SC dismisses Congress petition related to impeachment of Chief Justice
A five-judge bench, excluding the top five judges of the SC, has dismissed a petition by the Congress challenging Rajya Sabha (RS) Chairman Venkaiah Naidu's rejection of its impeachment motion against Chief Justice (CJI) Dipak Misra. Congress members insist Naidu's decision was "illegal, arbitrary and violative of Article 14," but BJP workers say the "well-reasoned" decision addresses all concerns in the impeachment notice.
Two months ago, Justices Jasti Chelameswar, Ranjan Gogoi, Kurian Joseph and Madan Lokur called a press conference and alleged the SC's freedom and integrity have been thrown into uncertainty. Among other allegations, they accused Misra of abusing his power to assign important cases to select judges. The Justice Loya death case was a key concern: the judges felt it wasn't being fairly heard.
After much discussion, Congress formally started collecting signatures for a motion for Misra's removal in March based on the judges' allegations. The motion accuses Misra of not acting on the complaints of the four judges, conspiring in the illegal licensing of a private medical college, acquiring land illegally when he was a lawyer, and damaging the credibility of the SC's institutional autonomy, among others.
Congress was backed by six parties in the motion. However, Naidu noted there is no concrete verifiable information indicating 'mibehavior' of the CJI. MPs themselves weren't sure of the charges, he observed, citing phrases like 'may have been', 'likely' and 'appears to be' in the motion. The allegations could seriously undermine the judiciary's independence; moreover, MPs disregarded convention by going to press, Naidu said.
Yesterday, the Congress moved the SC against the decision. Justices Chelameswar and SK Kaul, who first heard the matter, advised advocates Kapil Sibal and Prashant Bhushan, appearing for the petitioners, to take the matter to the CJI. But Sibal argued it would defeat the purpose if the petition, challenging powers of the Master of the Roster, was heard by the Master himself.
Sibal added the petition hadn't been numbered by the registry, at which Kaul asked him to mention it to the CJI. "I'm aware of the procedure but it can't be mentioned anywhere else. A person cannot be a judge in his own-case," Sibal insisted. "The Registrar can't take orders from CJI in this matter. He can't delegate Master of Roster powers to the Registrar."
Sibal also cited a November'17 SC order by Justice Chelameswar to list a PIL against Prasad Educational Trust, which was overturned a day later by a Misra-led bench, ruling CJI is the sole Master of Roster. This was contrary to the decades-old practice of the second seniormost SC judge hearing urgent matters in case of the CJI's unavailability, Sibal said.
The matter was eventually listed for hearing by a bench comprising Justices AK Sikri (sixth in seniority), SA Bobde, NV Ramana, Arun Mishra and AK Goel, who have now rejected it. Chelameswar, Gogoi, Lokur and Joseph, the four seniormost judges who addressed the January press conference, were left out. The petition was filed by Congress MPs Partap Singh Bajwa and Amee Harshadray Yajnik.