It was on 10th April 2018 that a notice for impeachment of Chief Justice Dipak Misra for misbehavior, signed by 71 members of parliament was submitted to Chairman of Rajya Sabha Venkaiah Naidu. The Chairman rejected the notice on 23rd April.
The order rejecting the notice mentioned the reason for rejection that it was based on speculations and prejudices. Two Rajya Sabha members from the Congress Pratap Singh Bajwa and Ami Yagnik approached the Supreme Court challenging the act of rejection by Chairman of Rajya Sabha. The impeachment moves were led on the Congress side by their spokesman and reputed lawyer Kapil Sibal.
Right when Congress moved the Supreme Court questioning the Chairman's act, it had aroused some curiosity in observers. The curiosity was what steps the Supreme Court would take when the Rajya Sabha Chairman's rejection of impeachment of the chief justice was being challenged in the very same court. Thus the case was one with extremely critical constitutional issues and complicated legal dimensions. The chief of justice of India who leads the country's judicial system is involved in it too. Therefore, naturally most people had expected that the case would be heard by the senior-most judges just below the CJI.
Counsel for the petitioners Kapil Sibal and Adv Prashant Bhushan had mentioned this petition last Monday before the bench consisting of Justice Chelameswar and Justice SK Kaul. Justice Chelameswar said that they could consider it on Tuesday. However, to everyone's surprise, on Monday a constitutional bench was constituted headed by Justice AK Sikri, who was the sixth in the rank of seniority. For such a complex case, not only was a bench bypassing eminent and senior judges formed, unusual procedures also were adopted for its formation. It was even before Chief Justice Dipak Misra assigned it a number and admitted it officially, that the CJI formed a 'disputed' bench for the purpose. When on Tuesday Kapil Sibal shot questions one after another before this bench, on many occasions the members of the bench including AK Sikri were sitting quiet.
The main query raised by Kapil Sibal was where was the order referring the impeachment case to the constitutional bench. But the Supreme Court was not able to produce this order. A question also arose whether the act of the chief justice could be considered as an order, and if so it still remains a question where its copy was. Meanwhile, Advocate Prashant Bhushan has also filed a petition under RTI Act asking for its copy. This is a sign that things are getting more complicated.
Ours is a country with a distinguished judiciary, one of the most robust in the world, thanks to the vision of celebrated architects of the Constitution. An independent judiciary is an essential pillar of a democratic order. The nation has in the past succeeded by and large in maintaining the independent nature of the judiciary. However, in more recent times news coming from the Supreme Court are enough to cause serious concerns. And on 12 January 2018, four top-ranking judges under the leadership of Justice Chelameswar expressed their concerns to the citizens through a press meet - unprecedented in the history of the country. Now, the unusual act of forming a bench to consider the impeachment against him can raise even more questions. It may be recalled that the very impeachment notice was raised in the background of a similar step by the CJI in the case connected with Prasad Education Trust of Lucknow.
On many an occasion in the disputes related to the Supreme Court, the name of the ruling party has been coming up. The approach of the CJI in the cases regarding Justice Loya's death and that of Amit Sha's son against online portal "The Wire", have given rise to all kinds of debates. To sum up, news surfacing are of the kind that can smear the reputation of the Supreme Court, an institution respected by all. There is a shared worry whether that institution, which people approach for truth and justice when they lose all hope, is deviating from its lofty heritage. Protecting the judiciary's independence and impartiality, and thus belying those anxieties, is a collective responsibility of every votary of democracy.