Impeachment notice against CJI: BJP, Congress in war of words

New Delhi: The BJP and the Congress, on April 20, traded charges after the latter, along with several other opposition parties, moved a notice for the impeachment of Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra, accusing him of “misbehavior” and “misuse” of authority.
Leveling five allegations, leaders of seven opposition parties, spearheaded by Congress, met Vice President M Venkaiah Naidu and handed over the notice of impeachment bearing signatures of 64 MPs and seven former MPs, who recently retired.
The unprecedented move triggered a fierce face-off, with the BJP party censuring Congress party’s attack on the judiciary for political interests, even as the opposition party demanded judicial accountability in the face of government pressure. Here’s how the two parties reacted:
*Jaitley vs Sibal on ‘political motives’
Union finance minister Arun Jaitley led the BJP charge and accused the Congress of using impeachment as a political tool. A bench chaired by CJI Misra had on April 19 dismissed a batch of PILs seeking a probe into judge Loya’s death, while also rapping the petitioners for filing a plea that was “bereft of any truth” and an attempt to “malign the judiciary”.
“My preliminary reaction to the impeachment motion filed today is clear. It is a revenge petition after the falsehood of the Congress Party has been established in the Justice Loya death case. It is an attempt to intimidate a Judge and send a message to other Judges, that if you don’t agree with us, fifty MP’s are enough for a revenge action,” Jaitley said in a Facebook post April 20.
Congress responded with a firm rejoinder: “don’t make this political.”
Senior advocate and Congress stalwart Kapil Sibal said the step has been taken “with a heavy heart” to protect the independence of the judiciary.
“Don’t make it political. There is no political motivation behind it. We wish this day had never come,” he said.
Asked why members of other opposition parties had not signed the motion, Sibal said the motion was not moved by political parties but by individual members. He also claimed that “there is consensus among all parties”.
*Lekhi Vs Azad on ‘timing of impeachment motion’
Lashing out at the Congress, BJP spokesperson Meenakshi Lekhi alleged the impeachment move is an attempt to pressure the judiciary and send out the message that “either you do what we say and if you dare not do as we command”, then it will impeach judges.
“It (Congress) hatched a conspiracy in the judge Loya death case. Evidence in these cases could not stand the judicial scrutiny. The Congress and other opposition parties leveled false allegations against our leaders but they are getting exposed now,” she said.
Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha Ghulam Nabi Azad dismissed the purported link with yesterday’s verdict in the Loya case and claimed that the impeachment notice was initiated a month ago and most signatures were more than 20 days old.
Azad said they had sought an appointment with Naidu, who is also the Chairman of the Rajya Sabha, a week ago but were told that he was away on a tour of the northeast. “If he was available then, we would have submitted the motion then,” he explained.
*Lekhi vs Sibal on ‘CJI’s accountability’
Lekhi further said the impeachment notice against the CJI is an attempt to demean, degrade and denigrate the judiciary.
“The Constitution envisaged by B.R. Ambedkar views the judiciary independent of policies but the Congress is trying to politicize it. As the opposition party is losing political ground, it has resorted to such pressure tactics motivated by malice, she charged.
Meanwhile, Congress asserted that the charges against Misra, as stated in the impeachment notice, “suggest conduct unbecoming of a person” holding the office of the Chief Justice of India and the party was trying attempting to uphold the integrity of the CJI’s office.
“As representatives of the people, we are entitled to hold the Chief Justice accountable, just as we are accountable to the people. The majesty of the law is more important than the majesty of any office,” Sibal said.
*The 5 ‘charges’ made by Opposition against CJI Dipak Misra
The seven parties, including the Congress, that moved the impeachment notice against Misra, listed out five counts of “misbehavior” as follows:
1. “Conspiracy to pay illegal gratification” in the Prasad Education Trust case and the denial of permission to proceed against a retired high court judge in the same matter.
2. The CJI allegedly listed the petition against the Prasad Education Trust before himself, even when he was heading the Constitution bench, which is against the convention.
3. “Antedating” (backdating) of an order for listing of a petition related to the investigation against the Prasad Education Trust in the Supreme Court.
4. Misra allegedly acquired a piece of land by giving a “false affidavit” while he was an advocate. The plot was surrendered in 2012 when he was elevated to the Supreme Court, even though orders cancelling the allotment were given in 1985.
5. Abuse of exercise of power by the Chief Justice in choosing to send sensitive matters to particular benches by misusing his authority as Master of the Roster with the likely intent to influence the outcome.

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