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March 31, 2020
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India news NEW DELHI: In the eye of a storm for accepting nomination as a member of Rajya Sabha, former CJI Ranjan Gogoi struck a combative note on Thursday and said judicial independence was under threat because of the stranglehold of a “lobby” of half-a-dozen people over the judiciary who maligned a judge if a judgment did not go as per their wishes. “Independence of judiciary means breaking the stranglehold of half-a-dozen people over it. Unless this stranglehold is broken, judiciary cannot be independent. They hold judges to ransom. If a case is not decided in a particular way advocated by them, they malign the judge in every way possible. I fear for the status quoist judges, who do not want to take them on and who want to retire peacefully,” Justice Gogoi told TOI hours after taking oath as a nominated member of RS. He dismissed criticism that his nomination was quid pro quo for the Ayodhya and Rafale judgments, saying he was being slandered because he defied the “lobby”. “A judge is not true to his oath if he does not decide a case according to his conscience. If a judge decides a case fearing what the half-a-dozen people will say, then he is not true to his oath. I decide according to what my conscience tells me is correct. Otherwise, I am not being true as a judge,” Justice Gogoi said. “I was the darling of the lobby when I went for the press conference in January 2018. But they want judges to decide cases in a certain manner and only then they will certify them as ‘independent judges’. I never entertained any feeling that there is some expectation outside the court. I did and I do what I feel is correct, otherwise, I am not being true as a judge,” he said, referring to the presser he held along with three other judges to protest against the way cases were being allocated to different benches by the then CJI Dipak Misra. “I never was, never am and never will be afraid of anyone’s opinion (except my wife’s). What opinion others have of me is not my problem, but their problem and they will have to solve it. Am I afraid of criticism? If so, would I have been able to function as a judge? Coming to Ayodhya judgment, it was a unanimous verdict by a five-judge bench. Rafale was again a unanimous verdict by a three-judge bench. By levelling quid pro quo allegation, aren’t they questioning the integrity of all the judges involved in the two judgments?” he asked. He said judges preferred silence because of the vitriol heaped on them by the “lobby”. “I will not remain silent today,” the defiant former CJI said. He trashed the insinuation that his nomination to Rajya Sabha was part of a quid pro quo where he delivered verdicts suitable to the government. “Those who are criticising acceptance of nomination as quid pro quo must grant a better sense of proportion to a former CJI. If a former CJI wants quid pro quo, then he could seek bigger, lucrative posts with bigger emoluments and facilities and not a nomination to RS, where the pecuniary benefits are same as that of a retired judge. But I have decided that if the rules permit, I will not take salary and allowances from the RS and give it for refurbishing libraries of law colleges in small towns,” he said. Justice Gogoi also addressed the criticism that he practised “sealed cover” jurisprudence, a practice that is antithetical to transparency, in important cases such as Rafale. “Should we have made public sensitive information relating to weaponry attached to Rafale jets? Pakistan would have laughed its heart out and said it outwitted India through the Supreme Court. And was the Rafale deal scrutiny an ordinary road construction petition to demand similar level of transparency regarding pricing?” he asked. “Why was this same bunch silent when the Supreme Court dealt with the case relating to irregular allotment of 2G spectrum only through sealed cover reports? Why are they silent when the SC was given ‘sealed cover report’ on Shaheen Bagh protests? Why is it not being questioned,” the ex-CJI asked. On his nomination as a member of RS by the President, Justice Gogoi said, “The offer came a week ago from an individual who is not connected with the judiciary or the government. Is a former CJI who has spent 20 years as a constitutional judge not suitable to be nominated to RS under Article 80 of the Constitution where the President makes the choice on the aid and advice of the council of ministers? In what way does a retired judge compromise the independence of judiciary by accepting nomination?” When his attention was drawn to criticism by former colleagues J Chelameswar, Madan B Lokur and Kurian Joseph, he said, “I had attended the press conference when I was a sitting judge. Today, having satisfactorily (to my satisfaction) completed my role as a judge, if I accept nomination to Rajya Sabha, where is the question of compromising judicial independence?”
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