Observing that the rich and powerful who think they can ‘remote control’ it are playing with fire, the Supreme Court Thursday appointed its former judge Justice A K Patnaik to probe allegations of larger conspiracy to frame Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi.
Expressing its anguish over the ‘systematic attack’ to ‘malign’ the apex court in the last three-four years, it also warned that if this is not stopped then this great institution ‘will die’.
The court made the hard hitting observations while hearing an affidavit filed by lawyer Utsav Singh Bains claiming ‘larger conspiracy’ to frame Justice Gogoi on sexual harassment allegations and fix benches in the top court.
In a related development, Justice N V Ramana, part of the three-member in-house inquiry panel of the top court set up to examine allegations of sexual harassment against Justice Gogoi, recused himself from the committee.
Justice Ramana's recusal comes a day after a former apex court woman employee, who levelled the allegations against the CJI, wrote a letter to the panel expressing reservation over his inclusion. The panel is headed by Justice S A Bobde.
The complainant expressed objection to the presence of Justice Ramana in the panel on the ground he is a close friend of the CJI and a regular visitor to his house.
During the 30-minute hearing, the top court said time has come to send a message to the country that it was ‘not vulnerable’ and nobody can ‘remote control’ it by either money or political power.
A three-judge special bench headed by Justice Arun Mishra said the day has come for them to rise and tell the rich and powerful persons that they are ‘playing with fire’.
The bench, also comprising Justices R F Nariman and Deepak Gupta, said people are trying to fix the court registry by money power and when somebody tries to improve these things, he is ‘killed’ or ‘maligned’.
"Do not think that the Supreme Court can be remote controlled by anything on the earth, whether money power or political power," said Justice Mishra, who made bulk of the observations.
"We are anguished with the way this institution is being treated in the last three-four years and we must say that it will die and it will not survive if this will happen. There is systematic attack, systematic game to malign this great institution," he said.
Justice Mishra said letters were being written and books were being printed in matters pending in the court and this practice has to be stopped.
"Do the rich and powerful of this country think that they can remote control the Supreme Court?" he asked.
The observations by the bench came after Solicitor General Tushar Mehta said there should be a probe by a special investigation team (SIT) on the allegations levelled by advocate Bains in his affidavit as he has claimed a larger conspiracy which concerns the administration of justice.
"You (Mehta) are provoking us to speak. We are not inclined to say but now listen. So many things are going on. There are serious allegations that need to be probed. The Supreme Court cannot be run by money power or political power," Justice Mishra said.
"It is an institution of you people and not ours. Judges come and go but if these things will happen then it (institution) will die and it will not survive".
In an apparent reference to controversies that plagued the top judiciary last year, Justice Mishra observed that truth has not come out yet.
"Whether truth has come out about the last year's incident? It has not come out yet. People should know the truth. This has to stop," he said, without elaborating.
The observation assumes significance as four senior-most judges of the apex court -- Justices J Chelameswar, Ranjan Gogoi, Madan B Lokur and Kurian Joseph -- held an unprecedented presser on January 12 last year and raised a litany of issues, including assigning of cases in the top court by the then CJI Dipak Misra.
"We cannot mention several things. People are trying to manage the court registry by money power. When somebody tries to improve things, he is killed and maligned. We have come to this extent of blackmailing," Justice Mishra said.
The judge said that eminent jurists like Nani Palkhivala, Fali S Nariman and K Parasaran have made this great institution and now everyday news of bench fixing come to the fore.
"Now everyday we hear news of bench-fixing. This system of fixing has no place. Everyday, there are wrong practices in this court. Only 4-5 per cent lawyers are bringing a bad name to this institution. Do not provoke us any further," he said.
"We are worried. Why we have come to it. We are very concerned," Justice Mishra said, adding, "The day has come when we have to rise and tell the rich and powerful that you cannot do this. You are playing with fire. We do not want to take names but everybody tries to influence us every time there is a big matter".
"A message has to be sent to the country that this court is not vulnerable," the bench said.
At the outset, Bains filed an additional affidavit in a sealed cover in the court in support of his claims.
Appointing Justice Patnaik to head the one-man panel, the court asked the Directors of Central Bureau of Investigation and Intelligence Bureau also the Delhi Police Commissioner to cooperate with him during the inquiry.
It, however, said the inquiry will not deal with the allegations of sexual harassment against the CJI.
It said the outcome of the inquiry will not affect the in-house committee which is dealing with the complaint against the CJI.
The apex court said that on the completion of inquiry, Justice Patnaik (Retd) will file a report in a sealed cover before the court after which the matter will be heard again.
The top court did not specify any time frame for Justice Patnaik (retd) to complete the inquiry.
"Considering the factual gamut noted in the order quoted above and considering the affidavits filed by Utsav Singh Bains, advocate, we appoint Justice A K Patnaik, retired judge of this court, to hold an inquiry into the allegations made in the affidavits," the bench said in its order.
"However, at the same time, we make it clear that this inquiry shall not be with respect to the alleged misbehaviour involving the Chief Justice of India. This is with respect to the contents of the affidavits, whether the affidavits are correct or not," it said.
"We again reiterate that the outcome of the inquiry shall not affect the in-house procedure/inquiry which is pending in the administrative side in any manner whatsoever," it said.
Need to preserve sanctity of SC as institution: Justice Patnaik
Justice Patnaik, meanwhile, said the allegations against CJI ‘have to be inquired into’ to ‘preserve the sanctity’ of the institution in the interest of the country and the Constitution.
He said that on such serious issues ‘lot of application of mind is required’.
"I have not seen the order as yet. The order is coming. I am told that such an appointment has been made. So, after I receive the order, I can find out. Whatever assignments Supreme Court gives, I try to comply. That's all," Justice Patnaik told PTI.
He said he read in newspapers about the controversy regarding the allegations of sexual harassment against the CJI and the sensational claims made by advocate Utsav Singh Bains that a larger conspiracy was at work in the apex court.
The retired judge said he ‘does not respond fast’ and can only make detailed comments after going through the order of the bench headed by Justice Arun Mishra and after studying the relevant papers.
"Let me get the order and study it and the papers then I will think over. I don't respond so fast. I will study the orders and papers and try to find how to approach it, what is the proper way to approach it.
“Procedures have to be followed. What lies after investigation have to be done. All those things require lot of application of mind," Justice Patnaik said.
When asked about allegations of sexual harassment against the CJI and the claim by the lawyer tarnishing the image of the judiciary and particularly the Supreme Court, he said: "The institution has to be preserved in the interest of the country and the Constitution.
"Sanctity has to be preserved, no doubt about it. If the allegations are made against a judge, they have to be inquired into," Justice Patnaik said.