Impeachment, a serious matter

Union Minister Arun Jaitley called the impeachment notice a “revenge petition”

Kuldip Nayar April 30, 2018
The writer is a syndicated columnist and a former member of India’s Rajya Sabha

Chief Justice Dipak Misra denying permission to Allahabad High Court judge Narayan Shukla to prosecute the Lucknow-based Prasad Education Trust is not a violation of law inviting impeachment of the Chief Justice of India. The Congress party was divided but its president, Rahul Gandhi, decided to move against the Chief Justice anyway. Even though people like former PM Manmohan Singh, P Chidambaram and Abhishek Manu Singhvi, did not sign the motion.

Ghulam Nabi Azad, a senior Congress leader, read the impeachment motion at Rahul’s behest and collected signatures of its members. The ruling BJP did not have a majority in the Rajya Sabha, this came in handy to the Congress and six other opposition parties.

Despite the required number of signatures, Chairman of the Rajya Sabha, M Venkaiah Naidu, originally from the BJP, rejected the motion outright, ascribing it to the seriousness of the charges and unnecessary speculation.

“All facts as stated in the motion don’t make out a case which can lead any reasonable mind to conclude that Chief Justice on these facts can be ever held guilty of misbehaviour,” said Naidu.

Union Minister Arun Jaitley called the impeachment notice a “revenge petition,” accusing the Congress of using a “political tool”. The Constitution says the Chief Justice can be impeached only on grounds of proved misbehaviour or incapacity.

The opposition backed its demand listing five grounds, which, the Congress said, equal misbehaviour. These included the assigning of sensitive cases to handpicked judges, raised publicly in January by four top judges who accused the Chief Justice of abusing his position as “master of the roster.”

The impeachment proceedings have never been taken up against a Chief Justice of India. The chairman forwards such a notice to the Rajya Sabha secretariat to verify two factors — the signatures of the members who signed the petition and whether rules and procedures have been followed. Obviously, Naidu was not convinced.

The debates of the Constituent Assembly indicate that the framers of the constitution comprising all political parties were very cautious in laying down the impeachment clause. I am sorry to say that the Congress party has thrown these cautions to the wind.

But one thing is clear. The Chief Justice has compromised his position and the stature of his office. As pointed out by the topmost five judges, he has “abused his exercise of power” 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.”

In addition, he had acquired land when he was an advocate by giving a false affidavit. Of course, he did surrender the land in 2012 but only after he was elevated to the Supreme Court.

Of course, there are a few cases of high court judges against whom impeachment moves were made. But before the moves could be made, they themselves resigned. For instance, Justice Soumitra Sen of the Calcutta High Court avoided the ignominy of becoming the first judge to be impeached by parliament by tendering his resignation. He did so after the Rajya Sabha had passed the motion of his impeachment.

Similarly, Chief Justice of the Sikkim High Court P D Dinakaran resigned in 2011, before impeachment proceedings could be initiated against him. Corruption, land grab and abuse of judicial office were among the 16 charges framed against him.

However, Justice V Ramaswami is the only example of being the first judge against whom impeachment proceedings were initiated in a controversy for spending extravagantly on his official residence during his tenure as Chief Justice of Punjab and Haryana during 1990.

Impeachment should never get politicised. Rahul Gandhi has done so. And, to that extent, he has weakened the judiciary. Since he heads an influential all-India party, he should be extra careful about his action.

Published in The Express Tribune, April 30th, 2018.

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