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Was Offered Bribe To Frame CJI Ranjan Gogoi In Sexual Harassment Case: Lawyer For Rape Victim Against Asaram

Utsav Bains, the lawyer who represented a victim in the rape case against convicted self-styled godman Asaram Bapu, has claimed that “just a few days back” he was offered a bribe of Rs 1.5 crore to frame the Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi in a sexual harassment case.

While opinions remain sharply divided in the legal fraternity on Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi’s handling of the sexual harassment allegations leveled against him by his former staffer, the embarrassing episode involving the country’s highest judicial authority has now got a new twist. 

Utsav Bains, the lawyer who represented a victim in the rape case against convicted self-styled godman Asaram Bapu, has claimed that “just a few days back” he was offered a bribe of Rs 1.5 crore to frame the Chief Justice in sexual harassment case. Though Bains has refused to reveal the identity of the person who approached him, he claims that he had turned the offer down as he suspected a “larger conspiracy to make the CJI resign”.

The dramatic claim by Bains comes in wake of Saturday’s unprecedented crisis that has engulfed the Supreme Court with the Chief Justice of India himself being accused of sexual harassment and criticised for convening an urgent hearing to essentially dismiss the allegations, attribute motives to his accuser and unambiguously point at a plot to “deactivate the office of the CJI”. 

While Bains has, so far, refused to speak to the media on his claims, he wrote a long post on Saturday evening on his Facebook page to describe how he was reportedly approached to “frame CJI in the sexual harassment case”. 

Withholding the identity of the person who made the offer to him, Bains claims he was asked to appear as the lawyer of the former staffer who has leveled the allegations against the Chief Justice of India and to help in organising a press conference on the issue at Delhi’s Press Club. Bains adds that when he refused to oblige, the person claimed that he was a relative of the woman who had accused Asaram Bapu in a rape case – Bains had appeared pro bono for the rape survivor against Asaram and the controversial godman was found guilty in the case last year – but failed to explain his relationship with the former Supreme Court staffer who has now leveled allegations against Chief Justice Gogoi.

“He couldn’t satisfactorily reply as to what was his relationship with the ex-SC staffer and then suddenly offered me 50 lacs (sic) as my legal fees if I agreed and again asked me specifically to organise a press conference at the PCI,” Bains wrote. He added further that when he refused to accept the bribe or file the case against the Chief Justice of India, the bribe offer was enhanced to Rs 1.50 crore.

Having refused the offer, Bains says he asked the person to leave his office and then made his own enquiries with “reliable sources in Delhi” following which he was convinced that there was a “larger conspiracy to make the CJI resign” and that the ‘kingpins’ of this plot are “many Delhi based Supreme Court fixers or those who engage in cash for judgments”.

Bains says that he had gone to the residence of Chief Justice Gogoi at around 7 pm on Friday to personally inform him about the goings on but was informed that the CJI was not at home. Bains says the CDR tower location of his phone can be checked to verify his claim of visiting the Chief Justice’s residence at 10, Tees January Marg.

It may be recalled that reports of a sexual harassment case had begun circulating in the media on Friday and by evening a number of web portals had sent enquiries to the Chief Justice of India to seek his version on the allegations by his former staffer. 

Bains said further that he had also asked a journalist who covers the Supreme Court to help arrange a meeting with the CJI about “an important subject” and was also planning to meet advocates Kamini Jaiswal and Prashant Bhushan, on Saturday, in this regard. 

However, by Saturday morning, news of the sexual harassment allegations against the Chief Justice had already made headlines and the CJI, on a reference by Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, had convened an urgent hearing on the matter. At the hearing by a hurriedly constituted special bench headed by CJI Gogoi himself and comprising Justices Arun Mishra and Sanjiv Khanna, the judges along with Attorney General KK Venugopal and Solicitor General Mehta collectively portrayed the allegations as a big conspiracy and an “attack on the independence of the judiciary” while stating that an appropriate bench of the court will be constituted to adjudicate on the matter soon.

Bains says he is preparing to “file a detailed affidavit” before the Supreme Court narrating his side of the alleged conspiracy “along with evidences of the conspiracy against the CJI by a lobby of disgruntled judges, SC fixers, corporate scamsters and a few corrupt politicians” who have “meticulously planned” to force the CJI to resign.

The claims made by Bains do not take away from the moral and ethical questions that arise out of Saturday’s unprecedented events at the top court – should the Chief Justice have convened a hearing of a matter that involves allegations against himself, by attributing motives to his accuser from the platform of the Supreme Court did the CJI scuttle due process of law, shouldn’t the special bench have comprised at least one woman judge of the top court or judges more senior than Justices Mishra and Khanna, etc. However, they do make the ongoing scandal all the more piquant.

