NEW DELHI—The Supreme Court said on Wednesday that it would conduct a probe into allegations by a Delhi-based lawyer that there was a “conspiracy” to frame Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi, even as the in-house inquiry into the sexual harassment allegation is only set to begin later this week.
A former court employee has accused Gogoi, the senior-most judge in the country, of sexually harassing her and of using his influence to terminate her employment and get her arrested under false pretexts.
The day the news was reported, Bains wrote on Facebook that “a lobby of disgruntled judges, SC fixers, corporate scamsters and a few corrupt politicians” were involved in the alleged conspiracy against the CJI.
On Wednesday, he submitted multiple affidavits before the court, including “sensitive material” in a sealed envelope, which a three-judge bench comprising justices Arun Mishra, Rohinton F. Nariman and Deepak Gupta took note of and termed “highly serious”.
The alacrity with which the court has proceeded to hear Bains’s accusations, based on a Facebook post, is in contrast to the way it has so far treated the woman’s allegations, which were detailed in a notarised 28-page affidavit and supported by an additional 108 pages of annexures.
During the hearing, both the judges and Bains made several claims that threw doubt on the veracity of the allegations against the CJI, even though the in-house inquiry has not even begun yet.
When Bains rhetorically asked the three judges, “What if my maid says tomorrow that I raped her?”, neither they nor top government law officers including Attorney General K.K. Venugopal objected to the victim-shaming statement.
Justice Mishra, in fact, observed that “disgruntled employees have ganged up” and that there is a “fixing game” going on, lending credence to Bains’s allegations.
“We will inquire, inquire and inquire and take this to its logical conclusion,” he said.
At the end of the hearing, the three-judge bench clarified that the in-house inquiry into the sexual harassment allegations will not take into account the judicial hearings into Bains’s allegations, though their statements could serve to denigrate the complainant’s character.
“When Bains rhetorically asked the three judges, “What if my maid says tomorrow that I raped her?”, neither they nor top government law officers including Attorney General K.K. Venugopal objected to the victim-shaming statement.”
On Saturday, an hour after four news portals published the details of the allegations, a bench constituting the CJI and two other justices (including Justice Mishra) called a ‘special hearing’ in which Gogoi cast aspersions on the complainant’s character and drew attention to unrelated police cases against the woman, which HuffPost India had found were mutually resolved by the parties.
The Wire reported on Wednesday that the complainant has raised concerns about the in-house panel that has been set up to probe the case as well, including that a justice close to CJI Gogoi is part of it. She had requested that a special enquiry committee with retired judges be set up.
During the hearing, Justice Mishra suggested multiple times that CJI Gogoi was being targeted for taking steps to tackle “the problem of judgement fixing”.
He referred to the recent dismissal of two court staff, Tapan Chakraborty and Manav Sharma, for tampering with an order seeking Reliance Communications Ltd chairman Anil Ambani to be personally present in a contempt of court case. Weeks after Chakraborty and Sharma were summarily dismissed by CJI Gogoi, criminal proceedings were initiated against them. Both the men have been remanded to judicial custody.
“Three employees have been dismissed. The disgruntled can come together. Such an action has never been taken by any CJI,” Mishra said.
While Bains claimed that he had more information and sought time to file fresh affidavits, he said some of it was privileged and could not be disclosed in open court. He told the court that the sealed envelope contained CCTV footage which will “reveal everything.”
Neither Bains nor the judges elaborated on the contents of the sealed envelope or how it was gathered.
The court also summoned the Commissioner of Delhi Police, Directors of the Central Bureau of Investigation and the Intelligence Bureau to their chambers to discuss claims made by Bains in private.
“When Justice Nariman reprimanded the lawyer for speaking against the AG, he proceeded to walk out of court. “Utsav, Utsav… You are a young man. Do not take everything to heart,” Justice Mishra said, cajoling the lawyer who then came back to address the court.”
Attorney General Venugopal pointed out discrepancies in successive affidavits filed by Bains and submitted to the court that he could be allowed to claim privilege to withhold information in a criminal proceeding.
“How can a person file an affidavit of this nature but not produce any evidence and then claim privilege?” Venugopal asked.
Responding to Venugopal’s submission, Bains claimed he was being targeted for speaking the truth. When Justice Nariman reprimanded the lawyer for speaking against the AG, he proceeded to walk out of court.
“Utsav, Utsav… You are a young man. Do not take everything to heart,” Justice Mishra said, cajoling the lawyer who then came back to address the court.
The judges then granted him more time to submit more information before the court.
Senior advocate Indira Jaising, a women’s rights expert speaking for herself, requested the court to not prejudice the in-house inquiry into the sexual harassment allegations by hearing Bains.
Bizarrely, both Justices Mishra and Nariman repeatedly stated that the present hearing was unrelated to the sexual harassment claims.
Jaising also sought proof of Bains’s bonafides and asked why he was disclosing information in fragments.
The court sought the assistance of senior lawyers in dealing with Bains’s claims, and will hear the case again on Thursday.