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Venkaiah Naidu rejects Opposition notice for CJI’s impeachment, says it lacks merit

Rejecting the Opposition notice seeking the removal of CJI Dipak Misra, Venkaiah Naidu says it would be inappropriate and irresponsible act to accept statements which have little empirical basis.

india Updated: Apr 23, 2018 15:34 IST
Moushumi Das Gupta
Moushumi Das Gupta
New Delhi, Hindustan Times
M Venkaiah Naidu,Dipak Misra,CJI Dipak Misra
Vice president M Venkaiah Naidu at an event in Guwahati.(PTI FILE)

Rajya Sabha chairman Venkaiah Naidu on Monday rejected a notice by the Congress and six other opposition parties seeking the removal of Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra, saying it lacked substantial merit and that the allegations were neither “tenable nor admissible” .

Naidu held that the allegations emerging from the case had a serious tendency of “undermining” the independence of the judiciary.

Naidu, in his 10-page order, said, “... it would be inappropriate and irresponsible act to accept statements which have little empirical basis. As heir to an illustrious democratic tradition and custodian of present and future of democratic polity, we should, in my view, collectively strengthen and not erode the foundation of the grand edifice bequeathed to us by the Constitution makers.”

READ: Five reasons why the Opposition motion was rejected

The Congress said the move had triggered a battle between forces ‘rejecting’ and ‘rescuing’ democracy.

Randeep Surjewala, the chief of the party’s communication department, said, “RS Chairman can’t adjudge the motion, for he has no mandate to decide the merits of the motion.”

The Rajya Sabha chairman’s order maintains that it is “imperative” that one should have “extraordinary, important and substantial grounds for the removal of a judge.” The initiation of such proceedings tends to undermine the faith of the common person in the judicial system, the order said.

“We cannot allow any of our pillars of governance to be weakened by any thought, word, or action,” the order added.

Naidu based his decision on the opinion of top legal and constitutional experts, including former secretary generals of Lok Sabha and other legal luminaries with whom he held extensive consultations.

He also held the views of top legal and constitutional experts, including former chief justices and judges, before taking the decision, sources said.

Congress sources said the party is likely to move the Supreme Court against the order of the Rajya Sabha chairman in the matter.

The notice

On April 20, seven opposition parties led by the Congress had submitted a notice for the removal of the CJI on five grounds of “misbehaviour” and “misuse of authority.” The motion had been signed by 61 serving RS MPs and seven retired MPs. A motion to remove the CJI has to have signatures of 50 Rajya Sabha members or 100 Lok Sabha members.

Besides the Congress, current and former RS MPs from Samajwadi Party, Bahujan Samaj Party, Communist Party of India, Nationalist Congress Party and Indian Union Muslim League had signed the motion. The Trinamool Congress, DMK and RJD have stayed away from the motion.

The ground for rejecting the motion was set in motion late last week when RS Secretariat officials had said that the opposition members had violated the provisions of the “Handbook for Members of Rajya Sabha” which bars the members moving the motion from giving advance “publicity.”

Opposition leaders had addressed a press conference on April 20, soon after submitting the notice to the RS chairman for a motion to remove the CJI.

Venkaiah Naidu on Sunday started the consultation process with legal and parliamentary experts on the notice submitted by Congress and six other opposition parties, two Parliament officials familiar with the development said.

This was the first time in the history of India that such a motion had been initiated against the country’s top judge. No CJI has ever been impeached in India.

Controversy erupts

The five charges levelled against the CJI in the notice included “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,” Congress leader Sibal claimed on the day the notice was submitted.

Government’s response

Finance minister Arun Jaitley later accused the Congress party of trivialising the power of impeachment and using it as a political tool.

In a scathing Facebook post, the senior BJP leader said last Friday the move was an attempt to “intimidate” a judge and send a message to other judges, “that if you don’t agree with us, fifty MP’s are enough for a revenge action”.

Union minister Piyush Goyal too hit out at opposition parties on the same day, alleging depths of politicking had been reached and that judicial independence in the country was being attacked for political interests.

“The highest judicial forum of the country is being attacked. I don’t know if you are looking at going back to the Emergency days when there was a talk of a committed judiciary.”

Experts speak

The unprecedented move by the Opposition “smacked of political overtones” rather than any “misbehaviour” and “misuse” of authority, constitutional experts told PTI.

Eminent jurist Soli Sorabjee, who was the attorney general during the NDA government led by Atal Bihari Vajpayee, made a scathing attack on the opposition’s decision to go for impeachment of the CJI, saying, “This is the worst that could happen to the independence of the judiciary.”

Sorabjee’s view was shared by Justice SN Dhingra, who said it is an attempt to gain political mileage.

“The impeachment notice is motivated and the MPs want political mileage knowing that they do not have the numbers to impeach the chief justice. Discontentment among judges does not mean you initiate the process of impeachment. Discontentment is a part of life,” the former judge said.

(with agency inputs)

First Published: Apr 23, 2018 10:13 IST