A massive war of words erupted today over a decision by Rajya Sabha Chairman and Vice President Venkaiah Naidu to reject the impeachment notice against Chief Justice Dipak Misra moved by Congress-led opposition parties. While eminent jurists, lawyers and the ruling BJP welcomed the order, the Congress appeared in no mood to relent and said that it will move Supreme Court against the VP’s rejection of its motion. The ruling by the Chairman comes immediately after the Supreme Court met for the day in the morning, apparently enabling the CJI to take up the work.
However, what raised many eyebrows was the fact that the court proceedings started 15 minutes late today. Within minutes, officials started speculating that the CJI and other judges had met separately to discuss the impeachment notice. The CJI who arrives in his courtroom at 10:30 daily, reached 15 minutes late. Addressing a rally in the national capital a couple hours later, Congress president Rahul Gandhi slammed the Narendra Modi government of muzzling the voice of the judiciary.
The impeachment motion, which had the requisite number of signatures, was handed over to Venkaiah Naidu by a delegation of seven parties on Friday. While the opposition parties made the charges against the CJI public, it also invited criticism from several quarters for doing so, something that became one of the grounds cited in Naidu’s order rejecting the move to oust Dipak Misra. Besides, the Congress too came across as a divided house. Three former Law ministers under the UPA rule gave a thumbs down to the decision. Ashwani Kumar went on to term the move to move an impeachment motion againsgt the CJI as ill-advised.
Here are the top developments in the CJI DIpak Misra impeachment motion so far:
1. The Congress and six other political parties had last Friday moved an impeachment notice against Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra. The notice was submitted to Vice President Venkaiah Naidu. The initiation of an impeachment motion requires the signatures of at least 50 MPs in the Rajya Sabha and 100 MPs in the Lok Sabha to be given to the presiding officer. In their impeachment notice, the opposition parties had accused the CJI of corruption, misusing his authority and failing to protect the independence of the judiciary. The Congress, however, faced severe criticism after it emerged that former PM Manmohan Singh, former Union minister P Chidambaram didn’t sign the notice. Former law minister Salman Khurshid, Ashwani Kumar, Veerappa Moily had also expressed reservations on the party’s move. Several Congress leaders even argued that Vice President Venkaiah Naidu, who is also the Chairman of Rajya Sabha, has no jurisdiction to reject the notice and he can only decide on the procedure.
2. VP Venkaiah Naidu, who was in Telagnaga, cut short his visit and returned to the national capital on Sunday. Taking the seriousness of the matter into account, he held a wide range of consultations with experts. He met Attorney General KK Venugopal, former secretary general of Rajya Sabha VK Agnihotri, former secretary general of Lok Sabha Subhash Kashyap among others. Today morning, he signed an order stating that he ‘refuses to admit the motion’.
The Rajya Sabha Chairman said that there was no proof available to back the five allegations levelled against the CJI. Besides, MPs were unsure of their own case. He also said that MPs themselves indicate a mere suspicion, a conjecture or an assumption. In his order, Naidu said that he has applied his mind to each the charges made by the opposition in the notice. “I am of the clear opinion that all facts, as stated in the motion, read with the context of the annexed documents, do not make a case under Article 124(4) of the Constitution which can lead any reasonable mind to conclude that the Chief Justice of India on these facts can be ever held guilty of misbehaviour,” his order reads.
3. Well-known jurist Soli Sorabjee hailed the Vice President’s decision. He said that Naidu has rightly applied his mind. He said that the VP took this decision after consulting experts. He said that Naidu had gone into the matter and found no merit in it and no group for impeachment. He also noted that the VP took the decision with delay. On opposition moving the Supreme Court against the rejection, he said that they have no chance to succeed. “I don’t see chances of the writ petition succeeding,” he said.
4. Another eminent jurist Fali Nariman also welcomed the rejection decision. He said that the impeachment notice was not of ‘sufficient gravity and rightly rejected’. He also noted that the Rajya Sabha Chairman was the only statutory authority to take the decision on the opposition’s move. The jurist pointed out faults in the impeachment notice. He said that notice has to have ‘something that is far more important than just saying he did not do this or that’.
On whether an enquiry committee should be formed to decide the gravity of the charges against the CJI, he said that the CJI is retiring in October later this year and that it is most likely that the matter will come up then. “I can understand if there are 4-5 years remaining for him in office then you can argue. It doesn’t make sense to do it now,” he said. Earlier, he told The Sunday Express that the move by the opposition parties will diminish the faith of public in the judiciary. Terming the development a ‘horribly black day in the history of the SC’, he said that the impeachment would also pave the path for the ruling party to move against a judge if it doesn’t like a particular judgement.
