New Delhi, April 20 (IANS) In an unprecedented move, 64 members of the Rajya Sabha belonging to seven parties led by the Congress on Friday submitted an impeachment motion for the removal of Chief Justice Dipak Misra on five grounds of “misbehaviour”.
“We have met Rajya Sabha Chairman (M. Venkaiah Naidu) at his residence. We have moved a motion of impeachment for the removal of CJI under five listed grounds of misbehaviour. We have sought his removal under articles 217 read with article 124 (4) of the Constitution of India,” Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha Ghulam Nabi Azad said.
The opposition move came a day after a Supreme Court bench headed by Chief Justice Misra rejected a PIL for a SIT probe into death of CBI court judge B.H. Loya, who was conducting a trial in the killing of gangster Sohrabuddin Sheikh in Gujarat in which now BJP President Amit Shah was an accused.
Asked about the timing of the motion, Azad said they had sought an appointment with Naidu a week ago but were told that he was away on a tour of the northeast. “If he was available then, we would have submitted the motion then,” he said, dismissing any link with Thursday’s verdict. “Anyhow the move was initiated a month ago and most signatures were more than 20 days old.”
Azad told the media that the motion was signed by 71 MPs from seven political parties. “We have told the Chairman that seven of the members have meanwhile retired and those signatures should be counted out.”
Besides the Congress, those who signed the motion include members of the Samajwadi Party, BSP, CPI-M, CPI, NCP and IUML. Nominated member K.T.S. Tulsi also signed.
This is the first time an impeachment of a Chief Justice is being sought to be made in Parliament. The first case of impeachment of a Supreme Court judge, Justice V. Ramaswamy, was voted out in the Lok Sabha in the mid-90s. In two other cases, Justice P.D. Dinakaran of the Sikkim High Court and Justice Soumitra Sen of Calcutta High Court resigned before the impeachment motion could be voted. An impeachment motion has to be passed by both the Houses of Parliament with a special two-thirds majority.
The motion lists five charges of misbehaviour including an alleged conspiracy to pay illegal gratification in a case relating to an educational trust and the manner in which the CJI had dealt with the case by denying permission to the CBI to register an FIR against a judge of the Allahabad High Court when the CBI shared incriminating information.
The second related to the CJI having dealt with the trust case on the administrative side and the third related to alleged antedating of a matter “which is a very serious charge”.
The fourth charge related to the CJI having acquired land when he was an advocate by allegedly giving a false affidavit. The allotment of the land was cancelled by an Additional District Magistrate in 1985. The CJI surrendered the land in 2012 after he was elevated to the Supreme Court.
The fifth charge related to alleged abuse of exercise of power by CJI in choosing to send sensitive matters to particular benches by misusing his authority as “Master of the Roster” with the likely intent to influence the outcome.
Asked why members of other opposition parties had not signed the motion, former Law Minister Kapil Sibal said the motion was not moved by political parties but by individual members.
“Don’t make it political. There is no political motivation behind it. Some people’s matters are on (before courts) and we do not want to embarrass them,” he said.
Asked about reports that former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was not enthusiastic about the move and had not signed the motion, Sibal said: “They are absolutely false. They are not true. It is not a small issue. It is not instant coffee. It is about Constitution and a matter of institution. We did not want to involve him because he is a former Prime Minister.”
He said the motion does not refer to the Supreme Court judgement in the Loya case. Impeachment can be done only on some actions of a judge amounting to misbehaviour and not for judgements which could be right or wrong.
“The impeachment is under constitution. The Loya judgement cannot come under articles of charge.”
Asked whether there was a provision for rejecting the motion, Sibal said the charges they have levelled cannot be brushed aside. “We will decide at that time (of the decision). The Constitution has many paths.”
He said the convention is that once an impeachment motion is moved the judge concerned has to refrain from discharging from judicial functions. “I hope he (CJI) will follow the convention.”
Azad expressed the hope that the Chairman will take a positive action on the motion.
Explaining the finer points of the motion, Sibal said under the constitution any Supreme Court judge can be removed only on grounds of “proved misbehaviour” and not for corruption.
“Since there is no other way to protect the institution except to move an impeachment motion, we, members of the Rajya Sabha, do so with a heavy heart,” he said.
Asserting that judges must uphold the highest standards of integrity and must also be tested by the same standards, Sibal said since Dipak Misra was appointed as Chief Justice there have been situations when questions have been raised about the manner in which he has dealt with certain cases and taken certain administrative decisions.
A press statement circulated at the press conference said: “There have been internal rumblings resulting in open discord among judges in Supreme Court. This manifested itself when four senior most judges held a press conference on January 12 where they publicly expressed their disquiet about the manner in the CJI was exercising his powers.
“In this context, they circulated a letter to the press that they had addressed to the CJI in which they expressed concern about attempts to unsettle through a judicial order the Memorandum of Procedure which stood settled.
“They lamented that their efforts had failed and all four of them were convinced that unless the institution is preserved, democracy will not survive in this country.”
The MPs said they had hoped that the anguish of the judges would be addressed by the Chief Justice. “More than three months have passed. Nothing has changed.”
“When the judges of the Supreme Court themselves believe that the judiciary’s independence is under threat and democracy in peril, alluding to the functioning of the office of the Chief Justice of India, should the nation stand still and do nothing? Should the people of this country allow the institution to diminish and not protect it both from within and without? That is what we were confronted with when contemplating action to ensure the independence of the institution that protects the rights of citizens and is the arbiter of the fate of the democracy we cherish.
“As representatives of the people, we are entitled to hold the CJI accountable just as we are accountable to the people. The majesty of law is more important than the majesty of any office.
“We hope that a thorough enquiry will be held so that truth alone triumphs. Democracy can thrive only when our judiciary stands firm, independent of the executive and discharges its constitutional functions honestly, fearlessly and with an even hand,” the statement said.