New Delhi: Former Chief Justice of India (CJI) Ranjan Gogoi has said that, in “hindsight”, he should not have been part of the bench that took suo motu cognisance of news reports on sexual harassment allegations against him.
“In hindsight, perhaps, I should not have been on the bench. But then what do you do, tell me, if your hard-earned reputation as one of India’s upcoming anchors, with all the hard work that you put in, is sought to be destroyed overnight (sic)?” Justice Gogoi said Wednesday.
“Do I expect that you would act with 100 per cent rationality? Do you think the Chief Justice of India is not human? Forty-five years of my reputation that I had built in the bar and bench, by one stroke of pen, is sought to be destroyed,” he added, speaking to India Today News Director Rahul Kanwal during the launch of his autobiography ‘Justice of the Judge‘.
In response to Kanwal’s assertion that he judged his own case through the suo motu proceedings, Justice Gogoi said the order, signed by the other two judges on the bench and not him, did not give him a clean chit from the allegations.
“The order expected the press to be vigilant, to be responsible, but what did the world talk about was that Justice Gogoi presided over his own case and gave himself a clean chit,” the former CJI and Rajya Sabha MP said.
He, however, added it was a mistake on his part to sit on the bench that day. “We all make mistakes, I have no difficulty in saying so.”
‘Inquiry panel wasn’t toothless’
Justice Gogoi also sought to shoot down the perception that the in-house special panel, constituted to probe into the sexual harassment charges, was toothless.
He said the procedure has been in vogue for more than two decades and is a facet for protection of sitting SC judges to maintain the institution’s independence. “Any Tom, Dick and Harry raising a complaint does not get it investigated from outsiders, but insiders,” he added.
Contrary to the public perception that the inquiry panel took a lenient view in his case, Justice Gogoi claimed that by accepting to be probed he had “put his neck and gave Justice S.A. Bobde (who headed the panel) the noose for hanging”.
“Justice Bobde would have benefitted the most by holding me guilty, he would have got an extra seven months as CJI. What are you people talking about?” Justice Gogoi said.
Justice Bobde had succeeded Justice Gogoi as the CJI.
Justice Gogoi clarified that the complainant was reinstated in service while he was a sitting CJI and not after he demitted office. She had reached out to Justice Bobde, who like a “disciplined soldier” had forwarded the complainant’s letter to Justice Gogoi.
The former CJI said he had left it to Justice Bobde’s discretion to decide upon the representation.
On Article 370 & Ayodhya
Justice Gogoi also dismissed allegations that he, as the CJI, did not give importance to human rights cases, particularly petitions challenging the scrapping of Article 370, and chose to decide the Ayodhya case first.
He said by the time the Article 370 petitions were filed, he had already spent more than a month hearing the land dispute case. Therefore, he, as the CJI, had entrusted the task to the next most senior judge available to hear it.
“Everybody wrote that the CJI has no time for human rights cases, what they don’t say is that the CJI had assigned the Kashmir cases on that very day to the alternate bench,” he said.
On why he expedited the Ayodhya matter, Justice Gogoi clarified he did not resurrect the case, it was left to him by his predecessor and became his responsibility.
“I constituted the bench, took upon myself the burden of finishing it. The responsibility was mine and one thing in my mind was institutional reputation. I should not have taken the job if I was not able to take it, it was my commitment,” he said.
(Edited by Neha Mahajan)