Sitaram Yechury of CPI-M has said that the opposition is considering a move to impeach the present Chief Justice of India, Dipak Misra. The CJI has been embroiled in a controversy since four judges raised issues of credibility in the judiciary and called his office to account.
ThePrint asks: Is the Left justified in suggesting an impeachment motion against the CJI?
The move is hasty, and may even be an instance of political grandstanding
‘The Blind Men and the Elephant’ is the story of six blind men who had never come across an elephant. Each man touches a part of the animal’s body. He describes it based on his partial experience. In the end, the men disagree on what an elephant looks like.
The reactions to the 12 January ‘press conference’ are similar. Few people know the entire story. Perhaps, even fewer have made an effort to understand the functioning of the Supreme Court. But everyone has an opinion.
One of these has come from the CPI (M). It has mooted an impeachment motion against the Chief Justice, as a solution to the credibility issues that have arisen in the judiciary. The party ignores the fact that the problems underlined in the press conference can arise, regardless of who the Chief Justice is. It also discounts the fact that in their letter, the judges have pointed to mishandling of the roster by ‘Chief Justices’, and not by the current Chief Justice alone.
Impeachment is a cumbersome and uncertain process – subject to political considerations. Former Supreme Court Judge V Ramaswami, escaped impeachment even after allegations of corruption against him were established. This was because the Congress and its allies abstained during the vote in Parliament.
In this case, even if an impeachment comes to fruition, it is unlikely to do much good in the long run. A failed motion may vindicate those who favour status quo. The CPI(M)’s move is hasty, and may even be an instance of political grandstanding.
This is not to say that things are well with the functioning of the Supreme Court. There is no mechanism to check the administrative powers of the Chief Justice. She allocates cases to particular benches. She decides their composition and strength. These decisions do not need to be justified with reasons. Thus, the Chief Justice can influence the result of a case, by choosing judges that she thinks may favour a particular outcome. A system that works on cloistered discretion, even if exercised correctly, was bound to run into this situation.
A slew of corrective mechanisms are required. These include an immediate check on the powers of the Chief Justice over the roster. There is also a need to form a full-time judicial performance/complaints commission empowered to take cognizance of complaints against judges. One hopes that the course correction comes after deliberations from all three wings of the state.
Politicians only unite when they have to protest against Pakistan, China, and the judiciary.
Advocate-on-record, Supreme Court
What happened in the Supreme Court was definitely unprecedented.
A lot has already been said about the controversy but nothing has come out into the open. There are reports that a roster is being made in consultation with other senior judges and future Chief Justices. Such a move will directly address the issues that were raised by the four judges in the press conference.
All high courts have rosters in the public domain, but not the Supreme Court. Most of the Supreme Court’s functions, even appointment of judges, happen behind closed doors. There have been recent attempts, like the publication of minutes of the Collegium and now the creation and publication of this roster, that will bring more transparency.
The Supreme Court of India commands the respect of the people, despite not being directly accountable to them. It is not set up strictly in a democratic manner, but functions as the lighthouse for democracy.
The recent events are an aberration, but they are not the first. India’s institutional balances are very strong and its constitutional mechanisms are so robust that this aberration, like the earlier ones, will be sorted out in a manner that the Supreme Court comes out stronger.
The four senior judges, in consultation with the CJI and other judges will certainly resolve the issue within the constitutional framework.
Politicians are trying to meddle and browbeat the system when they raise calls for impeachment. Elected representatives are the direct manifestation of democracy. They represent the interests of the public. And it is definitely in public interest that the judiciary remains an independent institution.
We have seen that they have a trade bonhomie approach when it comes to standing up against the judiciary. Unfortunately, the nation has seen them unite only against Pakistan, China, and when they have take a stand against the judiciary. The debates in the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha, and more particularly in some state assemblies, during the passing of the NJAC constitutional amendment are testament to it.
Politicians should not use this event to make inroads into the judiciary. They will not be in power forever. What ensures swift, fair justice to the people and even politicians, is an independent, strong and able judiciary.
The talk of impeachment by the Left is nothing but propaganda.
Research Fellow, Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, IIT Bombay, Mumbai
Under the scheme of Indian Constitution as mentioned under Article 124 (4), the removal of a Supreme Court Judge can only happen through the process of impeachment. The impeachment motion needs to be passed by a special majority by both the houses of the Parliament. The same provision enumerates that the ground for removal can only be – ‘proven misbehaviour or incapacity’.
Therefore, the power of the Parliament to impeach a Supreme Court Judge is not arbitrary or discretionary, it can only happen on these two grounds.
Since, there are no proven charges against the Chief Justice of India (CJI), the talk of impeachment by the Left is nothing but propaganda, for which the Left has a reputation, especially when the Left has no standing in Parliament to garner the kind of majority which is required for an impeachment to succeed.
Also, the principle of separation of powers is part of the rule of law, which will be violated if such a motion were to be introduced solely based on allegations by other four judges.
This question also needs to be contextualised in the history of the Left having scant, or no, regard for the judiciary. Starting from Namboodripad, who gave a speech on “Judiciary as an instrument of oppression” and was booked for contempt, to erstwhile CPI(M) MLA, V. Jayarajan who also attracted contempt in 2015, for calling the judges ‘idiots’.
In this case also, the meeting between Left Leader D. Raja and Justice Jasti Chelameswar on the day of the press conference, reeks of impropriety. It seems, that the Left has been looking to exploit an internal problem of the Indian Supreme Court, to its advantage.
Such attitude of the Left, probably stems from the ideological hate for the democratic system of governance and the rule of law it envisages.
Compiled by Deeksha Bhardwaj