Chief Justice of India, Ranjan Gogoi, retires on November 17. Lawyers often joke that an incumbent Chief Justice of India always makes the last one look better, and nowhere has it been more true than the present one. In the run up to the retirement of Chief Justice Dipak Mishra in the last week of September 2018, there was much anticipation of the onset of ‘new era’ under the stewardship of the Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi, who was believed to be upright and no nonsense person, and who participated in that landmark press conference by the four senior-most judges on January 12, 2018. Alas, the last one year has been such a shock to the ‘collective conscience’ of the lawyers, jurists, and common public that people are now talking fondly of Justice Dipak Mishra, and how he was not ‘so bad’. It’s like our current Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, making the Hindutva ideologue, L K Advani look better.
On a serious note, let us look at the legacy of the CJI Gogoi, and figure out how people would remember him, and his cases. Within days of assuming the office of CJI, Gogoi stopped the practice of ‘mentioning’ of cases by lawyers, unless it’s a matter of ‘life and death’. Anyone familiar with the Supreme Court would know the longstanding practice of lawyers always wanting to get their matters listed, usually urgent matters, by mentioning them before the CJI. Some hailed the move as an act by a ‘tough’ taskmaster wanting to bring order in an otherwise extremely chaotic legal system, while others thought it was a harsh move, and didn’t bode well for the institution.
However, it didn’t indicate the storm that was to engulf the whole judicial institution itself. In October 2018, the Government effectively sacked the then CBI Director, Alok Verma, by transferring him overnight, on the ostensible ground that CVC was conducting an enquiry against him, while the real reason seemed to be that Verma was investigating his deputy, Rakesh Asthana, against whom CBI had registered a FIR for the offence of bribery few days ago. Verma knocked the doors of the Supreme Court, and after much dilly-dallying, SC reinstated him as the CBI Director, only days before his tenure was to expire in January 2019, and that too being subject to the decision of the Committee set up by CVC to investigate the allegations against him.