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Venkaiah Naidu may take time to complete consultations on impeachment notice against CJI

  Rajya Sabha chairman M Venkaiah Naidu on Sunday began consultations on the Opposition parties' notice for an impeachment motion against Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra.

Though Naidu began the consultation process on the notice promptly, cutting short his visit to Hyderabad, sources and experts suggested that the final decision on the Congress-led Opposition's notice may take a while.

The delay could be due to the nature of scrutiny. The notice will not be judged merely on the basis of its correctness, but Naidu is also likely to establish whether there is sufficient ground (evidence submitted in the notice) to set up an inquiry into the charges levelled against the CJI.

On Sunday, indicating that the process of scrutinising the impeachment notice has been set into motion, Naidu held meetings with Attorney General KK Venugopal, ex-secretary general of the Lok Sabha Subhash Kashyap, former legislative secretary Sanjay Singh, former law secretary PK Malhotra and Rajya Sabha secretariat officials.

The notice was submitted by seven Opposition parties, led by the Congress, on Friday, April 20. Naidu was out of town and cut short his visit to Hyderabad in order to return to Delhi and start consultations with eminent jurists, constitutional experts and others with experience in running Parliament.

This is a crucial phase in the prescribed process to be followed on an impeachment notice. Following this, the Vice President will set up a three-member panel consisting of a Supreme Court justice, a Chief Justice of High Court and an eminent jurist.

Right after receiving the notice signed by 64 sitting members of Rajya Sabha, Naidy asked the Upper House secretariat to examine whether the prescribed format was followed.

The notice has already raised eyebrows as constitutional and parliamentary experts opined that with the opposition announcing the content of the notice in a press conference right after submitting it violated the Rajya Sabha members handbook, which lays down that before the chairman admits or rejects the notice, it's content can't be made public.

'MAY TAKE TIME'

The Vice-President, according to sources, may seek more advice and even summon court records to look into the Opposition's charges of "misconduct" levelled while seeking his removal.

Since the issue has already taken on strong political overtones and given that this is the first time in the history of India that a notice has been moved against a CJI, the chairman may likely not decide anything in haste.

Top constitutional experts said," The case involves the CJI. Even the procedural move of setting up an inquiry committee will play out in the political arena. The Rajya Sabha chairman faces an onerous task as he has to provide legal and constitutional grounds for a 'yes' or 'no' to the notice. Then his decision will impact how the public views the judiciary."

The inquiry committee set up by the chairman establishes that there is a fit case to remove the CJI procedurally and both the houses have to pass an "address to the President" which has to be passed by a 2/3 majority.

Even if the chairman completes the process in some time the notice cannot be taken up before mid July when the next monsoon session of Parliament begins.

Those in the opposition who have backed the notice are ignoring the divide in its rank and preparing for a sustained battle. Top sources said that the chairman's 'no' to the notice will not end the matter.

The opposition plans to petition the SC seeking its directive to the chairman to take up the complaint.

Though little is known about the advice that the attorney general give Naidu, it is expected he may have conveyed the government line in the issue highlighted by finance minister Arun Jaitley in a blog on the day the notice was submitted. The BJP had stated that the opposition's attempt was to target party chief Amit Shah by keeping the controversy over justice Loya's death alive.

Though the notice may face a numerical test later or not at all, getting the numbers to push its motion may not be easy for the opposition.

The TMC is against any move that may not go down well with the judiciary. The AIADMK has not been in favour of the notice and the TDP, which left the NDA recently, is yet to take a stand. The BJD may be anti-BJP, but CJI Deepak Misra hails from Odisha and the party is not sure how the electorate will react to its going against the CJI.

Even if the opposition gets the numbers in Rajya Sabha, the Lok Sabha will be a big hurdle as the NDA has an over 300 MPs majority in that House. However the opposition is keen to have the notice taken up in the Upper House.

A senior opposition leader said, "The RS is key to the move. If passed in this house, the CJI would be forced to resign like justice Soumitra Sen who had quit without waiting for the motion to be taken up in LS to avoid the ignominy of becoming the first judge to be impeached by Parliament in 2011."
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