In an unprecedented move, 64 members of the Rajya Sabha belonging to seven parties led by the Congress on Friday submitted an impeachment motion for the removal of Chief Justice Dipak Misra on five grounds of "misbehaviour".
"We have met Rajya Sabha Chairman (M. Venkaiah Naidu) at his residence. We have moved a motion of impeachment for the removal of CJI under five listed grounds of misbehaviour. We have sought his removal under articles 217 read with article 124 (4) of the Constitution of India," Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha Ghulam Nabi Azad said.
The opposition move came a day after a Supreme Court bench headed by Chief Justice Misra rejected a PIL for a SIT probe into death of CBI court judge B.H. Loya, who was conducting a trial in the killing of gangster Sohrabuddin Sheikh in Gujarat in which now BJP President Amit Shah was an accused.
Asked about the timing of the motion, Azad said they had sought an appointment with Naidu a week ago but were told that he was away on a tour of the northeast. "If he was available then, we would have submitted the motion then," he said, dismissing any link with Thursday's verdict. "Anyhow the move was initiated a month ago and most signatures were more than 20 days old."
Also Read: Congress-led opposition moves impeachment motion against CJI Dipak Misra: What does it mean? What's next for Oppn as it lacks numbers?
Azad told the media that the motion was signed by 71 MPs from seven political parties. "We have told the Chairman that seven of the members have meanwhile retired and those signatures should be counted out."
Besides the Congress, those who signed the motion include members of the Samajwadi Party, BSP, CPI-M, CPI, NCP and IUML. Nominated member K.T.S. Tulsi also signed.
This is the first time an impeachment of a Chief Justice is being sought to be made in Parliament. The first case of impeachment of a Supreme Court judge, Justice V. Ramaswamy, was voted out in the Lok Sabha in the mid-90s. In two other cases, Justice P.D. Dinakaran of the Sikkim High Court and Justice Soumitra Sen of Calcutta High Court resigned before the impeachment motion could be voted. An impeachment motion has to be passed by both the Houses of Parliament with a special two-thirds majority.
The motion lists five charges of misbehaviour including an alleged conspiracy to pay illegal gratification in a case relating to an educational trust and the manner in which the CJI had dealt with the case by denying permission to the CBI to register an FIR against a judge of the Allahabad High Court when the CBI shared incriminating information.
The second related to the CJI having dealt with the trust case on the administrative side and the third related to alleged antedating of a matter "which is a very serious charge".
The fourth charge related to the CJI having acquired land when he was an advocate by allegedly giving a false affidavit. The allotment of the land was cancelled by an Additional District Magistrate in 1985. The CJI surrendered the land in 2012 after he was elevated to the Supreme Court.
The fifth charge related to alleged abuse of exercise of power by CJI in choosing to send sensitive matters to particular benches by misusing his authority as "Master of the Roster" with the likely intent to influence the outcome.
Also Read: Congress and its friends have started using impeachment as political tool, writes Arun Jaitley in his Facebook post
Asked why members of other opposition parties had not signed the motion, former Law Minister Kapil Sibal said the motion was not moved by political parties but by individual members.
"Don't make it political. There is no political motivation behind it. Some people's matters are on (before courts) and we do not want to embarrass them," he said.
Asked about reports that former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was not enthusiastic about the move and had not signed the motion, Sibal said: "They are absolutely false. They are not true. It is not a small issue. It is not instant coffee. It is about Constitution and a matter of institution. We did not want to involve him because he is a former Prime Minister."
He said the motion does not refer to the Supreme Court judgement in the Loya case. Impeachment can be done only on some actions of a judge amounting to misbehaviour and not for judgements which could be right or wrong.
"The impeachment is under constitution. The Loya judgement cannot come under articles of charge."
Asked whether there was a provision for rejecting the motion, Sibal said the charges they have levelled cannot be brushed aside. "We will decide at that time (of the decision). The Constitution has many paths."
He said the convention is that once an impeachment motion is moved the judge concerned has to refrain from discharging from judicial functions. "I hope he (CJI) will follow the convention."
Azad expressed the hope that the Chairman will take a positive action on the motion.
Explaining the finer points of the motion, Sibal said under the constitution any Supreme Court judge can be removed only on grounds of "proved misbehaviour" and not for corruption.
"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.
Asserting that judges must uphold the highest standards of integrity and must also be tested by the same standards, Sibal said since Dipak Misra was appointed as Chief Justice there have been situations when questions have been raised about the manner in which he has dealt with certain cases and taken certain administrative decisions.
A press statement circulated at the press conference said: "There have been internal rumblings resulting in open discord among judges in Supreme Court. This manifested itself when four senior most judges held a press conference on January 12 where they publicly expressed their disquiet about the manner in the CJI was exercising his powers.
"In this context, they circulated a letter to the press that they had addressed to the CJI in which they expressed concern about attempts to unsettle through a judicial order the Memorandum of Procedure which stood settled.
"They lamented that their efforts had failed and all four of them were convinced that unless the institution is preserved, democracy will not survive in this country."
The MPs said they had hoped that the anguish of the judges would be addressed by the Chief Justice. "More than three months have passed. Nothing has changed."
