Naidu Rejects Plea to Impeach CJI

Vice-President M Venkaiah Naidu rejected the impeachment notice signed by 71 opposition MPs of the Upper House, seven of whom retired last month, against Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra, citing absence of any “proved misbehaviour” or “incapacity” on the part of the senior judge. He ruled in a 10-page order that the grounds were insufficient to admit the petition.

Naidu, who cut short his visit to Andhra Pradesh, decided to give an early order after petitioners went public demanding that Justice Misra recuse himself from the court. A petition seeking his recusal from administrative duties was also lined up. But the vice-president, in his capacity as Rajya Sabha chairperson, put out his order Monday morning before the apex court could commence its work for the day.

As a result, the efforts by the opposition parties, including Congress, SP, BSP and the Left parties, targeting the CJI turned infructuous.

The Congress cried foul, saying the RS chairperson is not supposed to act in a “quasi-judicial capacity” and that it would approach the Supreme Court against Naidu’s order. Congress president Rahul Gandhi used the moment to announce a ‘Save the Constitution’ campaign.

Naidu held consultations with Constitutional experts, legal luminaries and senior Parliament officials before taking a decision. Sources said those consulted include former Lok Sabha secretary general Subhash Kashyap, attorney-general KK Venugopal, former Supreme Court judge B Sudershan Reddy, former A-G and till recently Rajya Sabha member K Parasaran and former Rajya Sabha solicitorgeneral VK Agnihotri.

As per Article 124(4) of the Constitution, a Supreme Court judge can be impeached only if there is a case of “proved misbehaviour” or “incapacity” on his part. The notice submitted by the opposition MPs mentions five cases and also levels the charge that the CJI acted arbitrarily in allocating cases to brother judges as “master of roster”.

The vice-president noted in his order that the opposition MPs are “unsure of their own case”.

In the Prasad Education Trust case, the MPs said Justice Misra “may have been involved in a conspiracy of paying illegal gratification” and that the CJI “too was likely” to fall within the scope of investigation. The notice further says the CJI “appears to have anti-dated an administrative order”.

The phrases used by the MPs, Naidu notes, “themselves indicate a mere suspicion, a conjecture or an assumption” and this does not “constitute proof without reasonable doubt” against the CJI as required by the Constitution for admitting an impeachment motion.

The order also states that on the issue of CJI being the master of roster, he is first among equals and has the prerogative to constitute benches. It also says that a two-judge or three-judge bench cannot allocate cases to themselves or constitute benches.

“The allegations emerging from the present case have a serious tendency of undermining the independence of judiciary which is the basic tenet of the Constitution of India. Considering the totality of facts, I am of the firm opinion that it is neither legal nor desirable or proper to admit the Notice of Motion on any one of these grounds,” Naidu said.

In the order, the vice-president has justified his swift action while underlining that the MPs have disregarded the established Parliamentary customs and conventions. Citing the Handbook for members of Rajya Sabha, he said it prohibits publicity of any notice submitted to the Chair before it is admitted. The opposition members had held a press conference and shared the statements.

“This act of members of discussing the conduct of the CJI in the press is against propriety and parliamentary decorum as it denigrates the institution of CJI. I am also aware that there have been a spate of statements in the press that seem to vitiate the atmosphere. I thought I should, therefore, expedite my decision and end needless speculation,” Naidu said.

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