Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra’s impeachment has become the latest flash point between the BJP and Congress, with the Grand Old Party deciding to take the matter to the Supreme Court after Rajya Sabha chairman Venkaiah Naidu on Monday rejected the notice submitted by seven opposition parties for a motion to remove the CJI citing “absence of credible and verifiable information”.
Naidu is reported to have arrived at the decision after extensive consultations with legal luminaries, government law officers and former Rajya Sabha secretaries general. He said the allegations made by the opposition parties had a “serious tendency” of undermining the independence of judiciary, which is the basic tenet of the Constitution of India.
“In the absence of credible and verifiable information placed before me which gives an indication of ‘misbehaviour’ or ‘incapacity’, it would be an inappropriate and irresponsible act to accept statements which have little empirical basis. As heirs to an illustrious democratic tradition and custodians of the present and future of democratic polity, we should, in my view, collectively strengthen and not erode the foundations of the grand edifice bequeathed to us by the Constitution makers,” Naidu wrote in a 10-page order refusing to admit the notice of the motion.
The five allegations of “misbehaviour” mentioned in the impeachment notice, which was submitted to the Rajya Sabha chairman on April 20 by legislators from Congress, SP, BSP, NCP, CPI(M) and bearing signatures of 64 MPs, include a “conspiracy to pay illegal gratification” in the Prasad Education Trust case and the denial of permission to proceed against a retired high court judge in the same matter.
Addressing a press conference soon after Naidu quashed the impeachment notice, Congress leader Kapil Sibal said the party would move the Supreme Court to challenge the “unprecedented, illegal, ill-advised and hasty order” that had “shattered” the confidence of people and “jeopardised” the legal system.
Wondering what was the hurry in rejecting the notice that had signatures of 64 MPs, Sibal pointed out that “never before in India’s history” had a motion been dismissed at the preliminary stage. “It is illegal, because the chairman has passed an order which is required to be passed after a full-fledged inquiry,” Sibal said, adding that the Rajya Sabha chairman had to only ascertain whether the motion was in order.
AICC media-in-charge Randeep Singh Surjewala also criticised the decision and said it was a fight between forces “rejecting democracy” and voices “rescuing democracy”. In a tweet, Congress spokesperson and lawyer Abhishek Manu Singhvi said Naidu “expectedly” rejected the impeachment motion and that too within a day of his return to Delhi. Calling Naidu’s order an “anticipated shocker”, another party leader Vivek Tankha said, “It decided the admission of motion on merits without the 2nd stage inquiry. Merits a challenge before SC. Will force greater transparency and public interest reform.”
The counter-charge against the Congress was led by BJP spokesperson Meenakshi Lekhi, who said the party was trying to “intimidate the judiciary” after losing votes and support of the people. This came after Finance Minister Arun Jaitley on Friday called the notice a “revenge petition” following the Supreme Court rejecting a plea for a probe into the death of judge B H Loya, who was hearing the Sohrabuddin Sheikh fake ancounter case involving BJP chief Amit Shah.
The BJP president, in a Facebook post, said Congress’ move to impeach CJI was part of a trend to demonise and weaken every institution that sought to maintain its individual identity. BJP Rajya Sabha member Subramanian Swamy opined that Naidu should have rejected the notice on Day 1 itself as it was made public, which is against parliamentary rules. “The vice president should have rejected it (impeachment notice) the day it was filed because the content of the notice was made public,” Swamy said.
During the course of the day, many opposition leaders slammed the Rajya Sabha chairman’s decision, questioning the steadfastness with which the motion was dismissed. CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury said the impeachment notice was rejected with a “certain degree of non-application of mind”, while Yashwant Sinha, who sevred ties with the BJP last week, expressed concern over what he called the government’s approach to control the Supreme Court, the Election Commission and gagging of the press. Alleging that proper procedure was not followed by Naidu, Yechury said the motion should have been referred to a three-member committee, which should include a Supreme Court judge, a High Court chief justice and a jurist.
Meanwhile, the legal fraternity appeared to be divided over Naidu rejecting the CJI impeachment notice. Eminent jurist and former Attorney General of India Soli Sorabjee said Naidu had “rightly applied his mind” and claimed that the oppostion’s decision to petition the SC would fail too. “I don’t see chances of the writ petition (challenging the V-P’s decision) succeeding,” he said. Senior jurist Fali S Nariman too seconded Sorabjee and said the issues raised in the impeachment notice were not of “sufficient gravity and rightly rejected”.
Activist lawyer Prashant Bhushan, who has been leading the protest against the CJI and had accused him of conflict of interest in the Lucknow medical college admission case, said the decision was “unconstitutional” and “political” to protect the CJI. However, Bar Council of India chairman, Manan Kumar Mishra, said it was the “most perfect” decision that had made all “sensitive people” in the country happy.
Bhushan further went on to allege that Naidu’s decision had the government’s imprint and called it a “political ploy”. “The RS chairman only has to see if the notice was signed by requisite number of people and whether these charges amount to misbehavior or not. He has no business to go into the merits of the charges. This has clearly been done at the behest of the government. It is a political decision to protect the CJI,” Bhushan said.
(With PTI inputs)