The move to impeach Chief Justice of India, Dipak Misra, is ill-timed and ill-motivated. It is ill-timed because it came soon after a three-member bench headed by the CJI rejected claims of foul play behind the death of Judge B H Loya in December 2014. The SC verdict, written by Judge D Y Chandrachud, was unanimous. The impeachment motion is ill-motivated because it seeks to send a signal to the highest court that failure to fall in line with the movers would result in intimidation and browbeating of judges. Remember, the impeachment proposal was bandied about by the Congress weeks ahead of the scheduled date for judgment in the Loya case.
Cleverly, a few days before the judgment, the Congress suggested that it had put the impeachment move on the back burner. The idea was to threaten the CJI that a failure to give a favourable order would result in the revival of the impeachment motion. Which is what the party did within hours of the SC rejecting the petitions in the Loya case. Led by the Congress, seven parties on Friday submitted a notice of impeachment against CJI Misra to the Vice-President and Rajya Sabha Chairman Venkaiah Naidu. As against the minimum stipulated signatures of fifty members for the notice to be considered valid for consideration, it had 64 signatures from seven different groups. (In the Lok Sabha the minimum signatures required for such a notice is 100.) The case against the CJI is frivolous.
He is alleged to have misused his position to help a litigant, he is alleged to have made a false submission to get a plot of land when he was in Odisha, he allegedly backdated a judicial order and also that he failed to uphold the independence of the judiciary. It is hard to find substance in any of the charges. For instance, the movers seem to have put a great store by the word of a fixer in a medical college scam who is heard telling a client that he has connections with the highest in the judiciary. If fixers don’t sell their wares by boasting, who would hire them? Anyway, it seems that even the Congress party itself was not united, with senior lawyer-members declining to become a party to the move. It was the ever-boisterous Sibal who led the charge, but then he is known to allow his enthusiasm for such controversial things to outpace wisdom and restraint. (Remember zero-loss in 2-G scam?) Having self-appointed himself as the interface between the higher judiciary and the Congress Party, Sibal’s strategy to put the ruling party on the defensive by kicking up a campaign of falsehood and calumny exploiting the death of Judge Loya due to a heart attack came to a nought following the SC verdict. It was natural for him to feel personally aggrieved.
Meanwhile, the Rajya Sabha chairman is under no constitutional obligation to dispose of the impeachment notice in a hurry. No time is stipulated for him to accept or reject it. Maybe this state of suspension suits the Congress Party whose objective is not so much to impeach the CJI as to make him sufficiently mindful of its concerns in several key cases. In other words, the notice is a ploy to intimidate the court, telling its members to deliver justice with one eye fixed on the movers’ political interests in sensitive cases. And there are a couple of politically significant cases on the court’s roster, including the Aadhaar and the Mandir-Masjid cases. Regardless of the outcomes in these cases, it is hoped that the judges would have the requisite fortitude and the courage of conviction to not to be swayed by the fear of impeachment. The constitutional provision meant to be used in the rarest of rare cases for truly egregious conduct by a member of the higher judiciary is sadly being misused to threaten the judges. More than the impugned conduct of the CJI, the impeachment move underlines the desperation and degeneration of the Congress Party. Dissatisfaction and dejection at the judgment of the highest court ought not to have become the cause of impeachment. It reflects poorly on the leadership of the Congress Party. The fact that the TMC and the DMK have distanced themselves from the move, citing the lack of evidence of wrong-doing by the CJI, points to the certain failure of the motion should the RS chairman in the unlikely event of admitting it. In short, impeachment move is bound to be stillborn.