The Supreme Court has closed the suo moto case that was registered in 2019 against the then Chief Justice of India, Ranjan Gogoi, on account of alleged sexual harassment charges.
The matter, which was titled "In Re : Matter Of Great Public Importance Touching Upon The Independence Of Judiciary" was heard on Thursday (February 18, 2021) by a bench of Justices - Sanjay Kishan Kaul, AS Bopanna, and V Ramasubramanian. It was closed after the bench said that “two years have passed and possibility of recovery of electronic evidence now is unlikely”.
Furthermore, the Court also acknowledged that the possibility of a conspiracy cannot be ruled out against the former Chief Justice. It said the case could have strong links with Justice Gogoi’s tough decisions with regard to the National Register of Citizens (NRC), as well as his proactiveness to streamline the Supreme Court registry.
The decision was based on the report filed by former Justice AK Patnaik, who was entrusted with the responsibility of investigating a larger conspiracy in the allegations against Justice Gogoi.
He was also asked to find out “whether middlemen and fixers working with disgruntled court officials were trying to fix judges". This investigation was initiated after lawyer Utsav Singh Bains raised suspicion over the likelihood of a conspiracy in Justice Gogoi’s case.
"The veracity of the allegations leveled by lawyer Utsav Singh Bains could not be verified completely due to the limited access of records and other collaborative material", said the Supreme Court, quoting the report of Justice Patnaik.
A Rajya Sabha member now, Justice Gogoi was in the eye of a storm when a three-judge special bench investigated the claims in 2019, allegedly attended by Justice Gogoi himself, even though he was charged with allegations of sexual misconduct.
The Court, after one year and nine months, finally decided to close the case, since they believed “no true purpose would be served.”
A background on the case
The charges against Justice Gogoi came to the fore in April 2019, when four media publications put out details of a complaint filed by a Supreme Court employee against the former Chief Justice.
The complainant, a Junior Court Assistant, had alleged that she was harassed by Justice Gogoi, while being asked to work out of his residence in 2018.
She had detailed the allegations and submitted a complaint to the Supreme Court judges, while seeking initiation of an inquiry against the Chief Justice as soon as possible. It was on the day that the allegations were published that the Court registered a suo moto case in open court, even though it was a non-working day.
Justice Gogoi received backlash for allegedly sitting on the Bench, and later the matter was sent forward to another three-judge Bench that was led by Justice Arun Mishra to examine if there was a larger conspiracy in the matter. This was after lawyer Utsav Bains had submitted certain evidence purporting the role of a conspiracy.
Meanwhile, the Court appointed an internal committee that gave a clean chit to the former Chief Justice regarding the allegations of sexual harassment. “The In-House Committee has found no substance in the allegations contained in the Complaint dated 19.4.2019 of a former employee of the Supreme Court of India,” a May 6, 2019 notice by the office of the Supreme Court Secretary General read.
After the controversy came into the public eye, the office of the Supreme Court Secretary-General had denied the charges, calling them “absolutely false and scurrilous”. Moreover, Justice Gogoi had said that the complaint was an attempt to
“deactivate the office and a conspiracy to threaten the independence of the judiciary.”.
In January 2020, the complainant, who had then been fired from her position and also sent to the prison after making her allegations public, was back to the Supreme Court as a staffer. Media reports suggest that she had to go through several traumatic experiences, including being sent to prison for allegedly taking a bribe to defame Gogoi. The charges were later dropped.
(Edited by Kanishk Singh)