Rajya Sabha nails Sen; motion in Lok Sabha on Aug 24
189 Upper House MPs uphold move to impeach judge
The spirited and eloquent defence of Justice Soumitra Sen of the Calcutta High Court notwithstanding, the Rajya Sabha on Thursday wrote history, paving the way for the Lok Sabha to decide the fate of the first judge of the higher judiciary in independent India who faces the ignominy of being impeached.
The Upper House, which, for the past two days was absorbed with Justice Sen’s impeachment hearing, passed the motion with an overwhelming number of its MPs, 189, voting “yes” and merely 17 (Bahujan Samaj Party members) voting “no” in a process that is the only constitutional means available to unseat a judge of the higher judiciary for misdemeanour.
After the strongly worded rebuke of the motion, which was moved by CPM MPâï¿½ï¿½Sitaram Yechury two days ago, the Upper House’s decision could be an indicator of what shape Justice Sen’s impeachment proceeding would take in the Lower House.
The impeachment motion would now come up in the Lok Sabha on August 24 and 25 for debate. Once both Houses pass the motion in the same session and recommend his removal as a judge of the country’s oldest high court, a presidential decree will be issued to force him from the Bench.
Although Justice Sen argued and articulated his case passionately for close to two hours on Wednesday, members of the Rajya Sabha, including Leader of Opposition Arun Jaitley, separating the chaff from the grains, tore into his defence.
Jaitley laid out the facts showing how Justice Sen tried to confuse and mislead even the Rajya Sabha by mixing up facts of two different cases involving the Steel Authority of India Ltd and the Shipping Corporation of India in one case and Calcutta Fans in another. Almost all major parties, including the ruling Congress, have supported the motion for Justice Sen’s impeachment.
The last time an impeachment motion was moved against a judge of the Supreme Court —Justice V Ramaswami —was in 1993 when Congress MPs abstained to defeat the process.
Quoting from the Rajya Sabha enquiry panel report and other documents, Jaitley and Yechury made it clear to the House how Justice Sen misappropriated money—Rs 24 lakh — of which he was the custodian as a court-appointed receiver when he was a lawyer in the Calcutta High Court.
Justice Sen has been held guilty of misappropriating sale proceeds of Rs 24 lakh in a case in 1984 when he was appointed receiver by the high court. He was later directed to deposit Rs 52 lakh by the court, but he allegedly illegally took out Rs 25 lakh from another account and invested it elsewhere.
“There is a case of proven misbehaviour against him. The judge must be removed from his office,” Jaitley said.
Yechury, who moved the motion, said while summing up the debate that: “A great conspiracy theory was woven yesterday that needs to be busted. The House has risen to the occasion.” Sharp riposte came from veteran jurist Ram Jethmalani who cautioned the members not to be swayed by Justice Sen's eloquence. “Eloquence is often the property of moral cheats and charlatans. Today the glib talkers are at work. This man does not deserve to be appointed,” he said.
Many members openly criticised the procedure to select the judges and wondered how Justice Sen was elevated in the first place without his antecedents verified. Almost all MPs demanded setting up a National Judicial Commission for the appointment of judges.
Suggesting revisiting the system of appointment of judges in the higher judiciary, Jaitley said: “The system of judges alone appointing judges must now change. India needs a National Judicial Commission to appoint judges.”