In the sudden turn of events, Senior advocate Kapil Sibal, on May 8, withdrew the petition challenging Venkaiah Naidu, the Vice President and the Rajya Sabha chairman’s decision to reject the notice of motion against Chief Justice of India (CJI) Dipak Misra from the Supreme Court.
The petition challenging Vice-President’s decision to reject the CJI impeachment motion was filed by two Congress Rajya Sabha MPs, Pratap Singh Bajwa from Punjab and Amee Harshadray Yajnik from Gujarat.
Kapil Sibal withdrew the petition after the Constitution Bench consisting of five judges – AK Sikri, SA Bobde, NV Ramana, Arun K Mishra and Adarsh K Giri refused to give details of the administrative order constituting the Bench.
Sibal on Monday had approached Justice Chemaleshwar, the senior-most justice after the CJI since the petitioners didn’t want the CJI or the judges appointed by the CJI to hear the case against the rejection of impeachment motion notice against CJI himself.
Justice Chemaleshwar told the petitioners to return on Tuesday morning. However, by Monday evening it was informed that a five-judge bench, which did not consist of any of the senior-most judges of the SC, would be hearing the petition.
As a result, Kapil Sibal sought the information on how the Constitution Bench was set up and asked for the administrative order which referred the five-judge bench to hear the case, which the bench refused to render.
The bench has now dismissed the petition as withdrawn.
Appearing for the petitioners were senior advocate Kapil Sibal and advocates Prashant Bhushan and Sunil Fernandes, whereas Attorney General KK Venugopal appeared for Rajya Sabha chairperson and Tushar Mehta appeared for the Central government.
Sibal in his argument said that while CJI is Master of Roster, whether the powers are subject to any guideline. “We have no doubt CJI is master of roster. We are not challenging that. But is that power untrammelled? Is it subject to any guidelines?”, Sibal said.
In November 2017, CJI Dipak Misra headed a Constitution Bench establishing his status as the “Master of Roster” giving him the sole authority to decide which judges would hear what cases, even in matters which might be related to CJI himself.
Sibal further stated that if the Court holds that administrative decisions by CJI cannot be challenged then this would be the order in the Constitutional framework which cannot be challenged.
Sibal also stated that this was the first time that a matter was going before the Constitution Bench through an administrative order.
Replying to which Justice AK Goel, one of the judges of the bench said, “Is there a rule that the CJI has to place the matter before a Bench of a particular strength?”
Judge Sikri further asked Sibal, “Are you stating that this case should first go before a Division Bench?”
To this Sibal said he did not but he insisted that the details of the administrative order be furnished to the petitioners for them to decide whether or not to challenge it.
The top court repeatedly asked what purpose it would serve if Sibal was given a copy of the administrative order passed by the CJI.
However, the Bench refused to present the details and asked Sibal to argue on the merits of the petition. At this juncture, the petitioners withdrew the plea.
What has happened so far
On March 27, top Congress leaders along with several opposition parties formally started the process of moving an impeachment motion in the Rajya Sabha against Chief Justice of India (CJI) Dipak Misra on several charges, including selectively assigning important cases to select judges.
This came months after four senior-most judges of the Supreme Court addressed the media regarding the issue of judicial appointments.
The Economic Times reported that the charges levelled by the opposition parties against the CJI include his failure to act on issues raised by four senior judges, selectively assigning sensitive cases to select judges, alleged misconduct by CJI in acquiring land when he was a practising lawyer and allegedly damaging the credibility of institutional autonomy of the Supreme court, among others.
On April 20, seven opposition parties led by Congress took the first step towards the impeachment of the Chief Justice of India by submitting the petition with 71 signatures to the Vice-President, Venkaiah Naidu, who is the chairman of the Rajya Sabha in Parliament.
The notice of motion was received by Venkaiah Naidu, Vice-President and chairman of Rajya Sabha on April 20. On April 23, he rejected the opposition’s impeachment notice against CJI Dipak Misra.
Responding to all the charges mentioned, Mr Naidu, in his 10-page order said that the opposition MPs were “unsure” of their own case and that it was based on “suspicion and conjectures”.
On May 7, the two aforementioned MPs moved the SC challenging the rejection of the impeachment notice against CJI Dipak Misra by Rajya Sabha chairman on the ground that there was “no proven misbehaviour”.