Justice Soumitra Sen had to go

Unless politics takes over Justice Soumitra Sen will make history of the wrong kind next week. The Rajya Sabha has already passed the motion for his removal; the Lok Sabha is likely to do so next week. He will be the first judge to be impeached since Independence.

Two weeks ago, the Rajya Sabha witnessed a unique debate where a cross-section of opposing views converged on one issue – the removal of Justice Soumitra Sen, a Calcutta High Court Judge on serious charges of misappropriation of public funds and misleading the court.

It was a sad time, however, for the Upper House to see a Judge standing in the dock before it for doing what he should not have done. None of the MPs across the political spectrum was drawing any pleasure to get an opportunity to punish a Judge for straying from the righteous path.

Justice Sen, now an accused before the House could have avoided the impeachment motion had he chosen to resign as soon as it came to be established that he had indulged himself with public money for personal gain.

The Chief Justice of India had, after consultations with his colleagues, advised him that in his own interest, he better sent in his papers and say good bye to the Bench. But Justice Sen would not listen to advice, even from the CJI. If he had resigned, he would have saved Parliament the pain of impeaching a Judge.

The process of removal of a Judge by impeachment is indeed painful and unpleasant. But the ouse had to do its duty to do so to save the Judiciary from someone who had frittered his right to sit on the augutHo

House had to do its duty to save the Judiciary from someone who had frittered away his right to sit on the august bench.

Justice Sen told the House that he had committed no wrong while being on the bench and that the charges against him pertained to the period before he was appointed a Judge of the High Court.

Actually, the real question was that of the integrity of a Judge. And, integrity has no cut off date. A judge is supposed to have it even to qualify for being selected a judge.

Integrity is not available off the shelf. Integrity cannot be acquired after taking the oath as a Judge. Justice Sen gave no evidence that integrity had not been compromised by him.

The case for the removal of Justice Sen is absolutely sound, and valid for impeachment. There were allegations which tended to suggest that Justice Sen had kept public money with himself and used it for private gain.

May be, he thought that his conscience was clear. Everyone knew how flexible conscience has become these days. The elasticity of conscience of many people leads to greed and most often to untruth and to the kind of complications Parliament is now sorting out.

By taking up the issue, the Rajya Sabha  was not wanting to interfere with  independence of the Judiciary, or encroach upon what falls in the judicial domain.

It was the Chief Justice of India who had written to the Prime Minister in 2008 seeking his intervention to initiate impeachment proceedings against Mr. Sen, a sittinging judge of the Calcutta High Court. The CJI gave details of Justice Sen’s  “misbehviour” when he was appointed receiver in the case called the Steel Authority of India versus the Shipping Corporation of India, way back in 1993.

The CJI also appointed an in-House committee of Judges to inquire into the allegations. It came to the conclusion that Justice Sen was not the kind of a judge who should adorn the Bench.  Hence, the CJI’s letter to the Prime Minister seeking Justice Sen’s removal under Article 124(4) of the Constitution.

The matter later fell in the lap of the Chairman of the Rajya Sabha.  Mr Hamid Ansari in turn appointed a Committee consisting of Justice B. Sudershan Reddy of the Supreme Court, Justice Mukul Mudgal, Chief Justice of Punjab and Haryana High Court and Mr Fali Nariman, noted jurist. They are all men of great integrity and calibre.

After several sittings, the committee came to well-thought out two conclusions:

One, that Justice Sen was duly proved guilty of misappropriation of large sums of money which he got as a receiver appointed by the High Court of Calcutta; and

Two, that Justice Sen was duly proved guilty of making false statements by misrepresenting facts about misappropriation of money before the Calcutta High Court.

The committee was meticulous in its approach. It gave enough opportunities to Justice Sen but he thought it below his dignity to personally explain to the committee as to why he did what he should not have done.

Justice Sen took about 100 minutes to present his case with which no one was convinced. The motion for the removal of Justice Sen was adopted by a majority of the House  and  a two-third majority of those present and voting.

How did Justice Sen get elevated to the Bench of the Calcutta High Court cannot be explained, while he, as a receiver, had the temerity to misappropriate large sums of money, and also tell untruths to the court.

During the debate the higher judiciary came naturally under severe criticism for the way it is selecting judges.

Members from several parties pointed out that Justice Sen’s  selection as a Judge of the High Court shows that a drastic review of the present system of selection of Judges by the collegium had become urgent. MPs asked what criteria were used by the collegium for selecting judges.

The Lok Sabha is to take up the impeachment motion early next week and it may pass it in this session  to enable the President to sign, ending Justice Sen’s judicial career.

The only way Justice Sen can escape impeachment is to simply resign. But he seems to be adamant and not open to reason.

– Daily Post, September 2nd, 2011