Expectedly, all eyes will now be on how the Supreme Court deals with this matter in the coming days but what is certain, for now, is that Saturday’s events were only the beginning of yet another dark chapter in the recent history of the top court which, a little over a year ago, had been plunged into a crisis when its four seniormost judges – including Justice Gogoi – had raised a very public banner of revolt against the then Chief Justice of India, Dipak Misra.


Elephant Corridor Near Kaziranga Remains Blocked Even After SC Order to Remove

by Sangeeta Barooah Pisharoty

New Delhi: An elephant corridor near Kaziranga National Park, Assam, continues to be blocked by a concrete wall erected by Numaligarh Refinery Limited (NRL), an oil company in the state’s Golaghat district. This is even after the Supreme Court set aside its civil appeal defending the action.

NRL is a Miniratna public-sector enterprise under the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas. It was inaugurated in 1999 by then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. More recently, Prime Minister Narendra Modi laid the foundation stone for its biodiesel plant.

On January 18, a bench of the apex court comprising Justices D.Y. Chandrachud and M.R. Shah dismissed the NRL’s plea because the 2.2-km-long boundary wall is within 20 km of Kaziranga. More importantly, the area where the wall stands is also part of the Deopahar Reserve Forest. This forest connects Kaziranga to the Karbi Anglong hills and has been a traditional animal corridor.

Acknowledging its strategic importance to elephants in the area, the Assam government on January 19 notified Deopahar as a reserve forest under Section 17 of the Assam Forest Regulation 1891.

Also read: Oil and ‘Outsiders’: Outrage in Assam Over the BJP’s Decision to Privatise Oil Fields

When the NRL build the wall in 2011, Deopahar had been a proposed reserve forest. Then again, the wall at the time was within a ‘no development zone’ notified by the Ministry of Forest and Environment in 1996.

The NRL boundary wall appropriates an area that the company wants to use to extend its township, which includes a golf course. It submitted to the court that the wall had built on land it possessed and that it didn’t fall within the elephant corridor. However, dismissing the plea, the court reportedly contended, “Elephants have the first right to the forest. Elephants do not go to office in a designated route. We can’t encroach upon the elephants’ areas.”

On August 24, 2016, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) directed the district administration to demolish the wall. This order was in response to a petition filed by Rohit Choudhury, a local environmental activist, in August 2015. Choudhury had been motivated by an incident in which an elephant reportedly sustained a fatal haemorrhage after bashing its head against the wall trying to break it.

The NRL then filed a review application with the NGT before the one month compliance period ended, which the tribunal dismissed on August 3, 2018. It also asked the district administration to follow its earlier order within a month and the NRL to cough up Rs 25 lakh to help afforest the area.

While the NGT was hearing the case, a short YouTube video captured by a local youth showing a herd of elephants trying to push themselves against the controversial wall created a sensation among the green activists and concerned citizens.

But there was an issue in between. According to Choudhury, the district administration decided to demolish 289 metres of the wall in March 2018 – before the NGT had responded to the review petition.

The decision to demolish only a part of the wall was made on the basis of a survey report compiled by a local circle officer and an official of the forest department. It had then been submitted to the district commissioner (at the time). According to the report, the NRL had encroached upon only one hectare of land; it claimed that the rest belonged to the company.

N.K. Vasu, the state’s principal chief conservator of forests, had told this correspondent then, “It has nothing to do with the [August 2016] NGT order. The case is still on and it is sub-judice.”

However, soon after, the state government filed an affidavit with the NGT that it had complied with the order.

The NRL used this survey report to back up its appeal with the Supreme Court, claiming that it legally owned most of the land. However, the court wasn’t interested.

An appeal to the Supreme Court is the only legal way to challenge an NGT order. Before doing so, the NRL also applied for and received a stay from the Gauhati high court. Though the high court didn’t have jurisdiction under the NGT Act to stay a tribunal order, it did so on the back of a letter by the then district commissioner, which said that the administration would demolish the wall.

Thereafter, the law required the NRL to approach the apex court. However, though the court has upheld the NGT order, oil refinery authorities are citing the high court’s order seeking status quo in the matter and to not to proceed with the demolition.

After the Supreme Court order, Jayashree Naiding, the divisional forest officer, wrote a letter to the NRL. In reply, the chief general manager (human resources) of the NRL wrote to Naiding on February 14:

This is to inform you that the matter is sub-judice in the Honourable Gauhati High Court and has been directed to maintain status quo as regard to the remaining hectares of land as on today till the returnable date. The said status quo is in operation till date. Therefore, you are requested to comply with the aforesaid orders of the Honourable Gauhati High Court and maintain the same.

“I am a bit perplexed by the NRL’s argument,” Choudhury said, “as the SC order of January 18 clearly stated that pending appeals, if any, shall stand disposed of.”

Naiding told The Wire that she had “forwarded the response of the NRL to the higher officials” of her department and that she is “awaiting further advice on the issue”. She added that she had also communicated [the matter] to the district commissioner” – which is currently Dhiren Hazarika.

