The first attempt at pursuing an impeachment motion against a Supreme Court judge proved futile because the Lok Sabha Speaker rejected it. In four instances, the notices for moving impeachment motions against Supreme Court and High Court judges were followed up by forming inquiry committees.
On May 15, 1970, an impeachment notice against Supreme Court Justice J C Shah, signed by as many as 199 Lok Sabha MPs led by Samyukta Socialist Party leader S M Joshi, was submitted to Speaker G S Dhillon. The move came following a campaign by a former government servant, O P Gupta, charging Shah with dishonesty after the judge made certain remarks about him during a hearing. CJI Mohammad Hidayatullah reached out to Dhillon and convinced him that the issue was frivolous. Dhillon turned down the notice. Shah later became the Chief Justice of India, and after retirement headed the inquiry commission which went into the Emergency excesses.
In May 1993, Supreme Court Justice V Ramaswami became the first to face an impeachment motion. He got into trouble following media reports that he had incurred conspicuously lavish expenditure on his official residence during his tenure as Chief Justice of Punjab and Haryana High Court, Chandigarh. The SC Bar Association also passed a resolution calling for his impeachment. The BJP and Left parties came out with a notice for moving an impeachment motion in Lok Sabha. Speaker Rabi Ray accepted it in March 1991 and set up a committee comprising Supreme Court Justice P B Sawant, Bombay HC Chief Justice P D Desai and Justice O Chinnappa Reddy, a retired SC judge to probe the allegations. After the committee found substance in the allegations, the motion was taken up for discussion in Lok Sabha on May 10, 1993.
Congress leader Kapil Sibal, among those who addressed the media Friday on the impeachment of CJI Dipak Misra, was Justice Ramaswami’s lawyer. Of 401 members present in the House, only 196 voted in favour. No one voted against it. Since 205 MPs belonging to the Congress and some other parties had abstained, the motion fell through. The law requires the motion to be backed by not less than two-thirds of total members present and voting.
Ramaswami did not tender his resignation and retired a year later.
Justice Soumitra Sen of Calcutta High Court was faced with the removal process in Rajya Sabha on August 17, 2011. He was accused of appropriating Rs 32 lakh as a court-appointed receiver (as a lawyer) in a case between Steel Authority of India Limited and Shipping Corporation of India. A three-judge inquiry committee, set up in 2007, held the charges against Justice Sen. The CJI subsequently recommended his impeachment to the Prime Minister.
In 2009, 58 Rajya Sabha MPs moved a motion for his impeachment. Chairman Hamid Ansari set up a committee in February 2009 comprising SC judge B Sudershan Reddy, Punjab and Haryana HC Chief Justice Mukul Mudgal and jurist Fali S Nariman. The panel upheld the charge. A motion for his removal was discussed and passed by Rajya Sabha – 189 to 17 – on August 18, 2011. The Lok Sabha was scheduled to discuss the motion on September 5 and 6, 2011. Justice Sen put in his papers on September 1.
In August 2009, the Supreme Court collegium recommended Karnataka HC judge Paul Daniel Dinakaran Premkumar’s name for elevation to the apex court. But several eminent people from the legal fraternity raised allegation of corruption against him. The government returned the recommendation to the collegium in December 2009. He was shifted as Chief Justice of Sikkim HC.
Rajya Sabha Chairman Ansari admitted a motion for his removal on a petition by 76 MPs. In January 2010, he formed an inquiry panel of SC Justice Aftab Alam, Karnataka HC Chief Justice J S Khehar and senior advocate P P Rao. He resigned on July 29, 2011, but registered his lack of confidence in the committee. He claimed he had a “sneaking suspicion” that his “misfortune” was because of the circumstances of his birth – he came from a Scheduled Caste family.
Justice S K Gangele of Madhya Pradesh HC was the last to face with removal proceedings. A committee, set up by Ansari in April 2015 after admitting a motion supported by 58 MPs to look into charges of sexual harassment of a woman additional district judge posed in Gwalior, acquitted him last year. The complainant, who headed the Vishaka committee against sexual harassment, had put in her papers in 2014, maintaining that she had to resign to protect her “dignity, womanhood and self-esteem”.
Fifty-eight Rajya Sabha MPs moved an impeachment notice against Justice JB Pardiwala of Gujarat High Court for his “objectionable remarks on the issue of reservation.” The MPs were upset over Justice Pardiwala’s comments on reservation for SCs and STs while giving a ruling in a case against Patidar leader Hardik Patel. Hours after the members had submitted the notice to Hamid Ansari, the judge removed the objectionable words from his judgment.