New Delhi: Justice Ranjan Gogoi, who will demit office as the CJI in a week’s time, has etched his name in the annals of history by giving finality to one of the most politically and religiously sensitive cases, the Ayodhya land dispute, which dates back to even before the Supreme Court came into existence in 1950.
The judge, known for his no-nonsense approach, boldness and fearlessness, led a five-judge Constitution bench that conducted a marathon 40-day high voltage hearing during which his patience was tested by some of the country’s best lawyers who argued the matter.
Justice Gogoi, who was sworn on October 3, 2018 as the 46th Chief Justice of India, is the first person from the Northeast to reach the top position of judiciary and his tenure of a little over 13 months comes to ends on November 17, 2019.
He had made it clear that the verdict in the Ayodhya dispute was to delivered before November 17.
Since taking the leadership of Indian judiciary on October 3 last year and also as the judge of the apex before, Justice Gogoi faced several ups and downs but that did not affect his approach to take on issues head on.
While Justice Gogoi is known for taking hard and sometimes surprising decisions, the Ayodhya matter reflected both as he not only ensured that arguments were not allowed to be dragged but wrapped up the hearing two days ahead of the scheduled deadline of October 18, saying ‘enough is enough’.
True to his style when speculation was that the Ayodhya verdict will be delivered on the last three working days of his tenure as CJI, he sprang a surprise on late Friday evening by deciding to deliver judgement on Saturday when judges keep themselves away from courtroom cases.
Besides hearing the vexatious Ayodhya matter, Justice Gogoi led a bench which monitored and ensured that National Register of Citizens (NRC) exercise in Assam, his native state, is completed within the set timeframe.
A lot of controversies plagued the NRC but the judge stood his ground and came out in public last Sunday to defend the decision to hold the exercise to identify illegal immigrants.
There was a moment of personal controversy when a women staff member of the apex court levelled allegation of sexual harassment against the CJI in which he was given a clean chit by an in-house three-member inquiry committee headed by Justice S A Bobde.
Two women judges — justices Indu Malhotra and Indira Banerjee — were the other members of the Committee.
As a judge he had courted controversy by joining three other senior most judges of apex court in holding a press conference on January 12 2018 in which they virtually revolted against his predecessor Justice Dipak Misra.
He later remarked at a public function that “independent judges and noisy journalists are democracy’s first line of defence”.
A “revolution, not reform” was needed to keep the institution of judiciary serviceable for the common man, Justice Gogoi had said at the same function.
On the administrative side also, Justice Gogoi, as the CJI, took some tough decisions against erring judges and recommended their transfers. In one case a woman high court judge was virtually forced to resign.
Justice Gogoi, as the judge of the apex court, also headed the bench which accepted the apology and decided to close the contempt proceedings against former Supreme Court judge Markandey Katju for remarks in his blog.
Born on November 18, 1954, Justice Gogoi, who belongs to Dibrugarh in Assam, enrolled as an advocate in 1978. He practised in the Gauhati High Court on constitutional, taxation and company matters.
He was appointed permanent judge of the Gauhati High Court on February 28, 2001.
On September 9, 2010, he was transferred to the Punjab and Haryana High Court. The following year, on February 12, 2011, he was appointed chief justice of the Punjab and Haryana High Court and then a judge of the Supreme Court on April 23, 2012.