Describing the allegations of sexual harassment against him as "unbelievable", Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi convened an extraordinary hearing at the Supreme Court on Saturday said that a larger conspiracy was behind it and he would not stoop too low even to deny these allegations.
In the hurriedly called hearing after the allegations cropped up, the apex court left it to the "wisdom of media" to show restraint and act responsibly so that independence of judiciary is not affected.
The apex court, which held the hearing for around 30 minutes, said independence of judiciary was under "very serious threat" and "unscrupulous allegations" of sexual harassment have been levelled against the Chief Justice of India as some "bigger force" wanted to "deactivate" the office of the CJI.
The "unusual and extraordinary" hearing on a Saturday, April 20, was held after stories were published on some news portals on the allegations made by an ex-employee of the apex court against the CJI.
The court, which said the judiciary "cannot be made a scapegoat", said the media should not publish the woman's complaint without verifying its truth.
The CJI said this issue has cropped up when a bench headed by him is scheduled to hear "many, many sensitive cases" next week and this was also the month of Lok Sabha elections in the country.
Besides the CJI, the bench also comprising Justices Arun Mishra and Sanjiv Khanna, hinted towards a "bigger force" behind the controversy which has the potential to shake the faith of public in the judicial system.
Though the CJI was heading the bench, he left it to Justice Mishra to take a call on passing a judicial order.
Dictating the order, Justice Mishra said, "Having considered the matter, we refrain from passing any judicial order at this moment, leaving it to the wisdom of the media to show restraint, act responsibly as is expected from them and accordingly decide what should or should not be published, as wild and scandalous allegations undermine and irreparably damage reputation and negate independence of judiciary."
"We would, therefore, at this juncture leave it to the media to take off such material which is undesirable," the order said.
The CJI said that "unbelievable" allegations have been levelled against him and "I do not think I should stoop too low even to deny these allegations. But that comes after 20 years of selfless service as a judge".
"Nobody can catch me on money. People have to find something and they have found this," the CJI said, while making it clear that he has a bank balance of Rs 6.80 lakh apart from around Rs 40 lakh in provident fund after being in service for around two decades.
"There has to be a bigger, bigger force behind this. There are two offices -- one of the Prime Minister and one of the CJI. They (people behind this controversy) want to deactivate the office of the CJI," Justice Gogoi said, adding, "This is the reward a CJI gets after 20 years of service".
Anguished over the allegations, the CJI warned that "the judiciary of this country is under very serious threat. We will not allow this to happen".
"I will sit on this chair and discharge my judicial functions without any fear. I will decide the cases in the seven months (of his remaining tenure as the CJI). I will do that," he said.
Justice Gogoi, who assumed the office of the CJI on October 3, 2018, will retire on November 17 this year.
Before being elevated as a judge of the Supreme Court on April 23, 2012, Justice Gogoi was the Chief Justice of the Punjab and Haryana High Court from February 12, 2011.
Prior to his appointment as a permanent judge of the Gauhati High Court on February 28, 2001, he practised mainly in that high court. As a judge, he was transferred to the Punjab and Haryana High Court on September 9, 2010.
A three-judge special bench headed by Justice Gogoi was constituted after a sworn affidavit by the woman, copies of which were sent to the residences of 22 apex court judges, became public on Saturday.
The apex court registry in a notice earlier in the day said a three-bench headed by the CJI was being set up to deal with a "matter of great public importance touching upon the independence of judiciary".
The former employee has described two incidents of alleged molestation by Gogoi in her affidavit, both of which allegedly took place in October 2018, only days after he was appointed as the CJI, and her subsequent persecution.
According to reports, the woman alleged that she was removed from service after she rebuffed his advances. She claimed that her husband and brother-in-law, both of whom were head constables, were suspended for a 2012 criminal case that had been mutually resolved.
She was later also made to prostrate before Justice Gogoi's wife and made to rub her nose at her feet in the chief justice's residence, she alleged, adding that her disabled brother-in-law was removed from service at the Supreme Court.
The woman also alleged that she was detained at a police station along with her husband and other relatives and they were subjected to physical and verbal abuse in a case of cheating against her.
Confirming that a letter by the woman has been received by several sitting judges, Supreme Court Secretary General Sanjeev Sudhakar Kalgaonkar said all the allegations made by the woman concerned are malafide and have no basis.
"No doubt, it is a malafide allegation," he said.