NEW DELHI: The current Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra has endorsed Justice Ranjan Gogoi as his successor. In the principle of seniority, Justice Gogoi will be sworn in next month.
As convention dictates, the outgoing Chief Justice submits to the government his recommendation on the person who will be the successor. Justice Gogoi was on one of the four judges who took part in an unprecedented press conference in January, where concerns were raised about the administration under Chief Justice Misra and his assignment of cases as the Supreme Court's Master of the Roster. Given his nature as someone who is no-nonsense according to those who know him, his presence at the January press conference was particularly striking.
Hailing from Assam, he made his way up the ranks in the legal profession; making his way from being the Chief Justice in the Punjab and Haryana high court in 2010 to being elevated to the Supreme Court as a judge in 2012. A few months back, there was speculation as to who would succeed Justice Misra; though legal experts were confident that the norms would be followed and the nest senior most judge would be elevated, i.e. Justice Gogoi.
Justice Gogoi has a reputation of speaking his mind and delivering messages that go beyond his judgments. While delivering a lecture in July, Gogoi said in part, “independent journalists and sometimes noisy judges” should be democracy’s first line of defence”. He has lamented the state of district and subordinate courts where there are more than 2 crore cases pending. Speaking of this backlog in the judiciary he said it has earned the Indian judicial system “disrepute in the International community”.
Rekha Sharma, a former judge of the Delhi High Court, in a column for the Indian Express, points out the specific challenge of the backlog of cases, “Given the pile of cases awaiting decisions, setting up more courts and appointing of more judges at all levels with supporting staff is the crying need of the hour”. Another challenge that she points out is the budget allocation for the judiciary, “In the financial year 2017-2018, the Union budget allocated a meager Rs 1,744 crore to the judiciary, about 0.4 per cent of the total budget”.
Justice Gogoi will take charge at a time when the role of the judiciary is gaining greater importance. Given his soon to be predecessor became the first Chief Justice to have an impeachment motion moved against him. His view of the court and the judicial system is singular as he has repeatedly stated the importance of its impartiality and objectivity.
He is has and is currently presiding over several important cases including the Arushi Talwar murder case where he is heading a bench hearing the CBI’s plea against Rajesh and Nupur Talwar’s acquittal; heading a bench in the alleged telephone exchange case involving former Union Minister Dayanidhi Maran and his brother Kalanithi Maran. Currently, he presides over the NRC draft issue that caused big controversy in Assam.
In 2016 he became the first to issue a contempt notice to a former SC judge — Markandey Katju, for “attack on the judges and not the judgment” in the Soumya rape and murder case. Said to be soft spoken, he has made comments that could signal the way he could preside as the next CJI. In his speech at the Ramnath Goenka Memorial Lecture, he said in part, “This institution is the last bastion of hope and the one that the citizenry believes firmly, will give justice to them, come what may. I will only say that if it wishes to preserve its moral and institutional leverage, it must remain uncontaminated. And, independent”.