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Gogoi: Freedom of expression is vital but should not cross Lakshman Rekha

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Freedom of speech is a vital part of democracy, given that it does not cross the ‘Lakshman Rekha’ of public order and morality, says former Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi in Vadodara where he addressed the fifth Gujarat Chhatra Sansad on Saturday.

In an exclusive chat with The Indian Express, Gogoi aired his views on the action against individuals on social media posts following the arrest of Vadgam MLA Jignesh Mevani by Assam Police.

“I am not aware of the specific case of the MP from Gujarat, but the expression of opinions – now on social media – is an essential part of a healthy democracy, as long as it does not cross the Lakshman Rekha of public order and morality, whether against an individual or an institution. If opinion is in line (of public order), it should not be restricted…” Gogoi said.

Adding that such an opinion must be based on facts and information in good faith, the former CJI said: “If it is an opinion not based on facts and disturbs public order and transgresses morality or creates public distrust of the institution, constituting a threat to the national interest, action must be taken. Nothing can be greater than the national interest.

Gogoi also said that the current generation of young people in the country are blessed with the power of social media. “It is a powerful tool, but it can be misused, which is unfortunate…Young people today, who wish to enter public life or politics, must be aware that they can only be successful if they ‘they work hard and base their journey on facts. This is because it is very easy to spread false information…”

Dwelling on the activism stemming from the delay in this justice system, Gogoi said, “Delays in the justice system make 50% of court consumers happy…cases, it is the litigant who asks for speedy elimination. This therefore only represents 50% of customers… But more seriously, waiting for business is not a difficult problem. It takes a dedicated approach to separate large, living cases from those that are small causes…”

Stating that the approach worked at the High Court in Guahati, Gogoi said: “During the pre-Covid period, we had about three crore cases pending in the courts…after Covid19 it’s about five crore… A majority of this number will be road penalty cases… So, one needs to identify the really large cases, which would only be a few lakhs…”

The former CJI added that although India has 26,000 judges, increasing the number of judges would still not solve the problem of waiting.

During an interactive session at Chhatra Sansad, Gogoi spoke about an unusual press conference in January 2018 with Justice J Chelameshwar, Justice Kurian Joseph and Justice Madan Lokur at the Chelameswar residence in New Delhi to air their grievances on the then Chief Justice. The operating style of Dipak Misra.

Responding to a question, Gogoi said, “It was a very unusual occurrence. Judges do not normally meet the press formally. I hope that the press conference we organized in January 2018 will be the last… There were a lot of institutional questions to settle. We decided that the country should know what it was. I do not expect such an event in the future…”

When asked about dealing with “emotions” during the historic Ram Janmabhoomi judgment handed down in 2019, Gogoi said, “Emotions don’t come as judgments due to years of training and discipline. I became a judge in 2001 and Ram Janmabhoomi’s judgment came on the eve of my retirement in 2019. Nineteen years is long enough to be a professional…”

Gogoi, however, declined to answer questions about the NRC citing a “conflict of interest”, but accepted a comment that people in the northeastern states have suffered. “I left my home state of Assam in 2010 to go to Punjab and returned to my home state in 2019… There is a feeling (of discrimination) that needs to be dispelled by making growth inclusive,” he said.