The Supreme Court on Thursday appointed its former judge, Justice A.K. Patnaik to probe whether a conspiracy is afoot against the Chief Justice of India (CJI) Ranjan Gogoi.
Justice Patnaik has been tasked to unearth whether the CJI is the target of a larger intrigue hatched by a powerful lobby of fixers, disgruntled apex court employees and corporate figures to compromise the highest judiciary itself.
The enquiry would primarily focus on material and affidavits provided by lawyer Utsav Singh Bains that claimed some former staffers of the court, influential peddlers and corporate entities have ganged up against Chief Justice Gogoi to frame him in a false case.
Justice Patnaik would test Mr. Bains' claim that he was approached by a person called 'Ajay' in early April. He was offered up to Rs. 1.5 crore to file a false case against the CJI. This man, the lawyer said, claimed to be a relative of the former apex court staffer who has levelled sexual harassment allegation against the CJI.
IB, CBI, Delhi Police chiefs to assist
A Special Bench led by Justice Arun Mishra ordered the chiefs of the CBI, the Intelligence Bureau and the Delhi Police to assist Justice Patnaik, who has to complete his investigation and file a report in a sealed cover before the Bench.
Incidentally, Justice Patnaik was in the news after a Bench led by Chief Justice Gogoi appointed him on October 26, 2018 to supervise the 14-day CVC inquiry into allegations of graft and misconduct against former CBI Director Alok Verma.
In a passionate outburst of indignation, Justice Mishra said there were rich and powerful people who thought they could bludgeon and blackmail the court into submission, but little did they know that they were playing with fire.
Justice Mishra's words came at the end of an hour-long hearing into Mr. Bains’ affidavit that said he has proof of a powerful lobby of fixers, some disgruntled employees and corporate figures at work to frame the CJI.
" This country must know the truth . The Supreme Court cannot be run by money power or political power. When somebody tries to clean up the system, he is killed or maligned. This will stop," Justice Mishra said.
SG asked not to interfere
The court asked Solicitor General Tushar Mehta not to interfere when he sought a special investigation team probe into Mr. Bains' allegations.
“Leave it to us... We want to tell the rich and the powerful of this country that you cannot play with fire... That you are playing with fire when you play with this court... What do the powerful of this country think? That they can run this court?” Justice Mishra's voice boomed across the thickly-packed but silent courtroom.
Senior advocate Indira Jaising voiced her apprehensions about leaving the probe into Mr. Bains' allegations to the government.
“Don't provoke us anymore... This is your institution, not ours. We, judges, come and ago. This is the court made by the likes of Fali Nariman, Nani Palkhiwala and K. Parasaran... But every other day we hear of bench-fixing, every day wrong practices are made in the court... Whenever we start hearing a big case, letters are written... Whenever big cases or big persons are involved, this happens in this court... People are trying to this court, its registry with money power... So many things are going on," Justice Mishra retorted.
Indira Jaising's plea
Ms. Jaising said as a stakeholder in and officer of the court she urged the Bench to “probe the credentials of this person [Utsav Bains]”. “My Lords have to see if he has come to the court with clean hands,” she said.
Ms. Jaising also voiced her concern about whether the probe into the ‘larger conspiracy’ would consume the allegations raised by the woman against the CJI. Her allegations were being examined separately by a committee of three apex court judges. “Your Lordships cannot investigate her defence," she submitted.
Justice Mishra responded, “This Bench will not enquire into her allegations. Our job is to find out if somebody approached Utsav Bains to file a false case; whether they are two former Supreme Court employees or others; whether there are fixers involved; whether a conspiracy was hatched after bench-fixing attempt failed.”
Justice Mishra, however, added that if the allegations against the woman were proved, then she would seem to have no defence. “”Mr. Bains does not know this Ajay... He may not be a brother of the woman complainant... We do not know what will come out of all this, but we will find out the truth,” he said.
The case would now be listed after Justice Patnaik files his report in the court.