The opposition parties’ move to submit a notice to Rajya Sabha Chairman and Vice-President Venkaiah Naidu – requesting impeachment proceedings against Chief Justice of India (CJI) Dipak Misra – is just the beginning of the process.
If the Chairman accepts the notice, an inquiry by a committee of three judges consisting of one sitting Supreme Court judge, one sitting Chief Justice of a high court and one jurist will be initiated on the charges.
After they submit the report, the matter goes for voting in Parliament. Suppose the inquiry committee reports that yes, the charges are made out – then how will any political party be able to support the CJI? If they support the Chief Justice, then they will be seen as supporting corruption and trying to destroy the judiciary.
However, that issue will arise only after the inquiry has been completed.
Notably, the inquiry committee has to be appointed by the Vice-President in consultation with the Chief Justice. But in this case they will have to consult with the number two judge, that is, Justice J Chelameswar.
The question whether the opposition parties have enough numbers to push through the motion in Parliament will become relevant only after the panel’s report comes out. The governing Bharatiya Janata Party has been defending the Chief Justice. But suppose the inquiry committee indicts the CJI – will the BJP be able to defend him? In that case, will it not portray the image that the BJP is using the CJI, by blackmailing him, to get its work done through him in court?
It is important to note that the charges against the CJI are not only very serious in nature but there is already credible evidence against him. For instance, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has already collected a lot of the evidence pertaining to the first charge of bribery in the Prasad Medical College case. If an inquiry committee is formed, the CBI will have to submit this evidence to it, and it will reveal whether the charge is made out or not.
The second charge is regarding the CJI’s abuse of judicial and administrative power in order to hear the medical college case, thereafter fixing benches for it. CJI Misra had a personal interest in the matter and hence he should have recused himself.
The third charge is about backdating a memo which was made or created to pre-empt the number two judge from fixing the bench in this medical college case.
The fourth charge is about a false affidavit that the CJI gave to procure land when he was in Odisha.
Importantly, the fifth charge is about abuse of his power as the master of the roster.
Due to the action of the Chief Justice, the judiciary itself has come in danger and as a result of that, democracy is in danger. The four senior SC justices – J Chelameswar, Ranjan Gogoi, Madan B Lokur and Kurian Joseph – had said the Chief Justice is abusing his power as master of the roster and fixing sensitive cases before convenient benches. This action of the CJI is putting democracy in danger.
I believe that CBI has enough evidence against the Chief Justice. Right now, it is just sitting on that evidence, neither proceeding nor doing anything else. Obviously, the evidence can be used by the government to blackmail the Chief Justice and this can certainly endanger democracy.
The opposition’s decision to initiate an impeachment motion against the CJI is an unprecedented action. Not a single CJI has ever faced such a situation. This is a critical moment also because the process has been initiated against a Chief Justice who is virtually controlling the apex court by abusing his power as master of the roster.
Despite the timing of the impeachment motion against the CJI – it comes a day after the verdict in the Loya case – it has nothing to do with the verdict. The process of collecting signatures for the motion has been going for the last three weeks and was completed more than a week ago. The parties had sought time from the Chairman – and were given time only for today.
Speaking about the possibility of the CJI getting indicted by the committee – there is already strong evidence against him. The government can hardly defend him as a lot of evidence has already (been put up) in the impeachment motion. The remaining evidence is with the CBI.
Today, the country is going through a judicial crisis. And this has been going on for some time with the abuse of power by the Chief Justice, which is what the four senior-most judges had said in their press conference in January. Now, an impeachment motion is the only way to deal with it