He relies on technicalities, not on substance: Jaitley

The Rajya Sabha on Wednesday listened in rapt attention to a nearly two-hour defence Justice Soumitra Sen of the Calcutta High Court put up against his impeachment.

As the members assembled at 3 p.m., Chairman Hamid Ansari asked the marshals to bring Justice Sen to the bar of the House. Two crisp sentences from Mr. Ansari — “Is Justice Sen in attendance? Bring him to the bar of the House” — began the first-ever impeachment proceedings before the Rajya Sabha.

Justice Sen's observations were preceded by the mover of the resolution and senior Communist Party of India (Marxist) member, Sitaram Yechury, detailing why the Rajya Sabha, for the first time in its history, decided to impeach a judge.

After Justice Sen presented his defence, Leader of the Opposition Arun Jaitley made out an equally forceful case for his impeachment, with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and other senior Ministers listening to both sides. The debate was inconclusive, and will continue on Thursday. It will be followed by voting.

By turns emotional and arguing on the facts of law, Justice Sen contended that he was being made a “sacrificial lamb” to cleanse the judiciary and said he had “exhausted my remedies in accordance with law. I have come here to seek justice. If you impeach me, it will be the gravest of injustice done ever. Kindly apply your mind before deciding on the judgment, as it is a question of my life.”

Mr. Yechury's motion was supported by Mr. Jaitley, with both contending that the judge should be removed for misappropriating money when he was the Receiver of the Calcutta High Court and for misrepresenting facts about the misuse of the money.

Justice Sen said: “The decision to hold me guilty was taken long time back” and without naming anyone, took potshots at the former Supreme Court Chief Justice, K.G. Balakrishanan, who had sought a deeper probe against the judge in a letter to the Prime Minister.

He also argued that his conduct as a judge was never under examination. The allegations of misappropriation against him were in his capacity as Receiver of the High Court and not as a judge.

Moving two motions, Mr. Yechury said he was doing so with a “deep sense of anguish and the move was not against the judiciary, which we hold in high esteem, but against a judge for his misbehaviour.”

If Justice Sen appeared to have garnered sympathy among journalists who had packed the press gallery, this was offset when Mr. Jaitley took on the judge for relying on technicalities rather than substance.

Pressing his point, the noted lawyer pointed out that not once did the judge, then an advocate, file the return of accounts for the money he had collected. He usurped the money deposited in a bank and issued several cheques to individuals besides withdrawing money against several self-cheques. Money received from another liquidated company was also withdrawn, and when the time came to repay it, he made good the shortfall by transferring money from the first account.

When a judge passed strictures, Justice Sen did not dispute them. A few twists and turns later, the Chief Justice of India appointed a three-member probe panel, which agreed with the single judge that Justice Sen's defence was inadequate. Justice Sen turned down the CJI's request to resign, leading to 58 MPs moving a motion for his removal. A Rajya Sabha inquiry committee also concluded that he was guilty of “proven misconduct.”

“A judge has to lead by example. A judge cannot rely on technicalities and try to escape the rigours of law. Litigants cannot be judged by a judge who himself is stigmatised. The defence of Justice Sen has thus to be rejected,” Mr. Jaitley said.