The government on Sunday night took the unusual step of notifying the resignation of Justice Soumitra Sen of the Calcutta High Court, strengthening speculation that the impeachment proceedings against him in the Lok Sabha scheduled for Monday may be dropped, but there was no official confirmation of such a move.
Justice Sen's resignation, after he had been impeached by the Rajya Sabha last month and just ahead of similar proceedings in the Lok Sabha, has created a piquant situation for the government.
The predominant legal view is that the proceedings in the Lower House have been rendered infructuous by the judge's resignation but some voices in the political spectrum still favour going ahead with the process.
In the normal course, such a notification is not required since the resignation of a constitutional authority is deemed to be accepted if it is in order.
"The Department of Justice has sent a notification for the assent of the President for acceptance of Justice Soumitra Sen's resignation which was signed after she arrived here from Hyderabad," official sources said.
Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar was being informed about the developments and she may consult various political parties before taking a final call prior to the meeting of the House on Monday.
The talk in political circles was that the impeachment proceedings may not take place in the Lok Sabha on Monday but there was no official word on it.
The sources maintained that the Justice Sen's resignation, received by the President's office yesterday, was in order.
This means a cautious approach was being maintained on the issue as the judge's initial resignation sent by fax had created a piquant situation.
As yet there has been no change in the List of Business of the Lok Sabha for Monday where the impeachment motion is still on the agenda.
Attorney General G E Vahanvati had opined on Friday that the impeachment proceedings, having already been completed in the Rajya Sabha, should be completed by the other house.
This opinion appears to have been based on the premise that the resignation letter faxed by Sen to Rashtrapati Bhavan on Thursday could not be taken cognisance of since such letters must be written in the hand of the judge as per Art 217 (a) of the Constitution.
That criterion was fulfilled on Saturday and as constitutional expert P P Rao noted, "impeachment proceedings are intended to remove a judge from the post. But once he has resigned you cannot remove him. Therefore, the proceedings become infructuous."
When contacted, CPI(M) leader Basudeb Acharia said his party would ask the government for its stand in the light of the AG's opinion.
Another expert K K Venugopal said that once a High Court judge submits resignation it would operate straightaway. However, if the resignation mentions a prospective date, it is open to a judge to withdraw it before it is accepted."
However, former Lok Sabha Secretary General Subash Kashyap was of the opinion that, "if the resignation is found to be mala fide, the President may say this is only to avoid (impeachment) proceedings in which case she may allow the Lok Sabha to continue the proceedings."He also said the Speaker would have to be guided by the opinion of the Attorney General.