Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi Makes An Impact

Raman Swamy

Within weeks of taking over as Chief Justice of India, Ranjan Gogoi has already brought about a noticeable change in the atmosphere in the Supreme Court.  

Even senior advocates practicing in the apex court are realizing that they can no longer be sure of getting their cases listed on priority basis merely by virtue of their stature and eminence. The new CJI has his own style of judicial functioning and has made it clear that nobody can take it for granted that they can jump the queue by pressing for early hearings of matters they consider of urgent importance. 

Chief Justice Gogoi has turned down several PILs at the “mentioning” stage itself, reflecting his desire

In fact on October 3, his very first day as CJI, he did away with the usual morning practice of ‘mentioning’ before Court No. 1 of fresh pleas, appeals and interim applications for listing. Hitherto it had become a normal routine for about 20 minutes to be taken up every morning at 10.30 am for mentioning for early listing, filing interventions or replies. 

But the new Chief Justice firm and sharp - he said:  “No mentioning! We are working out new parameters. If someone is being released today, then yes. If someone is being hanged today, then yes. If somebody is being evicted today, then yes. If there is risk of demolition, yes. Beyond that, No!”.

The new CJI also made it plain that he was not fond of flattery. He cut short an Advocate who began by greeting him as the new “captain of the ship of Judiciary”. He said:  “This is not required. This is not the place for such words. Come to the point”.

Taken aback, the advocate attempted to make a mention, saying that he has flown all the way from the Mumbai in the morning. The CJI dismissed his plea saying: “You may have flown in from anywhere. It does not make any difference”.

On another occasion, a senior advocate Prashant Bhushan sought to mention an urgent plea regarding likely deportation of seven Rohingya immigrants to Myanmar, saying: “They will be killed if that happens”.

The CJI refused to grant an immediate listing and said he would have to study the contents of the application. He then commented: “We have already lost five minutes”, clearly sending out a signal to other advocates hoping to raise their own urgent pleas.

CJ Gogoi has been consistent in his approach since then and on Monday he refused to entertain PILs filed by two lawyers seeking registration of FIRs based on allegations of sexual misconduct and assault leveled by women across various sectors during the #MeToo movement.

Advocate Manohar Lal Sharma, well-known for taking up matters of public interest, approached the No. 1 court asking for a direction for taking suo motu cognizance of statements of #MeToo victims who had disclosed their sexual harassment experience in the public domain. The contention was that the police should treat such disclosures as information under the Criminal Procedure Code and Indian Penal Code and register FIRs to launch criminal cases against the accused persons. He also sought fast-track trial courts for #MeToo cases as well as a direction to the National Commission For Women to create a safe platform for women to file complaints while protecting their identity.

Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi was not impressed. He asked: “So why does Article 32 exist?  If there is a cognizable offence, there are many provisions of the Criminal Procedure Code that can be availed of”.  

The advocate tried to argue that “in most of these instances, high profile people are involved. Several matters are not even going to trial. Now that these women are coming forward and bravely speaking out, they should be helped ...”

The CJI asked: “So why should Manohar Lal Sharma come? Only the aggrieved individual may bring the law into motion”.  Fellow Justice K. M. Joseph asked:  “Is the apex court the appropriate forum for cases where action is not taken?”

Also on Monday, the Chief Justice told the lawyer representing Alok Verma who pleaded that the CBI Director had not been able to file his response with its registry in time and needed more a few more days: “We are not shifting the date (from Tuesday). You file as quickly as possible, during today itself.  We will have to read the response”.

On the same day another CBI officer came forward with a sensational petition containing certain startling new allegations about bribe-taking and case-fixing at the highest levels of the government involving Ministers. The petition ran into 34 pages of vivid details of the sequence of events, furnishing evidence and even naming names. The petitioner, who had been summarily transferred to Nagpur on the same morning that the CBI Director had been sent on forced leave, sought an urgent hearing and claimed to have more shocking information about the murky goings-on.

The CJI said: “Nothing shocks us”. He rejected the plea for an urgent hearing. 

Before his elevation to Chief Justice, Ranjan Gogoi had been one of judges who had participated in the unprecedented judges’ press conference held in January 12 - that by itself provided a clue to his character and his strong belief in principles.   

Those who have followed his judicial career closely describe him as erudite and reformist. Within two months of his tenure he has demonstrated a revolutionary spirit and a no-nonsense attitude that is bound to leave an imprint on the highest court of the land.

Nov 27, 2018

Raman Swamy [email protected]

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