Hazarika has also written a letter to the NRL asking them to comply with the order. “I am new to the place and am studying the case,” he told The Wire.

Also read: Oil Exploring Survey Near Kaziranga Cancelled After Locals Chase Away Firm

However, he also alleged that the NRL had concealed the fact that it had received a stay order from the Gauhati high court in its appeal to the Supreme Court. “So I am writing a letter to the advocate general of the state for further advice on how to proceed legally in this case.”

Meanwhile, Choudhury has written to Alok Kumar,  the state’s chief secretary, about how NRL has failed to comply with the Supreme Court order even after a month had passed. He said he had sent copies of the letter to the local administration and the registrar of the Supreme Court.

Dated February 20, the letter reads:

Non-demolition of the entire boundary wall will attract penalty under Sections 26, 27 and 28 of the National Green Tribunal Act, 2010. It will also be contempt of the honourable Supreme Court’s order. Therefore, it is stated that the illegal boundary wall constructed by NRL in the Deopahar forest of ‘No Development Zone’ be demolished immediately. In case no action is taken urgently to demolish the said boundary wall, then the undersigned will be constrained to take legal recourse as mandated by law against the Chief Secretary [and other officers of the district administration].

As of March 4, he hadn’t heard back from the state administration.

First publishe in The Wire

Sangeeta Barooah Pisharoty
S P Barooah 
Indigenous no-state people

T.N.’s release of water from dam caused floods: Kerala to SC

The affidavit said that the Kerala government, till the release of water from the 13 shutters, was managing the spate.

The Kerala government on Thursday claimed in the Supreme Court that sudden releases of water from the Mullaperiyar dam was a cause for the floods in the State.

In an affidavit, Kerala slammed Tamil Nadu for allegedly ignoring its repeated entreaties for controlled release of water from the reservoir to facilitate the evacuation of thousands living downstream.

Kerala said communications from its Water Resources Secretary and the Chairman of the Supervisory Committee on Mullaperiyar dam to gradually release water “at least” at 139 feet evoked no “positive assurances” from the Tamil Nadu government.ALSO READKeep level under 140 foot, says Mullaperiyar panel

“The request was made to facilitate the district administration and State Disaster Management Authority to get sufficient time to evacuate people so that they would not be hit by the flash floods in their sleep in the stealth of the night,” Kerala Chief Secretary Tom Jose informed the Supreme Court.

Instead, water from the Mullaperiyar reservoir was “suddenly discharged by opening all the 13 shutters to Idukki downstream at 2.40 a.m. on August 15. Around 9,000 cusecs of water was let out between 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 21,450 cusecs at 2 p.m. on August 15.”

“The sudden releases from the Mullaperiyar dam forced us (Kerala) to release more water from the Idukki reservoir,” Kerala submitted.

The affidavit said that the Kerala government, till the release of water from the 13 shutters, was managing the spate by controlling spill and letting a major portion of the flood waters to escape to the sea by implementing a strict operational control over the spill of the two largest reservoir systems of Idukki and Idamalayar in synchronisation with eight small other reservoir systems in the Periyar basin.

Kerala urged the Supreme Court for the need for sufficient flexibility of operation of the Mullaperiyar gates during moderate to high floods. It is imperative that Mullaperiyar reservoir should have enough manoeuvrability to avert loss of human lives in floods and other crisis in the future, Kerala submitted. It said the current gate operational protocol was deficient and its requests since 2014 for an overhaul has not produced a response.

It said gradual releases should start when the water level reaches 136 feet itself, so that there should be at least 1.548 TMC space, which translates into 17,917 cusecs for 24 hours. “Thus we would get at least 24 hours response time to evacuate people and can avoid flash flooding of the downstream area,” the affidavit said.

The Supreme Court has fixed the permissible water level of Mullaperiyar dam as 142 feet.

Kerala said a Supervisory Committee, headed by the Chairman, Central Water Commission (CWC) and secretaries of both States as members, should be formed with authority to take decisions by a majority opinion regarding operations during floods or similar calamities.

Further a Management Committee, reporting directly to the Supervisory Committee, should be formed to manage the day-to-day operations of the Mullaperiyar Dam. This Committee should be headed by a Chief Engineer/Superintending Engineer of the CWC with both Chief Engineers/Superintending Engineers of the two States, Mr. Jose proposed.

The affidavit was filed in response to a petition filed by Idukki-resident Russel Joy highlighting the perils of a dangerously-high water level in the British-era dam, made worse by the utter lack of co-ordination between the two State governments and a non-existent disaster management plan. Mr. Joy submitted that this was the biggest flood to hit the southern State since the Great Flood of 1924. He said people residing downstream to Mullaperiyar dam live with a constant sense of fear.

A three-judge Bench led by Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra is scheduled to hear the case on August 24. By 

By K Rajagopal, Hindu