Oppn meets VP, move notice for CJI's impeachment; SC judges 'disturbed'

Congress leaders Kapil Sibal and Ghulam Nabi Azad arrive to address a press conference after opposition parties submitted a notice to the Vice President and Rajya Sabha Chairperson Venkaiah Naidu to initiate impeachment proceedings against Chief Just
The Congress and six other opposition parties on Friday moved a notice for the impeachment of Chief Justice Dipak Misra, accusing him of “misbehaviour” and “misuse” of authority.

The notice, bearing the signatures of 64 Rajya Sabha MPs and seven recently retired MPs of the House, is the first attempt in the history of independent India to impeach the CJI. The notice levelled five charges of “acts of misbehaviour” by Justice Misra. 

The notice for impeachment comes a day after the Supreme Court rejected a bunch of petitions seeking an independent investigation into the death of Judge B H Loya, who was hearing the Sohrabuddin Sheikh encounter case.

Leaders of the seven opposition parties, led by Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Ghulam Nabi Azad, submitted the notice of impeachment to Vice-President, and also Chairman of the Rajya Sabha, M Venkaiah Naidu on Friday afternoon. 

The notice was signed by Rajya Sabha members of the Congress, CPI (M), Nationalist Congress Party, CPI, Samajwadi Party, Bahujan Samaj Party and Indian Union Muslim League.

The Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam members had signed the notice but backed out later. The Rashtriya Janata Dal and Trinamool Congress members did not sign. Other notables who did not sign were former prime minister Manmohan Singh and senior Congress leader P Chidambaram.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) accused the Congress of trying to “demean, degrade and denigrate” the judiciary because it was losing political ground.
Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said the Congress and its friends were using impeachment as a “political tool”. Jaitley termed the impeachment notice a “revenge petition” after the falsehood of the Congress was established in the Loya case.

While hearing a petition a few hours before opposition leaders submitted the impeach notice, the Supreme Court said it was “very disturbed” at the course of developments. Justice 

A K Sikri observed it was “very unfortunate” that despite knowing the law, which states the issue of impeachment cannot be made public till a certain point, the politicians were holding public discussions.

The apex court refused to prevent the media at this stage from publishing or telecasting any information related to the discussions and deliberations on removal of judges of either the Supreme Court or high courts.

The impeachment process can be a long drawn one. Misra will retire on October 2. However, a Parliamentary panel had recently recommended increasing the retirement age of judges from 65 years to 67 years.

At a joint press conference of opposition leaders, Congress leader Kapil Sibal said the allegations against the CJI could not be ignored and if the notice for the impeachment motion was accepted, “then as per convention, he has to refrain from discharging his judicial functions”.

Traditionally, judges, against whom an impeachment motion is accepted, have recused themselves from hearing cases, but this is not codified.

Opposition sources said the Chairman cannot interminably sit on deciding upon the impeachment notice, and if he rejects it, the route of judicial review was open to them.

At the press conference, Sibal detailed the charges against the Misra. He said three of the charges related to the alleged irregularities in the matter of Prasad Education Trust and the CJI’s role in hearing the case. 

The fourth charge, Sibal said, “related to the Chief Justice having acquired land on an allegedly false affidavit when he was an advocate, and despite the allotment being cancelled in 1985, surrendered the land in 2012 after he was elevated to the Supreme Court”.

Sibal said the fifth charge, and something the four serving judges of the Supreme Court had also raised in their press conference on January 12, “related to the Chief Justice sending sensitive matters to particular Benches by misusing his authority as Master of the Roster with the likely intent to influence the outcome”.

In a blogpost, Jaitley said the “charges read out are those issues which have been settled by judicial orders or by precedent”.

“Some issues are stale, trivial and have nothing to do with judicial functions,” the finance minister said.

The Chairman would now need to take a call on the merit of the notice. He can reject the notice if he believes it is based on frivolous grounds. If he accepts the notice, the Chairman would need to constitute a three-member committee comprising a chief justice of a High Court, a Supreme Court judge and an eminent jurist to probe the allegations.

In previous instances of impeachment, the committees are known to take their time. Once they submit their report, both Houses of Parliament need to pass the motion not only separately but with a special majority, which the Opposition lacks.

“We wish this day had never come,” Sibal said. He said the step had been taken “with a heavy heart to protect the independence of the judiciary”. He also referred to the issues raised by four Supreme Court judges at a press conference on January 12.

“We are very much sure that the Chairman will take action. We expect positive action from him,” Azad said.

On why former PM Manmohan Singh did not sign the motion, Sibal said, “We did not want to involve Dr Singh, he being a former PM.”

The Congress denied that the move was in any way linked to the Supreme Court decision in the Loya case.

As the Opposition submitted the impeachment notice, Congress President Rahul Gandhi tweeted: “‘There is no hope left, everything is managed’ say Judge Loya’s family. I want to tell them, there is hope. There is hope because millions of Indians can see the truth. India will not allow Judge Loya to be forgotten.”

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