Thursday, August 18, 2011

Rajya Sabha approves Soumitra Sen’s impeachment

Justice Soumitra Sen of the Calcutta High Court could be the first judge in the country to be removed, with the Rajya Sabha  overwhelmingly approving impeachment motion against him.
As many as 189 members voted in favour of the motion to impeach the 53-year-old Judge after a two-day debate on the issue, in the second case in Parliament’s history and the first-ever in the Upper House. Seventeen members voted against.
All parties except BSP were of the view that Justice Sen was guilty of misappropriating Rs. 33.23 lakh which were under his custody as a court-appointed receiver in the capacity as a lawyer and misrepresenting facts before a Calcutta court.
Impeachment proceedings followed motions moved by Sitaram Yechury (CPI-M) and Leader of the Opposition Arun Jaitley after an Inquiry Committee, appointed by the Rajya Sabha Chairman and headed by Supreme Court Judge B. Sudershan Reddy, held Justice Sen guilty of misbehaviour.
Justice Sen on August 17 appeared before the House and strongly defended himself arguing that he was a “victim” and appealed to members to vote by conscience. The House, however, rejected his defence.
With the Rajya Sabha giving its nod for removal of Justice Sen, the impeachment motion will now be taken up by the Lok Sabha  with the Lower House expected to deliberate on it on August 24-25.
As per the Constitution, a sitting judge of High Court or Supreme Court can be removed only by impeachment by both Houses of Parliament with majority present and two-third of them voting in favour.
While putting motions to vote, Chairman Hamid Ansari said this required a special majority.
The case in which Justice Sen was held guilty dates back to 1983 relating to a dispute between SAIL and Shipping Corporation.
Justice Sen was appointed receiver by the Calcutta High Court when he was a lawyer. The charges included that he diverted some money from the receiver’s account to his personal investment in a private company, which went bust.
Even after his elevation as a Judge in 2003, he did not disclose the full details to the court.
Although in his defence, he said that the money was paid back to the workers, the Judges Inquiry Committees as also several members in the Rajya Sabha, including noted lawyers, said it does not exonerate him of his guilt. 

Among those who participated in the debate were Leader of the Opposition Arun Jaitley, E M Sudarsana Natchiappan (Cong), Satish Chandra Mishra (BSP), N K Singh (JD-U), D Raja (CPI) and noted lawyer Ram Jethmalani.
Replying to the debate, which started on August 17, Mr. Yechury said Justice Sen had given “false and misleading” statements to the House despite presence of authenticated documents.
He said the motions do not reflect on the integrity of the entire judiciary but they only strengthen the judiciary, which is “besmirched” by misconduct of one judge.
Mr. Yechury rejected Justice Sen’s contention that he had no money for himself and said even diversion of funds amounted to misappropriation under Section 403 of Indian Penal Code.
He alleged that Justice Sen was guilty of “omission and commission”.
Mr. Yechury noted that the motion reflected the “general mood” in the country against corruption and in the midst of all, Parliament has risen to the occasion to establish its supremacy that it can resolve such issues.
He also appreciated the “rich debate” that had taken place on the issue, during which Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was mostly present.
Opposing the motions, Satish Chandra Mishra (BSP) said the charges against Justice Sen have not been “proven” and there has been “no misappropriation” of funds by him and hence he should not be removed.
Continuing his speech which remained inconclusive on Wednesday, Mr. Jaitley said Justice Sen had “misled” the House about his case by hiding the “truth“.
Inquiries by committees set up by the Chief Justice of India and the Rajya Chairman have brought to light the fact that there were series of withdrawals from bank accounts through cheques and cash by Justice Sen both as a lawyer and as a judge, the BJP leader said.
It was a “fit case” for removal of the judge and that the House should recommend so to the President, he said.
At the same time, he expressed concern over questions being raised over conduct of some judges and stressed the need for revisiting the process of appointment of judges and suggested setting up of a National Judicial Commission for the purpose. 

First judge to be impeached
Justice Sen could go down in history as the first judge to be removed if Lok Sabha gives its consent next week to the motion for his impeachment.
The first such case involved the impeachment motion in Lok Sabha of Justice V. Ramaswami of the Supreme Court in May 1993 which fell due to lack of numbers after Congress members abstained.
Incidentally, Union Minister Kapil Sibal who was then a senior advocate, had presented the case of Justice Ramaswami before the Lower House.
Justice P.D. Dinakaran, Chief Justice of the Sikkim High Court, against whom the Rajya Sabha Chairman had set up a judicial panel to enquire into allegations of corruption, had resigned on July 29, 2011 before an impeachment could be initiated against him.
Unlike Justice Ramaswami, Justice Sen presented his case personally backed by two lawyers.