A changed Rafale order of April 30 leaves the CJI ‘completely perplexed’

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Even though Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi had dictated in open court that the Rafale review and Rahul Gandhi contempt case will be heard together on May 6, the Supreme Court website mentions two different dates.

Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi on Monday admitted his “complete perplexity” at a mysterious sleight of hand that altered the contents of an April 30 judicial order concerning the Rafale review hearing.

The Monday hearing in the Rafale case also brought back into sharp focus the highest judiciary’s lingering doubts about its own staff.

On April 30, a Bench led by Chief Justice of India had dictated in open court that the Rafale review and the criminal contempt case against Congress party president Rahul Gandhi for attributing the slogan ‘chowkidar chor hai’ to the apex court would together come up for hearing on Monday (May 6).

However, the copy of the order published on the website later on April 30 evening had shown a different date. It had shown the date of the criminal contempt case against Mr. Gandhi as May 10, the last working day before the court closes for summer vacations.

Subsequently, only the Rafale review was listed for hearing at 2 p.m. on May 6.

On Monday, the CBI suddenly interrupted advocate Prashant Bhushan, who was about to launch into his submissions in the Rafale review, and asked for the file of the contempt case.

A visibly surprised Mr. Bhushan responded that the contempt case was scheduled for May 10 and not May 6.

Senior advocate Vikas Singh, one of the review petitioner’s lawyer, also passed on a copy of the April 30 order to the Bench as proof.

An unamused CJI said the court had ordered both the Rafale review and the Rahul Gandhi contempt cases to be listed together. The top judge said he had himself dictated the order in open court room on April 30 that both cases would come up for hearing on May 6.

“I remember clearly dictating in court that the case (Rahul Gandhi contempt) would come up for analogous hearing on Monday (May 6) along with the Rafale case… How did this happen? How has it happened that the order copy says May 10?” Chief Justice Gogoi asked.

Justice Kaul also voiced surprise, saying “I too had heard the order dictated in the courtroom saying May 6.” Justice K.M. Joseph, the third member on the Bench, remained silent.

“We are a little perplexed that the hearing in the two cases have different dates when there is a judicial order saying that both would be taken up together… That’s all we are saying now,” Chief Justice Gogoi remarked before listing the Rafale case along with contempt matter on May 10.

The Supreme Court Registry and staff have been under intense spotlight in the recent days. Two officials were dismissed for tampering with a judicial order passed by a Bench led by Justice Rohinton Nariman in the Anil Ambani-Ericsson contempt case.

Again, a Special Bench led by Justice Arun Mishra has ordered a probe into claims that some disgruntled former Supreme Court staff are involved in a plot to frame Chief Justice Gogoi in a false case. The Chief Justice himself has repeatedly said the sexual harassment allegations against him is an off-shoot of a “larger conspiracy.”

The Bench was so taken aback that the Rafale review hearing was adjourned to May 10 to be taken up along with the Rahul Gandhi contempt case.

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