By Neeraj Mahajan
Justice Ranjan Gogoi the senior-most judge in the Supreme Court has been officially cleared by the President of India as well as the law ministry to take over as the next Chief Justice of India.
He will assume the office of Chief Justice on 3rd October 2018 a day after the current Chief Justice, Justice Dipak Misra retires (2nd October).
Justice Ranjan Gogoi’s term as the 46th Chief Justice of India will last for nearly 13 months.
Justice Ranjan Gogoi started his schooling at the Don Bosco School, Dibrugarh and did his pre-university from Cotton College, Guwahati, before moving on to study history honors from St. Stephen’s College in Delhi. After graduating he did his post-graduation and law from Delhi University.
Born on 18th November 1954 in a well-known family from Dibrugarh, in eastern Assam, Ranjan Gogoi was one of the five offsprings of Keshab Chandra Gogoi a lawyer-turned-politician. His father Keshab Chandra Gogoi was Chief Minister of Assam for a two month—66 days–term in the early 80’s. He was elected on a Congress ticket as an MLA from Dibrugarh constituency till his death on August 5, 1998.
Justice Gogoi’s legal journey started 40 years back when following his father’s footstepshe enrolled as an advocate at the Guwahati High Court. He started practice initially under advocate JP Bhattacharjee in 1978 before independently taking up his own cases. Gogoi soon made a mark for himself as an advocate dealing in constitutional, taxation and company law matters before being appointed as Permanent Judge of Guwahati High Court on 28th February 2001. He was appointed as Chief Justice of Punjab & Haryana High Court on 12th February 2011 and elevated as a Judge at the Supreme Court of India on 23rd April 2012.
His colleagues at the Guwahati High Court and lawyers who appeared before him during his stint as the Chief Justice of Punjab & Haryana High Court, recall him as a reserved and soft-spoken human being. He is otherwise known to be a judge, who speaks his mind, calls a spade a spade and minces no words. These are the qualities that make him stand out in a crowd of spineless yes-men and command public respect. He is also known to be in favour of strict discipline in court.
He is an unconventional judge who thinks out of the box. As a young judge he created a sensation in the Guwahati High Court, when he clubbed nearly 10,000 cases relating to the state education department and heard them together. In this manner he cleared the pending cases and finished them in a single stroke.
Justice Ranjan Gogoi is the first judge from India’s North East to hold the highest judicial post. Both he and his elder brother — Air Marshal Anjan Kumar Gogoi (Retired) have made the family proud. An interesting anecdote from their childhood is how both the brothers Anjan and Ranjan wanted to study in a Sainik School. They decided to toss a coin. Anjan won the toss and went to Sainik School while Ranjan went to Don Bosco School.
In his book “Guwahati High Court: History and Heritage”, Arup Kumar Dutta narrates a conversation between Kesab Chandra Gogoi the then Chief Minister of Assam and former Law Minister Abdul Muhib Mazumdar. Mazumdar reportedly asked the senior Gogoi if he would want his son to oneday become the Chief Minister of Assam. Gogoi Sr. replied that his son Ranjan Gogoi need not copy or imitate him as he had the potential to become the Chief Justice of India. In hindsight, this prophecy seems to have come true.
Some of the landmark judicial decisions by Justice Gogoi include the Aarushi murder case, Sahara, Amby Valley and the adulterated red chilli powder case.
He is known to be a part of the bench which ruled that:
- No one should contest elections without disclosing his or her assets as well as education and criminal background.
- Women cannot be Karta of a joint family but can be the managers in some exceptional cases.
- Restrained political parties from publishing photographs of leaders in government-funded advertisements.
- Declined to assign a backward status to the Jat community.
He is known to have issued a contempt notice against Justice Markandey Katju for attacking the judges and not the judgment in the Soumya rape and murder case in 2016. He was also part of the seven-judge bench, headed by Justice Khehar that ruled against Justice CS Karnan for degrading the judiciary and contempt of Court.
Justice Gogoi and Justice R F Nariman are monitoring the National Register of Citizens exercise in Assam.
Justice Gogoi almost lost his chance to become the next Chief Justice of the apex court when he along with three other senior Supreme Court judges addressed a press conference on January 12 alleging irregulaties in administration and allocation of case to the judges at the Supreme Court. Interestingly, Justice Kurian Joseph, Justice J Chelameswar, and Justice MB Lokur —who addressed a press conference, along with him had been his colleagues in the Guwahati High Court.
But all said and done, the manner in which Justice Gogoi has been elevated to the post of highest judicial authority speaks volumes about our judicial system. For this, the credit also goes to the present Chief Justice of India (CJI) Dipak Misra for recommending Justice Ranjan Gogoi as his successor in a letter to the Central government on Sep 04, 2018.
The only two occasions where this practice was not followed was when Justice A.N. Ray was appointed CJI on April 25, 1973, superseding three senior-most judges and when Justice M.H. Beg was appointed CJI on January 29, 1977, superseding Justice H.R. Khanna.
Justice Gogoi was quoted as saying that “Independent journalists and sometimes noisy judges” should be democracy’s first line of defense; during a lecture earlier this year. According to him, the judiciary needs to be “more on the front foot” and “uncontaminated” to become more dynamic in the interpretation of the law.
He is one of the only 11 Supreme Court judges who have disclosed their assets. As declared by him, till date he does not own a car and among the only assets owned by him include an old house in village Japarigog in Kamrup district gifted and transferred in his name by his mother, Shanti Gogoi on 10th June 2015.