New Delhi, April 20
A Congress-led grouping of Opposition leaders on Friday met Rajya Sabha Chairman M Venkaiah Naidu and submitted an impeachment motion against Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra, seeking his removal on five counts of “misbehaviour”, including alleged acceptance of illegal gratification in a certain court matter.The Opposition submitted a motion signed by 71 MPs, seven of whom have since retired. Among the valid signatories were 64 MPs from seven parties — Congress, NCP, CPI, CPM, SP, BSP and IUML. Divisions on the desirability of the motion were evident with the motion not bearing the signatures of Congress veterans former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, former Finance Minister P Chidambaram, nor of MPs of major Opposition outfits TMC, DMK and AIADMK.The Congress, however, denied divisions with senior leader Kapil Sibal, saying: “There is consensus on the issue. The motion is to be signed by MPs and not parties. All Opposition parties are with us.”To a query on intra-Congress apprehensions on the matter, Sibal said there were “none”. As the Congress explained the motion’s merits, Sibal said it had been moved “with a heavy heart”.“We wish this day had never come but in the framework of our constitutional fabric, the judiciary holds a very special place. Its independence is a constitutional requirement and it must guard itself from external interference… Since the CJI has been appointed, questions have been raised about the manner in which he dealt with cases. This manifested when four senior-most judges held a press conference to publicly express disquiet…” Sibal said.He cited five grounds of “misbehaviour” on which the impeachment motion had been submitted under Article 270 of the Constitution, read with Article 124 (4), and said the “CJI had misused his position and this amounts to misbehaviour as the Constitution does not speak of corruption”.He said in the event of acceptance of the motion by Naidu, the CJI should refrain from delivering judgments as per past convention.The first ground of misbehaviour by the CJI Sibal cited was “a conspiracy to pay illegal gratification to him by certain persons in the Prasad Education Trust case”.“Several recorded conversations between middlemen and a retired judge of the Odisha High Court have been attached in the articles of charge and contain innuendos referring to the CJI,” Sibal said.Secondly, he said, the CJI later denied permission to the CBI to book “Justice Narayan Shukla against whom the CBI had incriminating evidence to proceed in the same case”. Thirdly, Sibal alleged the CJI interfered with an age-old SC convention to take a certain case away from a certain Bench.“The convention is for the first court to hear a case if the CJI is on a Constitution Bench and engaged in hearing. The Prasad Education Trust matter came before a Bench headed by Justice Chaleshwar on November 9, 2017 and he said he would hear it later that day. Meanwhile, a registry note dated November 6, 2017 cited that the case will be heard by the CJI himself. This charge of an antedated note is very serious,” Sibal said.He also alleged that the CJI as an advocate had acquired land in 1985 by submitting a false affidavit and despite the ADM’s orders to surrender it, he allegedly obliged only in 2012 after being elevated as an SC judge. Lastly, the Opposition alleged that the CJI “misbehaved” by referring sensitive matters to Benches in a way as to “influence their outcome”. Asked if the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid issue was among these cases, Sibal said “no”, adding, “We cannot discuss these cases here.”Earlier, Sibal also referred to the SC judges’ January 12, 2018 press conference to say “one concern of the judges was attempts to unsettle through a judicial order the Memorandum of Procedure which had been settled already… The CJI has not asserted independence of the judiciary in the face of external influences. When judges themselves believe so, should we as a nation stand still and do nothing? That was the question confronting us.”Sibal, who accompanied Congress leaders Ghulam Nabi Azad, CPI’s D Raja and NCP’s Vandana Chavan to the Vice-President’s residence to submit the motion, also added that the choice for Congress was not easy because “either way repercussions were serious”.The Congress also said the motion had nothing to do with the CJI’s orders on Thursday dismissing a probe into Judge BH Loya’s death with Azad mentioning at the start, “We had sought an appointment with the RS Chairman a week back.”Even former Law Minister Ashwani Kumar dissented on the issue of an impeachment motion, saying “it could possibly rebound politically, considering even some of the judges who participated in the press conference themselves said impeachment was not the only way out and there could be other remedies”.