5. Soon after the VP’s rejection, several Congress leaders reacted very sharply stating that the VP has no power to decide on the merits of the motion. Congress leader and senior lawyer Abhishek Manu Singhvi said that the rejection was expected. Another Congress leader PL Punia said that the party will talk to legal experts and then decide what next. Sibal said that the Congress and other parties will move the Supreme Court contesting the VP’s order. If parties move the Supreme Court, their plea is unlikely to be mentioned by the courts of the CJI’s or any of the four senior-most judges who had in January addressed the media questioning the CJI’s style of functioning. Congress chief spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala said that the Rajya Sabha Chairman has no mandate to decide on the merits of the motion. He said that the Constitutional process of impeachment is set in motion with 50 (Rajya Sabha) MP’s giving the motion.
Within hours of 64 MP’s submitting the impeachment motion, Leader of Rajya Sabha(FM) had expressed naked prejudice by calling it a ‘revenge petition’ virtually dictating the verdict to Rajya Sabha Chairman on that day.
Has ‘Revenge Petition’ now become ‘Rescue Order’?
— Randeep Singh Surjewala (@rssurjewala) April 23, 2018
RS Chairman can’t decide on merits in absence of quasi judicial or administrative power (M.Krishna Swami’s case).
If all charges were to be proved before inquiry as RS Chairman suggests, Constitution & Judges (Inquiry) Act will have no relevance.
Don’t muzzle Constitution
— Randeep Singh Surjewala (@rssurjewala) April 23, 2018
6. Addressing the media later separately, Congress leader Kapil Sibal said that the party will contest the Vice President’s decision in the Supreme Court. He said that the decision was taken by him a haste and termed the move ‘illegal’. He said that it is their privilege to move the motion and the Rajya Sabha chairman can’t boot this privilege. Sibal argued that as per the law, the Chairman must consult an eminent jurist, a HC judge and the CJI. He noted that in this case, he can’t consult the CJI, thus he can contact the remaining judges if the Collegium.
7. Kapil Sibal said that the move by the Rajya Sabha Chairman is unprecedented, ill-advised and hasty. He mentioned that the order was passed without a full-fledged enquiry and shattered the confidence of the people. “Naidu’s order jeopardised the country’s legal system,” he said. The former Union minister said that the government was not keen to see a probe into the case. He stressed that “never before in India’s history” had a motion moved by MPs been dismissed at the preliminary stage.
8. The Bharatiya Janata Party hit back at the Congress saying it has no faith in the judiciary and the country’s institutions. Addressing the media in the national capital, party spokesperson Sambit Patra said that the Congress party points finger at the Supreme Court when the order is not according to their wish. He said that that it is time to impeach the Congress party and its nefarious designs. Patra said that the impeachment process against the Congress party has begun. Patra termed Congress president Rahul Gandhi “a failed politician” and added that he cannot convince the people of the country about his politics, that is why he has stooped to undermining the institutions of the country in desperation.
Congress party and its leaders don’t trust the Army, the Chief Justice of India, the Supreme Court of the country, the Election Commission, EVM machines, RBI, PMO and even the President of India. They don’t trust any constitutional institution in the country : Dr. @sambitswaraj pic.twitter.com/r4uczLGSsU
— BJP (@BJP4India) April 23, 2018
9. BJP national president Amit Shah attacked the Congress party, saying if there is one political party that has damaged the Constitution, it is the opposition party. Shah made a mention of the Congress’ impeachment move and said it is part of a trend to demonise and weaken every institution. He also cited the Congress’ attack on the CAG, Election Commission, the Army and the Supreme Court at different points of time and its imposition of the Emergency in 1975.
Our institutions which are an outcome of our Constitution today need to be saved from the onslaught of the Congress Party. The Congress Party has spared no institution and is attacking the EC, Supreme Court, Army for petty political gains.
— Amit Shah (@AmitShah) April 23, 2018
10. Firebrand BJP leader Sibramanian Swamy too blasted the Congress party. He said that the party has committed suicide. He said that the Vice president should have rejected the impeachment notice the day it was submitted. Senior advocate Harin Raval, however, refused to comment on the issue. Raval had served as an additional solicitor general during the UPA regime.