Due process needs to be followed to expose the truth behind the allegations against the CJI, for every citizen’s sake. Social activist Swami Agnivesh summed up the controversy over sexual misconduct allegations against the Chief Justice of India (CJI) Ranjan Gogoi with a rounded statement embodying what the judiciary, facing a crisis of confidence, should do. “The maturity, authenticity and stature of the Supreme Court will be tested on how this crisis is weathered and how the majesty of law is upheld without fear or favour,” he said. For there is a gathering cloud of judgements swirling around the case already, one that has to be dispelled convincingly. Is this another attack on an institution, as has been suggested by the CJI himself, to deactivate a position that is tasked with fair dissemination of justice on the eve of crucial rulings that can have a cascading consequence on polity, not too favourably may be for certain political parties? Is this a motivated attack, using the old trope of blackmail by a victimised woman, on a man who has been largely known for his personal decency for the most part of his judicial career and is looking to bow out with the same grace? Or is it comeuppance for moments that are unrecorded in the legal chambers? Is some vested interest taking advantage of the fact that there is no legal framework within the top court’s rulebook whereby a CJI could be investigated on allegations such as these, his removal being only possible through parliamentary impeachment? Finally, in the age of #MeToo, this charge by a junior staff against the topmost office-bearer at the workplace ought to be dealt with high standards of objectivity and due process so that working women demanding justifiable rights are not trivialised anymore or subjected to innuendos of “I told you so.” For the sake of all women out there, if the accuser is guilty of fabrication, coercion and mala fide intent, she should be booked, too. And for the highest court, which has been guaranteeing women’s rights, it becomes imperative its highest office-bearer be seen as acting justly in matters concerning women employees.
Gogoi has already been in the public eye for joining three of his colleagues in the collegium last year for questioning the process of case allocations by the office of the then CJI and the independence of the institution. He risked his elevation by taking a public stand on the internal workings of the court, something which many believe should not have played out in the public space. Which is why he cannot afford a similar public jury verdict on the propriety of handling another delicate manner. Already some experts are saying that the CJI might have just hastily launched his defence through a suo moto hearing. Assuming he is right, a knee-jerk reaction only raises more questions and doubts. In the absence of a credible mechanism, the woman had no option but to appeal to the Justices of the Supreme Court to create a Special Inquiry Committee comprising retired judges. Besides, the top court’s “In-House Procedure” lays out the process to deal with allegations of sexual harassment, instructing an inquiry committee to take cognisance of complaints and initiate proceedings only after giving notices to the respondent (the CJI in this case) and the complainant (the woman). However, this is yet to happen. Neither did the CJI’s special hearing in court include the complainant, though remarks were passed about her and her faulty legal record. So this imputation that the allegations were a proxy war against the judiciary would look one-sided without meaning to be so. In the end, the Supreme Court is the country’s most honourable institution, upholder of Constitutional morality and a protector of the citizen’s rights. And if it is indeed under attack, then its justices should set an example why one should never attempt to defile it. If not, then they need to restore faith in its infallibility in a manner that there is no room for doubt.
Courtesy: The Pioneer