Impeachment of Justice Soumitra Sen

On 19 August 2011, in a historic first, the Rajya Sabha voted in favour of impeaching Calcutta High Court judge Justice Soumitra Sen, finding him guilty of misappropriating funds as a judge and of misrepresenting facts.

  • This was the first televised impeachment proceedings ever in which Rajya Sabha voted 189 to 17 in favour of Justice Sen’s removal.

The motion was first passed by voice vote and then through division.

We should note that till date, no judge of the higher judiciary (Supreme Court and High Courts) has been successfully impeached. Justice Sen is now two steps away from impeachment. Here is a discussion from your examination point of view:

How a Judge of Higher Judiciary can be removed from office?

In India Article 124(4) covers the removal of a Judge of the Supreme Court. This article says:

A Judge of the Supreme Court shall not be removed from his office except by an order of the President passed after an address by each House of Parliament supported by a majority of the total membership of that House and by a majority of not less than two-thirds of the members of that House present and voting has been presented to the President in the same session for such removal on the ground of proved misbehaviour or incapacity.

Similarly Article 217 (1)(b) and 218 cover the removal of the Judge of an High Court.

So, the Constitution makes provision for removal of a judge of a Supreme Court on the ground of proven misbehaviour or incapacity. A judge may be removed only through a motion in Parliament with a two thirds support in each House. The process is laid down in the Judges (Inquiry) Act, 1968.

How the motion of impeachment is started?

An impeachment motion has to be moved by either 100 Lok Sabha members of Parliament or 50 Rajya Sabha Members. After the motion is admitted, the Speaker of Lok Sabha or Chairman of Rajya Sabha constitutes an inquiry committee. This inquiry committee is consisted of 3 members viz.

  1. A Supreme Court judge,
  2. A High Court Chief Justice,
  3. An eminent jurist.

The Committee frames charges and asks the judge to give a written response. After the inquiry, the committee determines whether the charges are valid or not. It then submits its report. The judge is given chance to examine the witnesses. If the inquiry committee finds that the judge is not guilty, then there is no further action.

What if the inquiry committee finds the judge guilty?

If they find him guilty, then the House of Parliament which initiated the motion may consider continuing with the motion. Please note that such motion can be initiated in any house of the parliament. Then, the motion is debated. During debate, the judge has the right to represent his / her case. After that, the motion is voted upon. If there is two-thirds support of those voting, and majority support of the total strength of the House, it is considered to have passed. The process is then repeated in the other House. After that, the Houses send an address to the President asking that the judge be removed from office.

What is historic background of impeachments in India?

Till now there has been one such case. Justice Ramaswamy of the Supreme Court faced such a motion. The inquiry committee found that the charges against him were valid, but the motion to impeach him did not gather the required support in Lok Sabha.

Who is Justice Soumitra Sen?

Justice Soumitra Sen, born on Jan 22, 1958, did BCom from Guwahati before studying law in Kolkata.

  • Enrolled as an advocate in Calcutta HC on Feb 13, 1984.
  • Elevated as permanent HC judge on Dec 3, 2003. As a receiver for SAIL in a dispute case, Sen (then an advocate) misappropriated sale proceeds.
  • Received Rs 33.22 lakh, which he deposited in two accounts. From one account, he issued cheques to individuals and even paid for his credit card.
  • As special officer for disbursement of workers’ dues to the tune of Rs 70 lakh, he withdrew Rs 25 lakh and deposited it in another company.
  • For paying the workers, withdrew Rs 25 lakh from SAIL account. Did not submit accounts to the court.
  • Ignored a number of court notices.

So, in summary, against him there are two charges. He is accused of misappropriating large sums of money which he received as a receiver appointed by the Calcutta High Court. He is also accused of misrepresenting facts in this regard to the High Court.

What were the conclusions of the inquiry committee?

Justice Soumitra Sen was appointed Receiver in a case by an order of the Calcutta High Court on April 30, 1984. As a Receiver, Justice Sen had the power to collect outstanding debts and claims due in respect of certain goods. But, the Receiver is required to file and submit for passing, his half yearly accounts in the Office of the Registrar of the High Court. However, Justice Sen did not comply with this rule. As a Receiver, Justice Sen was required to open only one account and not move funds without prior permission. However, the Inquiry Committee found that two separate accounts were opened by Justice Soumitra Sen as Receiver, with ANZ Grindlays Bank and Allahabad Bank. A total sum of over Rs 33 lakh was transferred in these accounts from the sale of the goods which was unaccounted for.

What were defence claims by Justice Sen?

Justice Sen claimed he could not account for this amount since it was invested in a company called Lynx India Ltd. to earn interest but the Inquiry Committee found this claim to be false. The amount transferred to Lynx India Ltd. had been made out of an account opened by Justice Sen in his own name. The Committee concluded that (a) there was a large-scale diversion of fund, and (b) such diversion was in violation of the orders of the High Court.

What are the remaining steps?

As discussed above, the impeachment motion is now required to pass in Lok Sabha and after than President has to give order to remove him from office.

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