Crime & Justice

India’s ex-chief justice sworn in as lawmaker amid quid pro quo allegations

By Sarwar Kashani

New Delhi, Mar 19 (efe-epa).- India’s ex-top judge Ranjan Gogoi, known for his key judgment in a religious dispute over a 17th century mosque, took oath as a parliamentarian on Thursday amid booing and chants of “shame”, “shame” by opposition lawmakers.

Gogoi, who delivered several other sensitive verdicts with far-reaching consequences during his 13-month tenure as chief justice, was nominated by the government to the Rajya Sabha – the upper house – just four months after his retirement.

The nomination has raised many eyebrows amid allegations of institutional erosion, quid pro quo, and damage to the judiciary’s credibility in India.

As Gogoi took oath in parliament, several opposition members, including many from the Indian National Congress party, staged a walkout and shouted slogans against the government’s move to secure the post-retirement sinecure for the judge.

The opposition mainly contested the move because of its timing, which didn’t respect a usual cooling-off period for such an appointment to reduce the possibility of a conflict of interest.

Unfazed by the protest, the judge defended his new role, saying his nomination to parliament would “be an opportunity to project the views of the judiciary before the legislative and vice versa”.

“They will welcome me very soon,” Gogoi, 65, told reporters outside the parliament.

Congress lawmaker Anand Sharma said the jurist has been “a controversial chief justice and his acceptance of the government’s appointment has raised bonafide questions about quid pro quo”.

Sharma recalled the former judge’s own remarks in the past that said accepting post-retirement positions was “a scar on the independence of the judiciary.”

“So he has become an active party to that, along with the government, and that is why we are protesting.”

Sharma said the appointment severely undermined the independence of the judiciary and “sends a wrong message to all the present and future judges”.

But India’s Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said there was nothing wrong with the move since the Rajya Sabha “has a great tradition of many eminent persons coming from diverse fields, including former chief justices”.

“Justice Gogoi will surely contribute his best. It was grossly unfair (by the opposition) to do that (walkout in protest).”

Some of Gogoi’s former colleagues, including ex-judges Markandey Katju, Kurian Joseph and AP Shah have publicly expressed outrage over the nomination.

Shah called it a “death knell for the separation of powers and independence of judiciary”.

“The message it sends to the judiciary as a whole is that if you give judgments that are favorable to the executive, you will be rewarded. If you don’t do so, you will be treated adversely or you might be transferred or not considered for elevation,” he told broadcaster NDTV.

The former chief justice is known for several key judgments including one in the sensitive decades-long religious dispute over a 17th-century mosque that was destroyed by Hindu mobs in 1992.

The bench headed by Gogoi ruled that the disputed site be given to Hindus for the construction of a grand temple dedicated to Hindu Lord Rama.

The dispute involved a huge political stake for the ruling Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

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