The Supreme Court on Wednesday resolved to "enquire, enquire and enquire" till it gets to root of whether sexual harassment allegations against Chief Justice of India (CJI) Ranjan Gogoi is part of a larger conspiracy hatched by a gang of "disgruntled employees, corporate figures and fixers".
A Special Bench led by Justice Arun Mishra entertained an affidavit handed over to it in a sealed cover by a young lawyer, Utsav Singh Bains, who claimed he was enticed with money to frame the Chief Justice in a false case. Mr. Bains, who was present in court, said he had crucial evidence to show that a lobby was at work to bring disrepute to the Chief Justice and the judiciary.
In its four-page order, the Bench recorded that Mr. Bains has, in particular, named two former apex court employees, Tapan Kumar Chakraborty and Manav Sharma, who were recently dismissed from service for allegedly doctoring a judicial order in a contempt case between Ericsson and businessman Anil Ambani.
The Bench summoned the CBI Director, Director of the Intelligence Bureau and the Commissioner of Police, Delhi, to the judges' chambers at half-past-noon. The judges requested the three top officials to seize relevant material supporting Mr. Bains' affidavit.
This development comes a day after the court formed a committee of three Supreme Court judges to examine the allegations of sexual harassment raised by a former woman employee against Chief Justice Gogoi.
The Bench clarified that its proceedings on Mr. Bains' claims would not "supersede" the in-house enquiry being conducted by the judges' panel into the woman's allegations. Senior advocate Indira Jaising voiced apprehensions as to whether the judicial proceedings would jinx the mandate of the judges' committee. However, the Bench said the court proceedings had nothing to do with the woman's claims, but was only confined to the allegations of Mr. Bains.
"The two enquiries will not prejudice each other. The judges committee is also not empowered to look into a larger conspiracy," Justice Mishra assured.
Justice Rohinton Nariman, on the Bench, addressed Ms. Jaising, "We are not hearing anything on what happened on Saturday [April 20] or allegations [by the woman]... We are constituted for a specific purpose. We are looking into only his [Bains] affidavit... So don't back us into that corner."
'Fixing game is on'
The court has been under intense public spotlight after the woman's affidavit, narrating a train of events leading to her dismissal and alleged victimisation, was sent to 22 Supreme Court judges and published by several news websites on April 20.
Justice Mishra said Mr. Bains has alleged that a "fixing game is on".
"Disgruntled employees have ganged up... The 'fixing part' itself is of grave concern. It has no place in the system. He [Bains] has named a fixer. We want to go into the root of matter... We want to know who these fixers are. They have no right to be part of a judicial system... We cannot allow the denigration of the judiciary. We will enquire and enquire and enquire until we get to the truth, to the root of the matter," Justice Mishra declared loudly to a thickly-packed court room, referring to the affidavit filed by Mr. Bains.
The Bench, also comprising Justice Deepak Gupta, said it cannot just keep quiet when a lawyer approaches it with an affidavit claiming a frame-up. "Otherwise, this institution will not survive. You will not survive. If we keep quiet, the country will lose faith in this institution. The institution is bigger than all of us," Justice Mishra said.
Meeting with CBI, Delhi Police, IB chiefs
The Bench ordered the CBI Director, Delhi Police Commissioner and the Intelligence Bureau chief in the morning to meet the judges confidentially in their chambers at half-past-noon.
Explaining why the three top law enforcement officials have been called, Justice Mishra said ominously that "this is not just an inquiry, this is something more... We will not reveal anything. This will be kept totally a secret. We do not want the evidence to be destroyed".
The Bench ordered the Delhi Police to provide Mr. Bains "full protection" so that no one approaches him to either influence or threaten him and the evidence is kept safe.
Mr. Bains, in his affidavit filed on April 22, said he was approached by a man who identified himself to be a relative of the former apex court employee. This man, Mr. Bains, claimed had offered him up to ₹1.5 crore to file the false case. The person, however, had turned evasive when asked by Mr. Bains to be specific about his relationship with the woman. The lawyer said he had reliable information that a larger plot run by a “cash-for-judgment racket” were involved.
Justice Mishra, speaking for the Bench, said the contents of the affidavit, if true, was "really very disturbing".
'CJI with a sense of independence'
The Judge went on to observe how Chief Justice Gogoi has been leading the court with a sense of independence, and how his uncompromising nature may have irked certain quarters.
Justice Mishra referred to the recent dismissal of two court staffers for doctoring an apex court order in an high-profile contempt case between Ericsson and businessman Anil Ambani.
"This CJI wants to clean up the system. No CJI had dared to take such an action, but this CJI has the courage to take a decision. This CJI is taking action after action after action," Justice Mishra observed orally.
Mr. Bains went on to file a second hand-written affidavit in the post-lunch hearing. He said he had more crucial evidence and wanted to file another affidavit with more "clues". When Attorney-General K.K. Venugopal pointed out that a person cannot make allegations and then come to court with half the evidence, the court gave Mr. Bains time till 10.30 a.m. on April 25 to file a comprehensive affidavit.
Solicitor-General Tushar Mehta said a Special Investigation Team (SIT) should be constituted by the Supreme Court to investigate the contents of Mr. Bains' affidavit.
"Even if there is an element of truth in the affidavit, the allegations in it should be investigated thoroughly... Let an SIT be constituted by Your Lordships and let the investigation be conducted under My Lords' supervision," Mr. Mehta said.
Mr. Bains said he had "specific information" on how the "larger conspiracy" was planned.
He objected to any possible move to involve the CBI in the case.
"CBI is used a political tool... I want a judicial inquiry. I have brought all this evidence before the court as an officer of the court. I have no other interest in this. I came here as an officer of the court," Mr. Bains submitted.