Not CJI Misra, Judge Chelameswar needs to be impeached

The move to impeach Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra is motivated by sheer partisan politics. It is ill-advised and unwarranted. Though nothing will come of it, nonetheless it will further undermine the public standing of one constitutional institution which still enjoys a good deal of public trust and confidence. The principal movers of the motion are led by the Congress Party, but they lack a tenable case against the CJI. The charges are so thin, and even baseless, that they do not stand a moment’s scrutiny. Whether the CJI used his exclusive power to assign cases to particular judges or chose to hear some of them himself cannot be a reason for impeachment.

Only because his detractors, motivated by partisan political concerns, had zeroed in on a particular bench to hear a politically sensitive case, and which the CJI chose to hear himself, cannot justify even remotely become an impeachable charge. Indeed, by arguing that the CJI heard a particular case himself instead of assigning it to another bench of their liking, the movers only suggest that they had `fixed` the later bench. This kind of loose talk ought to have been avoided. Again, the charge that in a case involving a medical college the CJI was complicit in granting relief lacks substance.

The innuendoes based on the alleged taped conversations of a middleman trying to con the promoters of the Lucknow-based medical college by boasting of his high connections ought not to have been treated as gospel truth. If middlemen were to stop dropping big names in high places, they would starve. Also, the CJI did not have a personal stake if, as claimed, he changed the date on a particular order to bail out the Government. In fact, the latter charge gives away the game of the movers of the motion insofar as their entire focus is on using the judiciary to embarrass the Government while the CJI has been meticulous in ensuring that the higher judiciary does not become an instrument for political slugfest.

Had CJI Mishra gone along with certain members of the Bar whose pro-Congress leanings are well-known, there would have been no move to impeach him. In other words, the power of Parliament to impeach allegedly errant judges of the high court and the Supreme Court is being abused with the sole objective of intimidating the CJI into becoming a party to their anti-Government designs. Hopefully, CJI Misra has the strength of character and the resoluteness to defend his onerous duties as the head of the judiciary not to be cowed down by such blackmail. Unmindful of the impeachment move, he should stay firm on the course of judicial correctness so that the public image of the institution does not suffer.

Indeed, if anyone is guilty of dragging the higher judiciary into disrepute it is, beyond an iota’s doubt, the senior-most judge, J Chelameswar, who has been openly assailing the current and former CJIs through word of mouth and through letters most indiscreetly leaked to the media even before they reach the addressee. After a former CJI virtually proved that Judge Chelameswar was being economical with truth, he made him sign the minutes of the meetings of the SC collegiums within a few short minutes after these ended. But after Judge Chelameswar held a press conference earlier this year on the lawns of his official house along with three other judges — and on court’s time — he had crossed the proverbial red line and justifiably opened himself for impeachment. It is a pity that none of the MPs have considered impeaching Judge Chelameswar after his open rebellion against a number of CJIs. Even now it may not be too late for some conscientious MPs to initiate the move, otherwise any judge who is unable to realise his ambition to become CJI would undertake such underhand tactics, and thus, besmirch the image of the judiciary.

Meanwhile, the reported move by the Bar Council of India to ban lawyer-MPs, who are signatories to the impeachment motion, ought to be welcome. At the time of writing, it was not clear whether the proposed ban will apply only in cases before the judge facing impeachment or result in a blanket ban on the signatories practising in the court. In any case, it is time the BCI framed rules regarding the right of lawyer-MPs to practise since they enjoy pay and perquisites as members of Parliament and should be expected to perform their parliamentary functions with due responsibility and seriousness. They cannot have the best of both worlds, with some of the lawyer-MPs showing up in the House only to sign the attendance register and thus claim the sitting fees without actually attending the House.

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