India’s vice-president rejects calls to impeach chief justice over alleged misuse of public office


India‘s vice-president has rejected an unprecedented petition by seven opposition parties to impeach the country’s most senior judge for alleged misuse of public office.

Venkaiah Naidu, who chairs the upper house of parliament, said it was “neither tenable nor admissible” to charge chief justice Dipak Misra.

His comments came after 65 serving members of the upper house had signed a motion accusing the judge of “acts of misbehaviour” and failing to protect the independence of the judiciary from executive interference.

They criticised Mr Misra’s distribution of sensitive cases, alleged that some of his rulings had been unfairly supportive of the government and questioned his conduct during the acquisition of land.

Prime minister Narendra Modi’s government described call for impeachment as a “revenge petition” filed in response to a reprieve the ruling party’s chief won from the Supreme Court in another case.

Outlining his decision in a signed 10-page order, Mr Naidu said the allegations were in danger of “undermining the independence of judiciary which is the basic tenet of the Constitution of India”.

He added: “Considering the totality of facts, I am of the firm opinion that it is neither legal nor desirable or proper to admit the notice of motion on any of these grounds.”

Mr Misra, 65, was appointed last August and is due to retire in October. 

In November last year he was accused of intervening to ensure only judges of his choice could hear a high-profile corruption case involving a former high court judge accused of taking part in a bribery ring.

In January, the four next highest-ranking judges in the Supreme Court launched a highly unusual public revolt, criticising Mr Misra’s distribution of cases and raising concerns about judicial appointments. They said that they met with Mr Misra and demanded changes, but he refused.

The main opposition party, Congress, said it was not surprised by the ruling by Mr Naidu, a former minister in Mr Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which had accused the opposition of trying to use the impeachment move as a political tool.

A Supreme Court judge can be removed for misbehaviour or incapacity only by an order of the president after winning a majority in both houses of parliament and after obtaining at least two-thirds of votes from the house members in the same session.

Mr Naidu, who remains a senior member of the ruling right-wing BJP, said he studied the matter deeply and sought advice from legal and constitutional experts before reaching his decision. 

Leaders of Congress and six other parties had presented a notice in the upper house on Friday seeking an inquiry into Mr Misra’s conduct, to be followed by an impeachment vote. 

The opposition parties allege some of Mr Misra’s rulings have supported the government’s stance. They cited his ruling that there should not be an independent investigation into the death of a judge presiding over a case involving the head of the BJP, Amit Shah. 

They also accused Mr Misra of providing false information when he bought land before becoming chief justice.