Constitutional provisions exist to impeach the CJI and a procedure is laid down for it.
Lustre has not been added to the Supreme Court of India under the stewardship of present Chief Justice Dipak Misra. Some of his own senior colleagues have pointed a finger at him at a press conference last January, meaning they have appealed in the “people’s court” against the CJI. Even so, the move to seek his impeachment — initiated on Friday — by a clutch of Opposition parties, led by the Congress, appears misguided.
The current CJI is to retire in early October. Any setback caused to the image of the top court could have been set right by his successor without agitating the waters.
No CJI has been sought to be impeached before. That fact alone makes the move by the Opposition parties a landmark development, but it is a marker that has the potential to shake the faith of the ordinary Indian in the impartiality of the highest judicial forum of the land, even if it is clear as day that there is no chance of the move succeeding. That can be injurious to our none too robust democratic order before which lie many challenges already.
Constitutional provisions exist to impeach the CJI and a procedure is laid down for it. This suggests that our Constitution-makers did provide for a bad apple. But they made the definition tight. For all his perceived shortcomings, the present CJI has not crossed that mark. This may be apparent even to his detractors among his fellow judges and top lawyers who are openly critical of him.
The move to impeach the CJI began after the January 12 press conference of the four top judges of the apex court, among them Justice Ranjan Gogoi, who is slated to succeed CJI Misra. In essence, the CJI’s most senior colleagues were saying that the CJI had made himself — and by implication the judiciary — subservient to the government and the ruling party.
It is hard to push that feeling away. The inability of the CJI to robustly challenge the executive on the issue of the elevation of Judge Krishna Bhatt to the Karnataka high court is a case in point.
Since the signatures of Rajya Sabha MPs for the impeachment process to commence were submitted to vice-president M. Venkaiah Naidu just the day after the controversial Loya judgment of the apex court involving BJP president Amit Shah, it has been speculated that the Opposition parties took their step in retaliation to this judgment. This may or may not be the case. Nevertheless, the demand of wider politics to challenge the BJP in the context of the perceived goings-on in the apex court does appear to have a bearing on the action of the Opposition.
What impact this may have on the remaining five months of the CJI’s term is to be seen, though it is clear that the Chief Justice will not be impeached.