Union Law Minister Ashwani Kumar has informed the Rajya Sabha that the government favoured a re-look at the law to prevent a judge from resigning till any impeachment motion process is completed.
The Minister said this during the recent debate on the Constitution Amendment Bill introduced by veteran journalist and nominated member H.K. Dua. Mr. Kumar said the Judicial Accountability Bill was being fine-tuned to address lacunae in the legal system. On the Minister’s assurance, the Bill was later withdrawn.
Mr. Dua’s private member Bill sought a constitutional amendment to prevent a judge from resigning during impeachment process, as had happened in the case of Calcutta High Court Justice Soumitra Sen last year.
Under the current procedure contemplated in Articles 124(2) and 217(1), if a judge submits his or her resignation to the President even while facing impeachment, the resignation will automatically come into effect and the impeachment proceedings will abruptly come to an end. Even if one of the Houses passes a resolution for the judge’s removal, the other House will not take it up for discussion.
The Statement of Objects and Reasons of Mr. Dua’s Bill said: “Impeachment proceedings could not be taken up in the Lok Sabha against Justice Soumitra Sen after the Rajya Sabha passed a resolution for his removal. Similarly, the former Chief Justice of the Karnataka and Sikkim High Courts, P.D. Dinakaran, resigned when a Committee of Inquiry constituted by the Chairman of the Rajya Sabha under the Judges Inquiry Act was in the midst of examining the charges of corruption against him. Both judges thus escaped scrutiny of their conduct by Parliament and their likely removal by the President.”
During the discussion, members cutting across party lines, including Leader of the Opposition Arun Jaitley, senior lawyer Ram Jethmalani, and Abhishek Manu Singhvi pushed for amendments to the Constitution in this regard.
The Bill was withdrawn after the Minister said the amendment was not required but assured members that all possible measures would be taken to bring in reforms in the judicial system to correct aberrations. “There is [a] need for reforms. This government is totally committed to ensuring that aberrations in delivery of justice will be corrected,” Mr. Kumar said.
Initiating the debate, Mr. Dua said, “By resigning, Justice Soumitra Sen has avoided the stigma which an impeachment would have stuck on him if the process of impeachment had gone on fully; and that stigma would have gone into history as he would have been the first judge whom India’s Parliament would have impeached or removed for misbehaviour. My amendments provide to fill this lacuna in the Constitution. The lacuna was once judge resigns, it is taken as accepted and President has no role.”
Mr. Dua said, “The Constitution had foreseen, but not very clearly, that there could be judges who would need to be thrown out of the Judiciary and a very rigorous process for removal of judges, which is popularly known as impeachment, was provided. It is indeed very rigorous. And, rightly so. Independence of the Judiciary has to be protected against any wanton act by Parliament to throw out judges. So, it is a very rigorous procedure. Despite its rigour, he was found guilty and was sought to be removed by the Rajya Sabha. But Justice Soumitra Sen finds a lacuna in the Constitution. I would like the lacuna to be filled.”