A CLEAR CASE OF ARUN JAITLEY’S CLASS IC EXPOSITION
Some of former Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi’s judgments, particularly towards the latter part of his tenure, had raised eyebrows as they were seen by many as suffering faults in terms of jurisprudence. The nomination of the former CJI to Rajya Sabha by Modi government now puts the missing pieces in the jigsaw puzzle.
Former finance minister the late Arun Jaitley, who has been a torchbearer of the saffron party in Parliament, had once referred to ‘pre-retirement judgments influenced by a post-retirement job’. By hindsight, many of Justice Gogoi’s judgments may be seen to have ingredients that make up Jaitley’s equation.
Gogoi’s tenure was marked by judgments that may have appeared straight forward, but favoured the government in a roundabout manner. Particularly noteworthy was the crucial verdict in the case relating to the French Rafale deal ahead of an all-important election, which saved the day for the Modi government, and perhaps its future.
The Ayodhya verdict was even more curious. Although the government was not an aggrieved party in the dispute, there were no doubts about where its interests lay. The inherent contradictions in the judgment made even the most neutral elements feel uncomfortable. On the one hand, the verdict declared demolition of the mosque in 1992 and the placing of the idols in the complex in 1949 as ‘serious violations of the law’; on the other, it handed over the handing over the entire land to the violators of the law. No convincing arguments were offered for this obvious dichotomy.
Other verdicts in which the legal soundness of the court’s approach was seriously in doubt included the ‘nearly infructuous’ order in the CBI case against its director Alok Verma, where the government position was upheld, the ‘steely reluctance’ to fix responsibility of the government in the large number of habeas corpus petitions in Kashmir, as well as his stand as head of the Supreme Court Collegium, which was broadly seen toeing the government line.
The Sabarimala review judgment by the bench headed by the CJI just before he demitted office was virtually a retirement judgment, which pleased possibly everyone. It left the scope for interested parties to interpret the decision whichever way they liked. The verdict further expanded the scope of the issue raised in the clutch of review petitions to include almost everything that is related to religions and religious practices.
Accordingly, Sabarimala was combined with the entry of Muslim women to mosques as well as the restriction on Parsi women married to a non-Parsi to visit the holy fire temple along with the practice of female genital mutilation in the Dawoodi Bohra community. The bench ended up deciding on issues that were never brought before it.
In fact, Ranjan Gogoi’s tenure as CJI was the anti-thesis of whatever he had been standing for before he ascended the highest office of Indian judiciary. He had turned up at the famous presser under the leadership of Justice J Chelameswar, to discharge ‘their duty to nation’, which amounted to a virtual mutiny against the then CJI Dipak Misra for encouraging bench-hunting and allotment of cases to ‘preferred benches’ using the powers of the Master of the Roster.
No wonder, his fellow judge, Justice Kurian Joseph, who appeared at the press conference along with Justice Gogoi and Justice Madan Lokur, is now at a loss to explain his despair at Gogoi’s acceptance of the Rajya Sabha nomination. “I am surprised as to how Justice Ranjan Gogoi who once exhibited such courage of conviction to uphold the independence of judiciary, has compromised the noble principles on the independence and impartiality of the Judiciary,” Justice Kurian is reported to have stated.
He is not alone in the bewilderment. In fact, Gogoi’s performance as CJI was by no means equal to the expectations about him and there has been a big gap between word and the deed. He took office promising to reduce the huge backlog of cases, the biggest bane of Indian judiciary. Barely three months before he took over as the new CJI Justice Gogoi had stressed the need for the judiciary to be more proactive. “Not a reform but a revolution is what it needs, to be able to meet the challenges on the ground and to keep this institution serviceable for a common man and relevant for the nation. For the effectiveness of the judgments to show, the justice dispensation system has to be made more result oriented i.e. to say, more focused on enforcement,” he had thundered while delivering the Ramnath Goenka memorial lecture.
But there has been no change in the highly bureaucratic approach of the court under his leadership. His own approach in several instances has been far from being dynamic and proactive as he left everything to routine, which is what his predecessors have also been doing.
And finally, by sitting in judgment in his own case of sexual harassment by a female court employee, he ended up doing whatever he had accused his predecessor of. In short, his tenure would be known as a time when Supreme Court judgments were high in political content rather than considerations of jurisprudence.