Stung by alleged claims of 'fixers' at work and manipulating the top judiciary, the Supreme Court on Wednesday said it would 'inquire, inquire and inquire' till it gets to root of whether sexual harassment allegations against Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi was part of a 'larger conspiracy' to 'frame' him.
On a day of dramatic developments when the chiefs of the Central Bureau of Investigation, Intelligence Bureau and Delhi Police were also summoned to the court, a special bench took serious note of the sensational claims of advocate Utsav Singh Bains, who has filed an affidavit alleging 'larger conspiracy' to frame the CJI.
After meeting the top officials, the bench headed by Justice Arun Mishra made it clear that it will 'not tolerate' any nuisance.
The bench hinted that the 'very disturbing' episode which led to allegations of sexual harassment against Justice Gogoi may be a handiwork of some disgruntled employees and the complainant woman who were dismissed from service.
"We will inquire and go to the root of alleged claims of fixers at work and manipulating the judiciary. If they continue to work then none of us will survive," the bench, which also comprised Justices R F Nariman and Deepak Gupta, said.
"Fixing has no role to play in the system. We will inquire and take it to the logical end," the bench said, adding, "Are they thinking that they can fix judges? Should we keep our eyes close? Entire country will lose faith in the judiciary".
The court gave about 25 minutes time to directors of the CBI, the IB and Delhi Police Commissioner to appear and meet the three judges of the bench in chamber at 12.30 pm.
After meeting the three top officials, the bench again re-assembled at 3 pm and said the 'fixing part' as alleged by the lawyer in his affidavit was a 'matter of great concern' for the judiciary.
"He (Bains) says fixing is going on. The fixing part is a matter of great concern for this institution. Fixing is not known to this institution.
"If he is saying there are fixers, then we want to go to the root of the matter as to how this allegation of fixing has come? Who are these fixers? They have no role to play in the system.
"We are going to inquire, inquire and inquire and go deep into its root," it said.
"We will not tolerate this nuisance. We will not tolerate if this affidavit is wrong. But we will look into it as he (Bains) is an officer of this court."
"Considering the seriousness of the allegations as the system has absolutely no place for such fixers, we cannot leave the matter at that. It becomes our responsibility to keep this institution clean as well as to ensure that the image of this institution is not tarnished by such allegations to undertake the probe in the matter," the bench said.
The bench also clarified that there is no connection between the hearing of Bains' claims of larger conspiracy and the in-house inquiry ordered into the allegations of sexual harassment against the CJI.
During the hearing in a jam-packed courtroom, the bench hailed Justice Gogoi for his stern approach in dealing with complaints against apex court employees on the charges of wrong doings.
"Never in the history, any CJI has taken such an action," Justice Mishra said, adding, "This action has been taken by the CJI for the first time in the history of India. This was happening around in the past also but no CJI had the courage to do this."
"Employees were dismissed. No CJI had dared to take action. This CJI (Justice Gogoi) has taken action. May be these disgruntled employees along with some officers of registry and the woman have ganged up. This will require an inquiry," the bench said, adding, "The truth must come out."
The bench took note of claims by Bains that he will not disclose entire material as some portions were protected under the Advocates Act as being part of privileged communications.
"In case such a conspiracy is involved, can somebody claim that communications are privileged? This is a question of law that we want to decide. We want to hear you (Attorney General) on this.
"In criminal law, I do not think anyone can say this but I may be wrong also. Please assist us on this," Justice Mishra told Attorney General K K Venugopal.
To this, Venugopal said, "I do not understand how a person can make allegations and then say he will not file materials claiming privileged communications."
The bench, which posted the matter for hearing Thursday at 10.30 am, said that it would deal with this legal question.
"Serious issues have been raised. It is not only about the CJI. It is about other judges also," the bench said.
"We are taking up the matter so as to ascertain the correctness of the averments made in the affidavit (filed by Bains), to ascertain the various aspects which have been mentioned which cannot be done without proper investigation and any order passed on judicial side by this court shall not affect the matter on administrative side," the bench said.
It said police protection given to Bains shall continue until further orders.
At the outset, Bains filed the affidavit along with certain documents in a sealed cover before the court and the bench, after perusing them, said there were sensitive materials and asked Venugopal, "Can you call some responsible officers from the CBI, preferably the director? Can you call him to meet us in our chambers?".
