Rajya Sabha votes to impeach Justice Soumitra Sen


New Delhi : Creating history by voting for the impeachment of a sitting judge, the Rajya Sabha Thursday approved a motion requesting President Pratibha Patil to pass an order for removing Soumitra Sen as a judge of the Calcutta High Court.

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Rajya Sabha Chairman Hamid Ansari said that the motion, moved by Communist Party of India-Marxist member Sitraram Yechury, had been adopted with 189 members voting in favour and 17 against it.

Except for Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), all other parties who took part in the “historic” debate on the motion, stretching for six hours over two days, spoke in its favour.

In his reply to the debate, Yechury said the motion was not an indictment of judiciary but a step to strengthen the integrity of the institution which was getting besmirched by acts of an individual.

He said the motion for impeachment had been taken up at a time when there is disgust among the people on the issue of corruption.

Yechury said he was impressed by the richness of the debate which “transcended the limited purpose of the motion”.

The motion sought removal of Justice Sen for misappropriation of large sums of money in his capacity as receiver of the Calcutta High Court and misrepresentation of facts.

Citing from findings of inquiry panels, Yechury said Justice Sen was guilty of conduct unbecoming of a person holding such high office. He also alleged that Justice Sen misled the house during his defence Wednesday.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was present in the house during the debate.

BSP member Satish Chandra Misra, who was the only speaker who opposed the impeachment of Justice Sen, said the house was discussing a serious issue and should carefully look at what constitutes misbehaviour.

He said the inquriy panel report findings talk about “divergence of funds” and not misappropration.

Like in a criminal case, the question of proven misbehaviour should be beyond reasonable doubt, he said.

“I do not agree with the motion. It should be rejected. We should not be swayed that he is to be ousted,” Misra said.

Ripping into Justice Sen’s defence, Leader of Opposition Arun Jaitley (Bharatiya Janata Party), who resumed the speech he had begun Wednesday, said the judge was guilty of “proven misbehavior” from his days as a lawyer when he was appointed a receiver.

“This continued well in to his tenure as a judge of the Calcutta High Court…He has been held guilty, both by the in-house committee appointed by the Chief Justice of India, and also by the committee appointed by the Chairman, Rajya Sabha,” Jaitley said.

Jaitley also spoke of the need of streamlining the process of judicial appointments by setting up a national judicial commission.

Supporting the motion, E.M.S. Natchiappan of Congress said that Justice Sen had used such words concerning higher judiciary during his speech which had never been used by the members.

“How can a sitting judge criticse that (the then) Chief Justice of India (Justice K. G. Balakrishnan) prejudged the whole effort,” Natchiappan asked.

The rules require that for an impeachment motion to be carried, it should be passed by a majority of the members of the house and by two-thirds of those present and voting.

The Lok Sabha will now have to adopt a similar motion in the current session itself requesting the president to remove Justice Sen for the impeachment process to be taken forward.

Minister of State for Parliamentary Affarirs Rajiv Shukla told IANS that Lok Sabha is expected to debate the motion Aug 24-25. He said BSP was the only party which opposed the motion in Rajya Sabha Thursday.

Justice Sen is the first udge against whom any of the two houses of parliament has passed an impeachment motion. The first such case was of Justice V Ramaswami of the Supreme Court in 1993 but the impeachment motion fell through in the Lok Sabha as the ruling Congress abstained.

A three-member committee constituted by Ansari found the charges of financial irregularities against Sen to be correct. He is accused of misappropriating around Rs. 24 lakh in the 1990s when he was a lawyer and was appointed a receiver by the high court.