Opposition leaders have signed a petition to impeach Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra. If it happens, it will be the first time a motion to remove a sitting CJI is moved in Parliament.
ThePrint asks: Is CJI Dipak Misra caught in the political rivalry between the BJP and the opposition?
Whether he is impeached or not, Dipak Misra must be called to account
Alok Prasanna Kumar
Senior resident fellow, Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy
Irrespective of who has begun the impeachment proceedings against CJI Dipak Misra, it is necessary to see whether his conduct would amount to “misbehaviour” as the term is constitutionally understood. This is not a case of personal misconduct amounting to misbehaviour — as in the cases of P.D. Dinakaran and Soumitra Sen, who faced impeachment proceedings as high court judges. This is with reference to failure to carry out functions as the Chief Justice of India, which, according to me, has diminished the judiciary’s credibility. Two broad charges can be levelled at Misra: Losing the confidence of his fellow judges and failing to protect the judiciary’s interests in the matters of appointment.
The press conference of January 14 was a virtual no-confidence motion moved by the four judges of the Supreme Court. The grievances were not personal or related to the substance of the judicial orders he has passed. Rather, it was the manner in which he was apparently carrying out his institutional duties that had damaged the institution. Specific grievances were raised on the manner in which sensitive cases were being listed, as if to ensure a certain outcome. Nothing since has been done by the CJI to restore the faith of the general public or his fellow judges in him or the Supreme Court.
The second charge perhaps is more of a case of dereliction of duty. Having recommended names to the government for the appointment of judges, the CJI has been content to let the government hamper the judiciary’s functioning by refusing to process the recommendations. Such brazen defiance has been condoned, and even encouraged — Misra even prevented another bench of the Supreme Court from taking judicial notice of the government’s intransigence.
As the Chief Justice of India, Dipak Misra was entrusted with the responsibility to protect the interests of the judiciary as a whole. One can do a good job or a bad job of it, but to abdicate the responsibility entirely is a breach of the faith placed in a high constitutional functionary. Whether he is impeached or not, he must be called to account.
Unable to counter Modi, the opposition is dragging judiciary into the political domain
Advocate, Supreme Court
On earlier occasions, serious charges of corruption have been made against Supreme Court judges, as was seen in the affidavit former law minister Shanti Bhushan filed before the Supreme Court, but no impeachment motion was moved. Importantly, no judge has ever been successfully impeached in India.
It was the Congress government that appointed Dipak Misra as a high court judge and elevated him to the Supreme Court. How can it now question his capacity as a judge? According to the Constitution and Judges (Inquiry) Act, 1968, the other ground for impeachment can be misbehaviour. To support this argument, the proposed impeachment motion may mention the alleged arbitrary allocation of cases, and corruption charges in the medical college scam, as was highlighted by four senior judges of the SC.
The CJI is currently hearing important cases like Aadhaar and Ayodhya, decisions that may benefit the BJP. It looks like the opposition is finding itself unable to counter the political force of the Modi government and thus dragging the judiciary into the political domain.
It is correct that the judiciary is not clean and the collegium system requires perestroika- and glasnost-like changes. If the opposition is at all serious, it should initiate impeachment proceedings against Justice S.N. Shukla of the Allahabad High Court, whose judicial work has been withdrawn after an inquiry committee’s report on the medical college scam. What we need is a system for independent appointments and effective grievance redressal in the judiciary. Such an impeachment motion may endanger the credibility of the judicial system, which is the last glimmer for the Indian democracy.
It is impossible for the Congress to attain any measure of success with this misadventure
RSS Member and advocate
I feel that the proposition could have been framed more accurately. In my mind, it should be thus: Has the Congress tied itself in knots in its attempt to pull the wool over the eyes of Indians when it comes to its stand on the Ram Janmabhoomi issue?
The party cannot openly say that it does not want the Ram Temple to be built in Ayodhya in pursuance of a Supreme Court verdict as it feels, correctly or incorrectly, that it would lead to a Hindu consolidation in the BJP’s favour. Simultaneously, it also needs to send a signal to its Muslim vote bank. Hence, it is trying to discredit the institution of the Chief Justice of India, who rightly wishes to finish the hearing of the case before he retires in October.
The last attempt made through four senior judges (all of whom had family or other connections to the Congress) failed miserably when the CJI took on all the PIL matters himself, as is the practice in chartered high courts throughout the country. This attempt is likely to fail too. If the Congress does get the requisite members to petition the Speaker (LS) or the Chairman (RS) to consider a motion for his removal, the presiding officer of the House in question has to approve it first.
Then a committee is constituted, before which the motion is debated as before a court of law. Finally, a special majority in both Houses, irrespective of where the motion originates, is required to pass the same. In this matter, it is well nigh impossible for the Congress to attain any measure of success with this misadventure. It shall further estrange the party from potential Hindu voters, while, at the same time, Muslims are likely to be disappointed that it did not do enough.
There is no proven misbehaviour in Dipak Misra’s actions so far
Special Correspondent, ThePrint
In recent months, there have been many conversations in political circles about bringing an impeachment motion against the CJI.
The opposition claims CJI Dipak Misra’s actions have damaged the credibility of his office. But what really damages its credibility is the opposition’s speculation about impeachment. No party has declared its position or bothered to clear the air. This is perhaps because parties are evaluating if this move guarantees political mileage.
It is indeed true that the CJI not responding to the public statements and private appeals made by four senior judges has made many question his judicial integrity. Before that, setting up benches instantaneously as a show of strength and to overrule a judicial order brought his probity under question.
Unfortunately, proven misbehaviour does not come out clearly in Misra’s actions so far.
If you cannot put it on a placard, is it really a protest? The Congress’ heavyweight lawyers can carefully draft a motion that will fly, but, without the numbers to impeach, it will be a huge embarrassment to the opposition and the judiciary alike.
The Left, with almost zero political capital (just two MPs), needs to garner other parties’ support to even discuss the impeachment motion. For the Congress, making a bad move on this count will be disastrous, bringing back the ghosts of Indira Gandhi’s historic miscalculations on the judiciary.
Of course, there is a sense of anxiety, not just for the political class but also among ordinary citizens, that the top court does not have its house in order, especially when senior judges themselves have said so. It is not wise for the government to interfere. But a debate in the house, even if it is just an acknowledgement of the rift in court, will be a good start to ease that anxiety.
Compiled by Deeksha Bhardwaj, Journalist at ThePrint.