Congress issues whip, asking its members in both Houses to be present

A day before the Rajya Sabha is scheduled to consider a motion for the removal of Justice Soumitra Sen of the Calcutta High Court, the Congress issued a whip to its members, asking them to be present in the House.

Notwithstanding the standoff between the government and the Opposition over the arrest of social activist Anna Hazare, indications from all major political parties on Tuesday were that even in the event of disruption of Parliament, the motion would be taken up at the scheduled time of 3 p.m. on Wednesday.

According to a senior Congress floor manager, the party has issued a whip to its MPs in both Houses to be present without mentioning the reason. “It is not appropriate for the party to issue a whip to vote on the motion either way as it is a unique occasion. Parliament is essentially a political institution and in the event of a motion for removal of any constitutional authority, it would be performing the role of the judiciary,” the Congress leader said.

The sentiment in most parties is that Parliament should stick to its scheduled agenda on the motion for the removal of Justice Sen as members would not like to send a negative message on an issue of ‘misbehaviour and misconduct.' Members of most parties are expected to vote in favour of the motion.

The motion is based a report of a three-member committee headed by Justice B. Sudershan Reddy of the Supreme Court. It was constituted by Rajya Sabha Chairman Hamid Ansari after 47 members of different parties filed a petition.

The committee, in its September 2010 report, said Justice Sen was “guilty of misbehaviour.” He is likely to make his case before the House and he would be assisted by five lawyers.

It will be the first such motion in the history of the Rajya Sabha though Justice Sen is the second judge in the country's history to face removal proceedings in Parliament. The first was V. Ramaswami, former Chief Justice of the Punjab and Haryana High Court, who later became Supreme Court judge. The motion for his removal came up in the Lok Sabha but the House just chose to admonish him and did not pursue the matter further.

Two grounds were listed in the MPs' petition for the removal of Justice Sen — “misappropriation of large sums of money which he received in his capacity as a receiver appointed by the Calcutta High Court and [he] misrepresented facts with regard to the misappropriation of money before the High Court.”

The Justice Reddy Committee said Justice Sen was found guilty of collecting Rs. 33,22,800 from a purchaser of goods, keeping it in a savings bank account and misrepresenting facts to the court.

Letter to Ansari

Communist Party of India (Marxist) member Sitaram Yechury, who has given notice for the House to consider the motion on the committee report, will introduce it. This will be followed by defence by either Justice Sen or his counsel from the bar to be erected facing the presiding officer.

On completion of the defence, Justice Sen or his counsel will leave the House. It will be followed by a debate and the motion put to vote. The motion will be deemed carried if a two-thirds majority of the members are present and voting equal to half the total strength of the House vote in its favour. If the motion is adopted in the Rajya Sabha, it will be sent to the Lok Sabha, where the same procedure will be repeated. In the event of adoption of the motion by both Houses, it will be sent to the President for removal of Justice Sen.

Under the Constitution, only Parliament has the jurisdiction on the question of removal of Judges under Article 124(4) read with Article 217(1) (b).

Article 124(4), read with 217(1) (b), states a High Court judge shall not be removed from office except on the grounds of ‘proved misbehaviour.'