The Supreme Court on Thursday assigned the investigation of the alleged conspiracy against Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi, accused of sexual harassment, to a former judge who had taken a stand contrary to the Centre’s on sacked CBI chief Alok Verma.
The probe by Justice A.K. Patnaik, a former apex court judge heading a one-man committee, will not “affect” the examination of the veracity of the harassment charges levelled by a sacked apex court employee, the court clarified.
While an in-house panel headed by Justice S.A. Bobde is to examine the harassment charges, the bench of Justices Arun Mishra, R.F. Nariman and Deepak Gupta is dealing with an affidavit from advocate Utsav Bains alleging a conspiracy to frame Justice Gogoi.
Justice Patnaik had last October been appointed by the Supreme Court to probe the allegations of corruption against then CBI director Alok Verma, who had been benched with his deputy Rakesh Asthana after they publicly accused each other of accepting bribes.
Although the government later removed Verma without giving him an opportunity to be heard, Justice Patnaik had been quoted as saying the charges against the sleuth had not been conclusively established, appearing to contradict the government and corruption watchdog CVC.
On Thursday, the bench headed by Justice Mishra asked the CBI director, Intelligence Bureau chief and Delhi police commissioner to provide all necessary help to Justice Patnaik but did not fix a deadline for the probe’s completion.
“List the matter after the inquiry report is received,” it said.
Bains has claimed that a man who introduced himself as Ajay had offered him up to Rs 1.5 crore to hold a news conference where the complainant would level the allegation against Justice Gogoi. He alleges a conspiracy by a corporate-underworld nexus, disgruntled court employees and two sacked court masters, Tapan Kumar Chakraborty and Manav Sharma.
Senior advocate Indira Jaising, appearing in her personal capacity, said the three-judge bench should not go into the sexual harassment allegations as the Justice Bobde panel was dealing with it. She suggested the Bains conspiracy case be transferred to the Justice Bobde panel.
“Your concern is baseless. We are not going into what she (the complainant) says and if she was harassed,” the bench said, repeating an assurance given on Wednesday.
“Whether any person has contacted him (Bains) in order to frame the CJ(I), whether two employees of this court or some middlemen are involved, we want to see that part. We want to examine all those things about the so-called fixers, which is very serious. These are very serious allegations that a bench-fixing procedure was adopted by some.”
While appointing Justice Patnaik, the bench emphasised the point. “We make it clear that this inquiry shall not be with respect to the alleged misbehaviour involving Hon’ble the Chief Justice of India,” it said.
“This is with respect to the contents of the affidavits, whether the affidavits are correct or not. 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.”
The court rejected Bains’s plea that he enjoyed immunity from revealing certain information under Section 126 of the Indian Evidence Act.
“The provisos to Section 126 of the Evidence Act make it clear that no such privilege can be claimed in respect of such communication,” the bench said, interpreting the provision in the light of various earlier judgments.
Attorney-general K.K. Venugopal and Supreme Court Bar Association president Rakesh Khanna, whose assistance had been sought in the matter, too argued that Bains could not claim such immunity after coming forward to reveal the alleged conspiracy.
Solicitor-general Tushar Mehta had requested the bench to order a special investigation team and said it should examine the roles even of people not named in Bains’s affidavit.
Bains filed an additional affidavit in a sealed cover in support of his claims on Thursday.