Report hints conspiracy against Justice Gogoi, says SC but closes probe on larger conspiracy

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New Delhi, Feb 18 (PTI) The Supreme Court Thursday said that the report of its ex-judge hinted that a conspiracy against former Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi cannot be ruled out for taking tough decisions on judicial and administrative side but put the curtains down on its suo motu proceedings initiated to probe a “larger conspiracy” behind sexual harassment allegations against him in April 2019.

The apex court said after the lapse of two years, there was “remote” possibility of recovery of electronic records corroborating to the plot.

The top court, referring to the report of the Justice (retd.) A K Patnaik panel, said it talked about a letter of Director of Intelligence Bureau which gave the account of tough decisions of Justice Gogoi in cases such as National Register of Citizens (NRC).

“The learned Judge (Justice Patnaik) has recorded in the final paragraph that the Director of IB in his letter dated July 5, 2019 has stated that on account of the then CJI taking serious tough decisions like in the case relating to NRC, there was strong reason to believe that persons who were unhappy with those decisions hatched a conspiracy against the then CJI. A reference has also been made to certain tough administrative decisions taken to streamline the process in the Registry,” said a bench of Justices S K Kaul, A S Bopanna and V Ramasubramanian.

The apex court mentioned that the Justice Patnaik panel which was not able to get electronic records like WhatsApp messages to probe the conspiracy, said that “the existence of a conspiracy cannot be completely ruled out”.

After perusing the report, the bench said it is “quite comprehensive” and has dealt with the scope of the enquiry, the materials and the findings and the conclusions along with the list of annexures and articles.

The bench said the report has also taken note of the limited investigative powers and access to records which it had and based on those materials and evidence before him, it has been opined that it is not possible to find corroborative material with regard to allegations of lawyer Utsav Singh Bains about 'larger conspiracy' to frame Justice Gogoi, the then CJI and fixing of benches in the top court.

“Simultaneously, the report also acknowledges that the existence of a conspiracy cannot be completely ruled out and this has been so opined as Justice A.K. Patnaik has not been able to obtain various records including electronic records of Whatsapp, Telegram etc,” it said.

“We have to keep in mind that the remit of the Committee was not to enquire into the merits of the allegations made by the complainant against the then CJI and this aspect has been noted in the report itself. The learned Judge has thus, recorded in the report that he has confined his examination to only one aspect i.e. the veracity of the version put forward by Utsav Singh Bains,” it said.

While closing its suo motu proceedings, the bench said “We are also of the view that two years having passed and the possibility of recovery of electronic records at this distance of time is remote, especially since the scope of the enquiry and the power of the learned Judge (Justice Patnaik) is limited, no useful purpose will be served by continuing these proceedings.

“As a result of our observations aforesaid, the proceedings are accordingly closed and the Suo Motu petition is disposed of. The report which has been opened be placed back in a sealed cover,” said the bench.

The top court also said the in-house probe has been completed and the three-member panel headed by Justice S A Bobde, the current CJI, has already given the report exonerating the former CJI.

The apex court on April 25, 2019 had appointed former apex court judge Justice Patnaik to hold an inquiry into the sensational allegations of a lawyer about 'larger conspiracy' to frame Justice Gogoi, the then CJI and fixing of benches in the top court.

The apex court made it clear that inquiry by Justice Patnaik shall not be with respect to the 'alleged misbehavior' involving the CJI, against whom allegations of sexual allegations have been levelled by a former top court employee.

It had said that the outcome of inquiry by Justice Patnaik 'shall not affect the in-house procedure/inquiry which is pending on the administrative side.' The top court had asked the Directors of Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and Intelligence Bureau (IB) and Delhi Police Commissioner to 'co-operate' with Justice (retd) Patnaik as and when required by him during the inquiry.

It had directed the Secretary General of the apex court to 'forthwith' hand over the photocopies of affidavits and documents filed by Bains in a sealed cover to Justice (retd) Patnaik along with the order.

Bains had filed an affidavit following the unprecedented hearing in the court during which Justice Gogoi had said some 'bigger force' was behind the sexual harassment allegations as they wanted to 'deactivate' the CJI's office.

The hearing on April 20, 2019 in the case, titled as a matter of 'great public importance touching upon the independence of judiciary', was held after stories were published on some news portals about sexual harassment allegations levelled by a former employee of the apex court against the CJI. PTI SJK MNL PKS RKS RKS