Venugopal and Solicitor General Tushar Mehta urged the bench to order a court-monitored probe by an special investigation team (SIT) so that truth can come out.
During the hearing in the post-lunch session, Bains handed over to the bench a hand-written affidavit and later, he said that he be allowed to file another affidavit as he has some more 'critical' and 'incriminating materials'.
The bench allowed his request and said he can file the affidavit by 10.30 am Thursday.
"It (affidavit) is to be kept in a sealed cover in total confidentiality as it contains highly sensitive information pertaining to the alleged conspiracy, according to him, to frame the Chief Justice of India into a case of sexual harassment," the bench noted in its order.
It said that as per affidavit, Bains has said that he has met 'certain persons at certain places'.
The court said that Bains has mentioned in his affidavit that 'disgruntled employees have ganged together' in order to frame the CJI in a false charge of sexual harassment after their dismissal from their services.
"He has named in particular, names of Tapan Kumar Chakraborty and Manav Sharma and others," the bench noted.
The CJI had sacked the two court officials -- Tapan Kumar Chakraborty and Manav Sharma -- for allegedly tampering with its January 7 order on the issue of personal appearance of Reliance Communication Chairman Anil Ambani in connection with the contempt matter filed against him by Swedish telecom group Ericsson.
The CJI had passed directions to terminate the services of these two court officials who were responsible for noting the judge's orders and getting them uploaded on the apex court's website.
In its order passed on Wednesday, the bench noted that Bains has given certain names in his affidavit and has alleged that they have asserted that they could fix the bench of the judges.
"This is a very serious aspect of the affidavit filed by Utsav Singh Bains, a young man whose entire career is before him. He knows the consequences of filing false affidavit in this court.
"Considering the seriousness of the allegations as the system has absolutely no place for such fixers, we cannot leave the matter at that," the court said.
Bains had filed an affidavit following the unprecedented hearing on Saturday during which Justice Gogoi had said some 'bigger force' was behind the sexual harassment allegations as they wanted to 'deactivate' the CJI's office.
Justice Gogoi has rubbished the allegations.
Meanwhile, the former woman staffer of the SC, who made the allegations, expressed reservations over the composition of the panel entrusted to make in-house inquiry.
In her letter to the panel headed by Justice S A Bobde, the senior-most apex court judge, she expressed objection to the presence of Justice N V Ramana in the inquiry panel on the ground that he is a close friend of the CJI and a regular visitor to his house.
An official source confirmed that the former staffer, who has been issued notice to appear before the panel on Friday, also raised question over the presence of only one woman apex court judge -- Indira Banerjee -- in the panel to examine her allegations against the CJI which is not in accordance with the Vishaka Guidelines.
She said that as per the guidelines laid down by the Supreme Court in the Vishaka judgement, for holding inquiry into the allegations of sexual harassment at work place, the committee must have a majority of women.
The official said that in the letter the woman wrote, "I would humbly suggest that since I was posted in the CJI's residence office, I know that Justice Ramana is a close friend of the CJI and is like a family member to him.
"Justice Ramana is a frequent visitor to the residence of the CJI. Because of this I fear that my affidavit and evidence will not receive an objective and fair hearing."
The woman has also asked the panel to allow her to appear before it along with a lawyer and the proceedings of the committee be video recorded so there can be no dispute about what transpired in the inquiry.
In the letter, the official said, the woman expressed concern over the statements made by the CJI when he sat on a bench on Saturday along with Justices Arun Mishra and Sanjiv Khanna.
The committee headed by Justice Bobde was appointed Tuesday and he inducted Justices Ramana and Banerjee into it.
"I decided to have Justice Ramana in the panel as he is next to me in the seniority and Justice Banerjee as she is a woman judge," Justice Bobde told PTI on Tuesday.
"This is going to be an in-house procedure which does not contemplate representation of advocate on behalf of parties. It is not a formal judicial proceeding," Justice Bobde said.
He clarified that there is no time frame to complete the inquiry and future course of action will depend on 'what comes out of the inquiry' which will be 'confidential'.
A three-judge bench headed by CJI on Saturday had held an unprecedented hearing in the wake of allegations made against Justice Gogoi.