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Is Justice Sen a victim of circumstances?

By Renu Mittal
August 17, 2011 22:03 IST
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A full house of the Rajya Sabha listened with rapt attention as Justice Soumitra Sen spoke for over one and a half hours tearing into the impeachment motion moved by Communist Party of India-Marxist leader Sitaram Yechury and backed by the Bharatiya Janata Party, and in the process, attacking the higher judiciary, particularly the unfair practices adopted by sections of the highest judiciary.

In a brilliant and articulate defence of the charges leveled against him of misappropriation of funds when he was a receiver appointed by the High Court and the subsequent misrepresentation of the facts when he was made Justice of the Calcutta High Court, Justice Sen said he had come to the Rajya Sabha to seek justice, and asked the members to decide on his impeachment motion on merit and conscience, rather than going by a pre-conceived mindset.

A senior minister later said it was like 'killing a fly with a canon'. "So ridiculous was the level of charges, along with the fact that he appears to have been a victim, rather than a serial offender, as is being charged," said the minister.

While the BJP and the Left have come together for the impeachment proceedings with their mind made up along with other parties, Justice Sen's fate rests in the hands of the Congress members and which way they will vote after the house discusses the issue on Thursday, and the defence put up by Justice Sen.

At the moment, there are contradictory voices in the Congress -- 1with a section in full support of Justice Sen -- as they clearly state that his is not an issue of impeachment. A senior member of the cabinet said the Congress will take a call on.

Yet another senior congress leader said that Justice Sen was the junior of Somnath Chatterjee and it is to hit back at the former speaker who has since been expelled from the CPI-M that the left has decided to bring in an impeachment against Sen.

The members said the fact that Justice Sen has so lucidly exposed the activities of the former Chief Justice of India Justice Balakrishnan who has been in the eye of the storm for serious allegations of amassing wealth during his tenure should be an eye opener for the political class.

Justice Sen said he was aware that he may be made a sacrificial lamb, since the Parliament and political parties wanted to showcase him as an example of having cleansed the judiciary, and was at pains to repeatedly emphasise that he will not admit to what he has not done, and even if he is impeached, he would shout from the rooftops that he has never misappropriated any funds.

Sources say that even if the Congress is sympathetic Justice Sen's cause, the timing is all wrong in terms of the huge nation wide outcry against corruption and if the Congress bails him out, it would be another propaganda point for the Opposition to say that the Congress has again 'saved a corrupt judge'.

Congress members admitted that the charged atmosphere and the ongoing campaign by Anna Hazare and company was certainly not helping Justice Sen's cause.

In 1993, former Prime Minister Narasimha Rao bailed out Justice Ramaswami against whom the first-ever impeachment motion in the history of Parliament was moved and heard in the Lok Sabha The Congress decided to abstain.

As a result, the motion fell through for lack of numbers.

The Rajya Sabha is now looking to make history, and be the first in independent India to impeach a sitting judge.

Whatever may be the outcome of the impeachment motion, it is clear that by his performance and never-say-die spirit, the 53-year-old judge won many hearts with many members, and others convinced that he was either innocent or he got trapped for his accounting errors, much before he became the judge.

His speech left a strong impression that he had become a victim of both circumstances and conspiracies.

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Renu Mittal in New Delhi
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