"When the judges of the Supreme Court themselves believe that the judiciary's independence is under threat and democracy in peril, alluding to the functioning of the office of the Chief Justice of India, should the nation stand still and do nothing? Should the people of this country allow the institution to diminish and not protect it both from within and without? That is what we were confronted with when contemplating action to ensure the independence of the institution that protects the rights of citizens and is the arbiter of the fate of the democracy we cherish.
"As representatives of the people, we are entitled to hold the CJI accountable just as we are accountable to the people. The majesty of law is more important than the majesty of any office.
"We hope that a thorough enquiry will be held so that truth alone triumphs. Democracy can thrive only when our judiciary stands firm, independent of the executive and discharges its constitutional functions honestly, fearlessly and with an even hand," the statement said.
Impeachment notice a 'revenge petition', says Arun Jaitley
The BJP lashed out at the Congress over its move to impeach the Chief Justice of India, dubbing it as an "intimidatory tactic" and revenge petition" to target the Supreme Court after its verdict in the judge B H Loya death case exposed a "conspiracy of falsehood".
In a hard-hitting Facebook post titled ‘Judge Loya Death Case — The One That Almost Created a Judicial Mutiny’, he also said Amit Shah, now BJP President, had “no role” in the Sohrabuddin case which was an alleged encounter executed by some central agencies through the State Police.
Accusing the Congress of using impeachment as a political tool after it and six other parties handed over to Rajya Sabha Chairman M Venkaiah Naidu a notice signed by 64 MPs for the impeachment of CJI, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, who is also a noted lawyer, said it is a dangerous event and serious threat to judicial independence.
While Jaitley posted his hard-hitting response to the opposition's move in Facebook, BJP fielded its spokesperson Meenakshi Lekhi, who is also a lawyer, to take on the Congress.
Besides the Loya case, Lekhi also made a mention of the Gujarat High Court's order today acquitting Maya Kodnani, a former minister in the BJP-ruled state, of criminal charges in the Naroda Patiya riots case of 2002, and said she was falsely implicated as part of a Congress' conspiracy to target leaders of the saffron party.
The BJP has said petitioners seeking probe in the Loya death case were acting at the behest of the Congress which, it has alleged, wanted to finish its president Amit Shah's political career.
Lekhi accused the main opposition party of trying to "demean, degrade and denigrate" the judiciary after its "conspiracies" in cases of Loya's death and riot charges against its Kodnani were exposed.
The impeachment move is an attempt to pressure the judiciary and send out the message that "either you do what we say and if you dare not do as we command then we will impeach you", Lekhi said.
In his seething Facebook post titled 'Judge Loya Death Case The One That Almost Created a Judicial Mutiny, Jaitley also said Shah had "no role" in the Sohrabuddin case which was an "alleged encounter executed by some central agencies" through the state police.
Sohrabuddin, an alleged gangster, was killed in a police encounter in Gujarat in 2005 when Narendra Modi, now prime minister, was the state's chief minister and Shah a minister in his government. The Congress was at the power in the Centre.
Observing that impeachment of a Supreme Court judge is to be done only in the case of either his "incapacity" or on "proven misconduct", Jaitley said the Congress party and its "friends" have started using impeachment as a "political tool".
Trivialising the use of impeachment power is dangerous, he said, adding that it is not difficult to collect 50 signatures of Rajya Sabha or hundred signatures of Lok Sabha members even on frivolous issues.
"My preliminary reaction to the impeachment motion filed today is clear. It is a revenge petition after the falsehood of the Congress Party has been established in the Justice Loya death case. It is an attempt to intimidate a Judge and send a message to other Judges, that if you don't agree with us, fifty MPs are enough for a revenge action," he said.
The senior BJP leader said yesterday's 114-page judgement in the Judge Loya death case "exposes every fact of the conspiracy to generate falsehood" as propaganda in the public and political space.
"Never ever so blatantly in the past have national political parties, a few retired judges and some senior lawyers so closely identified themselves with the generation of falsehood that they almost come out as conspirators," he said.
He said some public interest crusaders have graduated into "Institution Disruptors", adding that they pursue falsehoods with a "sense of deep commitment, indulge in intimidating advocacy, are shrill with their opposing colleagues, are rude and impolite with the judges".
He said they have found two strong allies -- a section of the media gives them publicity and the Congress which is too willing to identify with them.
On the other hand, he regretted that a "divided court" is finding itself helpless to respond to these intimidatory tactics.
Referring to the "controversial" press conference by four senior judges of the Supreme Court, Jaitley asked, "Is the impeachment motion filed today a direct result of the press conference? Does this impeachment set a precedent that political parties in India will use impeachment as an instrument to intimidate judges hearing controversial matters?"
Jaitley said that what has happened today is a "price" the Indian judiciary has to pay for misadventures of many.
"There is no better time for judicial statesmanship and political foresight," he said.
Jaitley also lashed out at the Caravan magazine stories and investigations in connection with death of Justice Loya a "textbook example of fake news".
Lekhi said Kodnani was victimised by the Congress and implicated in a "false case" when it was in power at the Centre.
The Supreme Court had yesterday dismissed a batch of petitions seeking probe to judge Loya's death, saying he died of natural cases.
Union minister Piyush Goyal also hit out at opposition parties, alleging depths of politicking had been reached and that judicial independence in the country was being attacked for political interests.
(With inputs from agencies)