While the power of impeachment is vested in Parliament, the move to force the removal of Justice Soumitra Sen of the Calcutta High Court was initiated, quite extraordinarily, by the office of the Chief Justice of India. In 2008, Chief Justice K.G. Balakrishnan wrote to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh recommending that impeachment proceedings be initiated under Article 124(4) of the Constitution against Justice Sen on the basis of the findings of an in-house inquiry, which held him guilty of financial misconduct. That unprecedented missive has resulted in the completion of two of three stages governing the impeachment process — a notice seeking such action signed by a specified number of MPs, and a finding of guilt by a three-member committee constituted under the Judges Inquiry Act 1968. The stage is now set for Parliament to consider the impeachment motion, which can be passed only if supported by two-thirds of members present and voting as well as by an absolute majority of the total membership in each House. Deplorably, Justice Sen has decided to cling to office, following the example of P.D. Dinakaran, now Chief Justice of the Sikkim High Court, who refused to resign in the face of a flurry of corruption and land-grab charges.
Such defiance of judicial propriety draws attention to the absence of a quick and effective statutory mechanism to deal with errant judges. The process of impeachment is clearly much too time-consuming. As the only instance when an impeachment motion came up for vote in Parliament showed, it is also fraught with political uncertainty; in 1993, Justice V. Ramaswami was let off the hook when the Congress decided to abstain from voting on the motion. No further time must be wasted in passing the Judges Standards and Accountability Bill, which seeks to simplify the procedure for acting against erring judges. An unusual aspect about the charges against Justice Sen is that they relate to a time when he was an advocate and a case in which he was a court-appointed Receiver in 1984. The three-member inquiry committee held him guilty of misappropriation of the money he received in this capacity as well as misrepresenting facts about it. Mr. Sen paid the money back with interest after a single judge of the Calcutta High Court, who made scathing observations about his “misappropriation,” directed him to do so. However, a Division Bench reversed this and ordered the deletion of these remarks. It is important that Parliament discusses the issue dispassionately, evenhandedly, and in detail before voting on the motion — the dismissal of judges is too serious an issue to be determined by political considerations.