Home > Judiciary > Rajya Sabha votes 189-17 to remove HC judge

Rajya Sabha votes 189-17 to remove HC judge

NEW DELHI: Justice Soumitra Sen of Calcutta High Court is set to become the first-ever judge to be removed after the Rajya Sabha on Thursday adopted an impeachment motion with over two-thirds majority, the only instance of its kind.

Although the motion has to be adopted by Lok Sabha, the outcome may not be different, considering the support of all major political parties for Sen’s removal from the Calcutta High Court. The timing of the debate: coming at a time when Parliament’s will and capacity to fight corruption has been questioned, also virtually ensures that Justice Sen will be the first judge to be removed.

In the Rajya Sabha, the motion was carried by 189 votes in support and 17 against — thus meeting the requirement that the vote should be supported by two-thirds of members present with the turnout in the House not less than half the total strength.

Support for Sen came from BSP which in a surprise last-minute move decided to break ranks from the rest. Members of Trinamool Congress absented themselves, in what was perhaps a move to align itself with any sympathy for Sen in Bengal.

Lok Saba will take debate the matter for two days from August 24.

This is the first time that a motion for removal of an HC judge has been successful in any House of Parliament. In 1993, the motion to remove Justice V Ramasami failed in Lok Sabha as the judge reached an understanding with the P V Narasimha Rao government that he would quit if he was spared the embarrassment of being removed.

Sen, who valiantly defended himself, has decided not to take the Ramasami route. The outgoing judge, who declared in Rajya Sabha on Wednesday that he was not a quitter, told TOI after the motion was passed that he would defend himself in Lok Sabha as well.

After a powerful presentation on Wednesday which he concluded by saying that he was fighting for his life and existence, Sen seemed to have almost carried the day before leader of opposition Arun Jaitley blasted holes in his defence. The judge was perhaps also handicapped by timing of the debate. With corruption having acquired an unprecedented resonance, MPs cutting across party lines were loath to leave any room for the perception of being soft on sleaze. “Apart from other things, he is also the victim of timing”, remarked a senior Cabinet minister, saying that many judges had got away with worse.

The political class’s resentment over “judicial overreach” formed another sub-text of the debate, with speakers using the debate to ask judiciary not to encroach on the domain of the legislature and the executive.

As a matter of fact, while moving the motion, CPM’s Sitaram Yechury had suggested that the impeachment motion was an opportunity for Rajya Sabha to signal its tough anti-corruption intent.

Sen skillfully latched on to the argument to say that should not be showcased for cleansing the judiciary. “Judge my case on the basis of facts,” he said.

Unfortunately for him, the House overwhelmingly felt that facts established his guilt.

The sympathy for Sen that was evident on Wednesday was missing on Thursday as the House resumed the debate on the impeachment motion. Picking up from where he had left on Wednesday evening, Jaitley argued that Sen’s case qualified for “proven misconduct” – the ground laid down under the Judges Inquiry Act for the removal of a judge.

With the exception of BSP’s Satish Mishra, all the speakers rebutted Sen’s defence: that the charge of misconduct dated to the period when he was not a judge; that he had done no misappropriation as alleged; that he was not heard; and that he was the victim of a conspiracy hatched by former Chief Justice of India K J Balakrishnan.

The cross-party sentiment favouring the impeachment was evident from the way Prime Minsiter Manmohan Singh sat through the proceedings on both days. The mistrust and rancour between the government and opposition was put on pause for two days. After the voting, Singh walked up to Yechury and thanked him for “upholding the original values of the republic”. He also endorsed Jaitley’s remark that judiciary could not be allowed to make policies.

The subterranean anger of the political class against the judiciary could be seen as speaker after speaker questioned the system of judges appointing judges and demanded the setting up of a National Judicial Commission.

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