only telling reporters Tuesday that he will “speak to the media in detail about why I accepted this” after he is sworn in.
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.