In Gauhati High Court: History and Heritage , well-known documenter Arup Kumar Dutta narrates an interaction between two heavyweight Congress leaders of Assam. The book quotes former Law Minister Abdul Muhib Mazumdar, who had drafted the now-scrapped Illegal Migrants (Determination of Tribunal) Act, 1983, asking Kesab Chandra Gogoi if his son would also become the Chief Minister of Assam some day. Mr. Gogoi, a lawyer-turned-politician who was Chief Minister for 66 days in 1982 during the turbulent agitation against illegal migrants, said his son Ranjan Gogoi would not emulate him, but had the potential to become the Chief Justice of India. The father’s assessment appears to have been prophetic, with Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra having, as per tradition, recommended the son as his successor.
Where is he from?
One of five siblings — his elder brother is Air Marshall Anjan Kumar Gogoi (retired) — Justice Gogoi was born on November 18, 1954, in an illustrious family in eastern Assam’s Dibrugarh. He went to the town’s Don Bosco School before studying history at St. Stephen’s College in Delhi. He followed in his father’s footsteps by pursuing law and joining the Bar in 1978. Colleagues in the Gauhati High Court, where he mainly practised, recall him as a soft-spoken, reserved person, who commanded respect.
What is he known for?
He was cut out to be a judge who thought differently, the court’s Bar Association president Atul Chandra Buragohain said. For instance, he combined similar cases and heard them together, finishing them in one stroke. Some 10,000 cases of Assam’s Education Department were sorted out this way. The assessment of his colleagues proved true when Justice Gogoi became a permanent judge on February 28, 2001. He was transferred to the Punjab and Haryana High Court on September 9, 2010, and became its Chief Justice five months later. He was elevated as a Supreme Court judge on April 23, 2012.
What is his reputation?
Justice Gogoi has a reputation for speaking his mind besides giving messages beyond his judgements. Delivering a lecture in July, he said “independent journalists and sometimes noisy judges” should be democracy’s first line of defence. He also said the judiciary needs to be “more on the front foot” and “uncontaminated” to become more dynamic in the interpretation of the law. At the Justice K.N. Saikia Memorial Lecture, organised by the North East Institute of Advanced Studies in Guwahati last year, he lamented the backlog of cases plaguing the judicial system and earning it “disrepute in the international community.” Referring to the vacancy of judges across the High Courts in India and a “staggering” 2.68 crore cases pending in district and subordinate courts, he said the “enormous challenges facing us today, combined with the pressing demands of the future, are compelling us to rethink and reassess our existing jurisprudence.” He is among 11 Supreme Court judges to have made public his assets and updating the list to reveal he owns no car, while his mother, Shanti Gogoi, transferred an old house to him in Kamrup district.
What are his major cases?
Along with Justice Rohinton Fali Nariman, Justice Gogoi has been monitoring the National Register of Citizens exercise in Assam. In 2016, he became the first to issue a contempt notice to a former SC judge — Markandey Katju — for “an attack on the judges and not the judgment” in the Soumya rape and murder case. His other cases include the Aarushi murder and dismissal of a petition for a probe into the attacks on former Jawaharlal Nehru University Student Union leader Kanhaiya Kumar. But Justice Gogoi hit the headlines in January this year when he, along with three other judges, veered from convention by airing issues they had with Chief Justice of India Misra’s allocation of cases. The perceived ‘differences’ have been put to rest with Justice Gogoi being recommended for the top post.