Congress, others submit impeachment notice against CJI Dipak Misra on grounds of ‘misbehaviour’
The Congress and six other opposition parties on Friday submitted notice of an impeachment motion for the removal of Chief Justice of India (CJI) Dipak Misra on five grounds of “misbehaviour,” the first time in the history of India that such a motion has been initiated against the country’s top judge.
Leaders of the opposition parties, led by Ghulam Nabi Azad of the Congress, met Vice President and Rajya Sabha chairman M Venkaiah Naidu and handed over the notice signed by 71 members of the Upper House.
While seven members have retired since the time they signed the notice -- it has been in the works for several weeks -- it still has 64 signatories. The removal motion can be moved even when Parliament is not in session, and requires the signature of 50 Rajya Sabha MPs or 100 Lok Sabha members.
Besides the Congress, those who signed the notice include members of the Samajwadi Party, Bahujan Samaj Party, Communist Party of India-Marxist, Communist Party of India, Nationalist Congress Party and the Indian Union Muslim League. Nominated member KTS Tulsi also signed the motion.
No CJI has ever been impeached in India, and any decision on the notice by the Opposition parties against justice Misra is likely to be taken by Naidu following consultations with legal experts. The removal has been sought under provisions of the Constitution dealing with the appointment and removal of Supreme Court judges..
A message left at the office of the CJI seeking his comment on the opposition parties’ move elicited no response.
“We wish this day had never come…. As representatives of the people, we are entitled to hold the Chief Justice accountable, just as we are accountable to the people. The majesty of the law is more important than the majesty of any office,” senior Congress leader Kapil Sibal told reporters after submitting the notice.
The move came a day after a Supreme Court bench, headed by the CJI, rejected public interest litigation for a probe into death of Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) special court judge BH Loya, who was hearing the Sohrabuddin Sheikh encounter case in which present BJP president Amit Shah was named and then discharged.
“The impeachment motion has nothing to do with the Supreme Court verdict on Judge Loya. In fact, we had sought an appointment with the Rajya Sabha chairperson a week ago,” Azad clarified.
The five charges levelled against the CJI in the notice include “conspiracy to pay illegal gratification” in the Prasad Education Trust case and denial of permission to proceed against a retired high court judge in the same matter.
The Prasad Education Trust case surfaced last year when the CBI arrested a retired judge of the Orissa high court and five others in a bribery case. A petition for an independent inquiry into the case was admitted by a bench headed by justice J. Chelameswar and it passed an order to set up a constitution bench of five senior most judges of the Supreme Court to hear the petition. CJI Misra set up a five -judge bench to hear the order; the bench annulled the order.
Another charge listed by the opposition parties pertains to a piece of land which the CJI had acquired as an advocate by giving a “false affidavit”. The opposition also alleged that sensitive cases were assigned to handpicked judges.
Some of these allegations were also raised by four top Supreme Court judges at a news conference on January 12 this year.
“We were hoping that the anguish of the judges as reflected in their statements would be addressed by the Chief Justice and that he will set his house in order. More than three months have passed. Nothing has changed,” Sibal claimed.
The Congress leader asked whether the nation should stand still and do nothing when the SC judges themselves, alluding to the functioning of the CJI, believe that the judiciary’s independence is under threat and democracy is in peril
“The choice was not easy because either way, the repercussions are serious. The Constitution allows only one recourse to remedy the situation. 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.
The Rajya Sabha chairperson will now ascertain whether the case made out in the notice merits moving such a motion. He can either accept the notice or reject it. In case he finds merit, he may form a three-member committee to look into the charges. If it concludes that there is a case, the House will take it up for discussion and a vote.
Separately on Friday, the Supreme Court described the events leading to the notice of impeachment against the CI as “unfortunate” and sought attorney general KK Venugopal’s assistance on a public interest litigation that sought a gag order on Parliamentarians and media from discussing in public impeachment proceedings against Supreme Court and high court judges.
A bench of justices AK Sikri and Ashok Bhushan refused to issue any restraint order without hearing the top law officer. “Let him (AG) come and give his views and then we will take a call,” the bench told senior counsel Meenakshi Arora, who on behalf of the petitioner, non-government organisation In Pursuit of Justice, urged the bench to stop the media from carrying reports on the impeachment proceedings against Misra. It fixed May 7 to hear the matter again.
“We are very disturbed about what has been happening...it is very unfortunate (as to) what is happening,” Justice A.K. Sikri said at the outset of the hearing.
The petition said that “the act of publicly brandishing their intention of mustering support of various political groups to initiate removal proceedings results in scandalising the courts and which is calculated to bring the courts of law into disrepute and to lower its authority and further to interfere with the due course of justice and the lawful process of the courts. Needless to say that scurrilous abuse of a judge or court or attacks on the personal character of a judge is punishable contempt.”