Parliament is expected to take up a motion for impeaching Justice Soumitra Sen of the Calcutta High Court.  We wrote an FAQ on the process of impeachment and the facts of this case for Rediff. See: The full text is reproduced below. What is the importance of Parliament's discussion on the Justice Sen issue? The Rajya Sabha is scheduled to discuss a motion for the removal of Justice Soumitra Sen of the Calcutta High Court.  Till date, no judge of the higher judiciary (Supreme Court and High Courts) has been successfully impeached. What is the legal framework regarding impeachment of judges? The Constitution has measures to ensure the independence of the judiciary from executive action.  This helps judges give judicial decisions in a free and fair manner without any inducements. The Constitution also provides checks against misbehaviour by judges.  It states that 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 is the motion initiated?  What is the process after that? A motion has to be moved by either 100 Lok Sabha members of Parliament or 50 Rajya Sabha MPs.  If the motion is admitted, the Speaker of Lok Sabha or Chairman of Rajya Sabha constitutes an inquiry committee. The committee has three members: a Supreme Court judge, a High Court Chief Justice, and an eminent jurist.  The Committee frames charges and asks the judge to give a written response. The judge also has the right to examine witnesses.  After the inquiry, the committee determines whether the charges are valid or not.  It then submits its report. What happens then? If the inquiry committee finds that the judge is not guilty, then there is no further action.  If they find him guilty, then the House of Parliament which initiated the motion may consider continuing with the motion. The motion is debated.  The judge (or his representative) has the right to represent his 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. Has this process taken place earlier? Yes, 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.  However, the motion to impeach him did not gather the required support in Lok Sabha. What are the charges against the Justice Sen? 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 is the charge of misappropriation?  What did the inquiry committee conclude? 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. 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. Justice Sen claimed he could not account for this amount since it was invested in a company called Lynx India Ltd. to earn interest. The Inquiry Committee found this claim to be false as well. It was found that 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. The purpose for such diversion remains unexplained. This action was done by him as an advocate? Are there any charges against him after he was appointed as a judge? Justice Soumitra Sen was appointed a High Court Judge on December 3, 2003. The Inquiry Committee noted that Justice Sen's actions were, "an attempt to cover up the large-scale defalcations of Receiver's funds". After he became a Judge he did not seek any permission from the Court for approval of the dealings, as required by the Court, nor did he account for the funds. Is there any other case?  What is the status? Another such motion has been initiated against Chief Justice Dinakaran of Sikkim High Court.  An Inquiry Committee is looking investigating the issue.  However, Mr Dinakaran has reportedly sent in his resignation to the President.  If the resignation is accepted, then the motion to remove him will become ineffective.  

In the last few years, several states have enacted laws to curb cheating in examinations, especially those for recruitment in public service commissions.   According to news reports, incidents of cheating and paper leaks have occurred on several occasions in Uttarakhand, including during the panchayat development officer exams in 2016, and the Uttarakhand Subordinate Services Selection Commission exams in 2021.  The Uttarakhand Public Service Commission papers were also leaked in January 2023.  The most recent cheating incidents led to protests and unrest in Uttarakhand.   Following this, on February 11, 2023, the state promulgated an Ordinance to bar and penalise the use of unfair means in public examinations.  The Uttarakhand Assembly passed the Bill replacing the Ordinance in March 2023.  There have been multiple reports of candidates being arrested and debarred for cheating in public examinations for posts such as forest guard and secretariat guard after the ordinance’s introduction.  Similar instances of cheating have also been noted in other states.   As per news reports, since 2015, Gujarat has not been able to hold a single recruitment exam without reported paper leaks.  In February 2023, the Gujarat Assembly also passed a law to penalise cheating in public examinations.  Other states such as Rajasthan (Act passed in 2022), Uttar Pradesh (Act passed in 1998) and Andhra Pradesh (Act passed in 1997) also have similar laws.  In this blog, we compare anti-cheating laws across some states (see Table 1), and discuss some issues to consider.

Typical provisions of anti-cheating laws

Anti-cheating laws across states generally contain provisions that penalise the use of unfair means by examinees and other groups in public examinations such as those conducted by state public sector commission examinations and higher secondary education boards.  Broadly, unfair means is defined to include the use of unauthorised help and the unauthorised use of written material by candidates.  These laws also prohibit individuals responsible for conducting examinations from disclosing any information they acquire in this role.  The more recent laws, such as the Gujarat, Uttarakhand, and Rajasthan ones, also include the impersonation of candidates and the leaking of exam papers within the definition of unfair means.  Uttarakhand, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, and Andhra Pradesh prohibit the use of electronic aids.  Maximum prison sentences for using such unfair means range from three months in Uttar Pradesh, to seven years in Andhra Pradesh. 

Issues to consider

The Gujarat and Uttarakhand anti-cheating Acts have relatively stringent provisions for cheating.  The Uttarakhand Act has a fixed 3-year prison sentence for examinees caught cheating or using unfair means (for the first offence).  Since the Act does not distinguish between the different types of unfair means used, an examinee could serve a sentence disproportionate to the offence committed.  In most other states, the maximum imprisonment term for such offences is three years.   Andhra Pradesh has a minimum imprisonment term of three years.  However, all these states allow for a range with respect to the penalty, that is, the judge can decide on the imprisonment term (within the specified limits) depending on the manner of cheating and the implications of such cheating.  Table 1 below compares the penalties for certain offences across eight states.

The Uttarakhand Act has a provision that debars the examinee from state competitive examinations for two to five years upon the filing of the chargesheet, rather than upon conviction.  Thus, an examinee could be deprived of giving the examination even if they were innocent but being prosecuted under the law.  This could compromise the presumption of innocence for accused candidates.  The Gujarat and Rajasthan laws also debar candidates from sitting in specified examinations for two years, but only upon conviction. 

These laws also vary in scope across states.  In Uttarakhand and Rajasthan, the laws only apply to competitive examinations for recruitment in a state department (such as a Public Commission).   In the other six states examined, these laws also apply to examinations held by educational institutions for granting educational qualifications such as diplomas and degrees.  For example, in Gujarat, exams conducted by the Gujarat Secondary and Higher Secondary Education Board are also covered under the Gujarat Public Examination (Prevention of Unfair Means) Act, 2023.   The question is whether it is appropriate to have similar punishments for exams in educational institutions and exams for recruitment in government jobs, given the difference in stakes between them.

Sources: The Rajasthan Public Examination (Measures for Prevention of Unfair Means in Recruitment) Act, 2022; the Uttar Pradesh Public Examinations (Prevention of Unfair Means) Act, 1998; the Chhattisgarh Public Examinations (Prevention of Unfair Means) Act, 2008; the Orissa Conduct of Examinations Act, 1988; the Andhra Pradesh Public Examinations (Prevention of Malpractices and Unfair means) Act, 1997; the Jharkhand Conduct of Examinations Act, 2001, the Uttarakhand Competitive Examination (Measures for Prevention and Prevention of Unfair Means in Recruitment) Act, 2023, the Gujarat Public Examination (Prevention of Unfair Methods) Act, 2023; PRS.